05:00PM, Thursday 04 August 2022
History was made on Sunday evening, when Leah Williamson lifted the European Championship trophy for England at Wembley, ending 56 years of hurt.
Football had finally come home, and Maidenhead United are one of a host of clubs up and down the country hoping to seize on this opportunity by making it easier for girls and women to play the game.
It is hoped the legacy of England’s triumph will be that girls have the same opportunities as boys to play football at their schools and clubs, and Maidenhead United Juniors are determined to do as much as they can to ensure that's the case.
There's still a long way to go, Maidenhead currently have just three junior girls’ teams compared to 49 junior boys’ teams, but the drive and endeavour is there to level things up over the coming years and provide a pathway for girls and women into Maidenhead United Women's first team and possibly beyond.
Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Germany is set to be a watershed moment for the game, and interest from girls in playing the game - and finding clubs that can accommodate them – is likely to sky-rocket. Maidenhead United and other clubs are hoping to be there to cater for that demand.
“Maidenhead United Juniors have struggled with girls’ teams,” said Tanya Davis-Hussain, head of women's football at Maidenhead United.
“We have so many girls that come to the club but not enough to make a team, so we've only got three girls' teams out of 52. We're keen to grow that number and offer a pathway through to the women's team. I think now is as good a time as any as girls see just how far they can go.”
Maidenhead currently runs three girls’ teams at u7s, u10s, u16s, and are in the process of establishing new teams at u7s and u8s, but they'd love to provide more opportunities for players across all junior age groups. The Magpies in the Community coaching team also run holiday camps and sessions for junior girls.
The hope is they’ll discover more players like goalkeeper, Gemma Harvey, who, at the age of 16, became the first player to break into the women's first team from the juniors.
She helped the Magpies to their highest ever finish of sixth in National League Division One South West and was voted Football in Berkshire’s ‘Young Player of the Year’.
“The Lionesses win means so much to us who are involved in the women's and girls’ game,” said Tanya. “We're so proud to play even a small part in helping the game grow and it now offers opportunities we could never have dreamed of a few years ago. We're relatively new, a couple of different clubs were pulled together under the Maidenhead United Juniors banner, but we feel we've got so much to offer as a club. We're lacking on the girls’ side of the club and it's something we want to grow.
“In the same way the Lionesses have inspired girls and women across the country, we now hope to add to that. It is important that we show young girls the opportunities they have available to them.
“At the age of 16, Gemma (Harvey) was playing in the fourth tier of women's football against the likes of Southampton and Bournemouth.
“That’s testament to her, but it’s also about where we want to get to and establishing that link between the two (the junior teams and the first team). It shows that it really does work and it’s not just players coming into the first team squad at an older age. We want to show that the club is the whole package.
“We want to create these teams so that girls don't get to the stage where they fall away from football, if these teams are established there's a good chance they'll go all the way through to the end.
“One of our players, Nicole Barrett, was also scouted by Portsmouth Women at one of our recent friendlies and she's gone and is now a semi-professional paid player. Although you're gutted to lose one of your best players, you're also proud to give them that opportunity to get there.”
Magpies captain Amy Saunders added: “Women’s football will excel from this point onwards and it’s important we do everything we can as a club to continue to move this forward.
“I’ve been at the club for a while now and I’ve seen a mixture of players come and go.
“We’ve had young, local players working their way up to earn a place in the first team to others using us as a route of progression, going on to the likes of Oxford United and Portsmouth. I know I speak on behalf of myself and my teammates when I say we were all beaming with pride from Sunday’s Euro’s result. For myself personally, it’s come on a million miles from when I was playing in an after-school football club with only three girls present.”
As an extra incentive, all the club's junior players receive a season ticket, covering both the men's and women's first team games at York Road, as well as a chance to be mascot at some of these games.
Visit www.mufcjuniors.co.uk for information.