Bucks students on the ball in women's football
Date: 7th Mar 2018
As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, imagine if the only way a girl could pursue her passion for competitive football was to join a boys’ team?
Well that’s precisely what Buckinghamshire New University student Ellie Wilson’s friends were forced to do when they were young.
Last summer, Ellie represented Great Britain in the World University Summer Games (WUGS) in Chinese Taipei and she is pleased to say that opportunities for women to play the country’s most popular sport are growing.
Ellie studies BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science and plays for Bristol City Women in the FA Women's Super League, having started at Reading Football Club Women’s academy set-up.
Great Britain exited the WUGS in the group phase despite winning three of their five games but Ellie said it had been a ‘great experience’ and, having tried her hand at a variety of sports growing up, she couldn’t imagine playing any other sport.
According to the Football Association (FA), the beautiful game is now officially the biggest female team sport in England.
Last season more than 147,000 female players competed in affiliated league and cup competitions – a figure which has risen from just 10,400 in 1993, when records started.Ellie said she can see opportunities for women to play football are increasing - in keeping with the success of the women’s national game, where England were semi-finalists in last year’s World Cup.
Ellie added: “I think there is definitely more opportunity now as more girls become interested in playing football. I know many of my teammates played in boys teams when they were younger so they had a team to play in, or as a challenge.”
The successful footballer joined 10,000 students from more than 150 countries around the world at the WUGS, who were competing in 22 sports, and said attending the opening ceremony and holding the Union Jack flag was a highlight.
Speaking about the benefits of playing football, she said: “Football gives you something to focus on, enjoy and look forward to every day.
“When I was younger and played a mixture of sports, I had never even considered football, but I think I got hooked on the challenges of it, always wanting to be better and achieve something else. I’m still the same now. Being part of such a good team plays a massive part in the enjoyment of it too.”
Ellie has positive role-models to aspire to.
Former Bucks New University student Fran Kirby was part of the 2013 Great Britain team at the WUGS, which won the tournament, and plays for FA WSL club Chelsea Ladies and the England national team.
Sophie Murphy studies BSc (Hons) Criminology and is captain of the women’s team at the University. She took up the beautiful game when she was seven and said enthusiasm was key.
She said: “The opportunities are out there. I come from a football-mad family where I was encouraged to play it and I found plenty of opportunities growing up.
“The profile of the women’s game is continuing to grow nationally and this means more women are going to take it up. It’s still not growing at the rate many women may like though but I can only see its prominence expanding over coming years.”
Asked what advice she would give, Sophie, an Arsenal fan, said: “I would just say to go for it. If you enjoy it and want to pursue a career you have to jump in and go for it. I love it and I would encourage any women to try football if they think they’d like it.”
To give a wider picture, Catherine Lymer, Student Activities Manager at Bucks New University’s Students’ Union, said she had seen an increase in women playing football at the University.
She said: “Girls’ football is becoming bigger in schools. Rather than just the likes of netball and tennis there is more of a call for girls’ football and we are seeing that in the fact there are more clubs around the country.
“It’s no longer unusual for girls to play football and more and more women students are coming through the door and wanting to play the game. Four or five years ago that would not have been the case.”
Find opportunities to play football on the Football Association website.
Sophie Murphy: Bucks New University.
Ellie Wilson: JMP Photography.