Abingdon Youth Football Club have been a Wildcats Girls’ Football Centre since the programme’s inception in 2017.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Wildcats Programme, it provides girls aged 5-11 with regular opportunities to play football and take part in organised sessions in a fun and engaging environment created exclusively for girls.
The initiative aims to inspire girls to engage with football, meet new friends, develop fundamental skills, learn new things and create the foundation for a lifelong love of football.
Last season we helped support 45 Wildcats Centres across Berks & Bucks to provide opportunities for girls to play football for the first time, some of those 45 were continuing in the programme just like Abingdon Youth FC, and others were new to it.
With the new Wildcats season launching in April 2020 and the application window for potential new providers (clubs, organisations and schools) open until Jan 31st, 2020, I spoke to Susan Claridge-Alder from Abingdon Youth FC about the programme, and what it means for the club to be involved, she said: “We’re extremely proud to be part of the Wildcats programme and becoming a show centre for good practice.
“We only ever set out to encourage girls to try football. Anything after that was a bonus for us. We were amazed by the interest and success and in our first year we had over 30 girls attending free sessions.”
During the 2015-2016 season Abingdon Youth FC had two affiliated girls’ teams and, after having successfully applied for an FA ‘Grow the Game’ grant from the Football Foundation in 2016 to help them launch two additional teams, one at U11 and one at U9 and Susan said the club found the support from Berks & Bucks FA during this period to be invaluable:
“The support from the BBFA when applying is invaluable. They are always there to answer questions and to guide you through the process. Just the fact the BBFA advertise the grants available is very helpful for Clubs to see what's available to them and then how to apply.”
Girls' Football at Abingdon Youth FC
After becoming a Wildcats Centre in 2017 they found that the programme complimented the Club’s existing provisions by offering girls’ the chance to simply play take part in weekly sessions rather than a regular team set-up. Susan still recalls the buzz around advertising the new opportunity for girls.
“The response we got from advertising the availability of girls only football was brilliant, and the programme helped with the foundation of recruitment for our two new girls’ teams.” she said.
Susan added: “Abingdon Youth FC has always wanted to expand girls’ football to enable more children to play football regardless of background or gender. Our experience showed there were lots of girls who were interested in football but wanted to play in girls’ only teams.
“As a club our ethos is to provide a safe friendly environment for all children to be the best they can be, so for the girls who were interested in football but not playing in the Youth League we were determined to provide them the opportunity to have fun, learn, make friends and most importantly, enjoy football.”
Becoming a Wildcats Girls’ Football Centre is a big commitment but can also be incredibly rewarding and, with the programme offering a fantastic start-up pack as well as additional support from Berks & Bucks FA and other centres available, it can be an exciting prospect for new organisations looking to join the Wildcats Community!
Susan adds; “The Wildcats programme is hard work and takes dedicated coaches to run it with. However, it is very rewarding seeing so many girls giving football a go and doing so in a safe, fun, environment.
“The support we’ve received from BBFA has been fantastic, they’ve answered any questions we had before we started the Wildcats programme and have supported us all the way, helping to promote the Centre and the Club.”
Susan (second from right) with Girl's Coaches from Abingdon Youth FC
Whilst some Wildcats Centres may have to charge a small fee for sessions, in order for them to be sustainable, but some are able to provide them free of charge and this is something that Abingdon Youth have been able to do for the last couple of years.
“We’ve run our Wildcats sessions free of charge for the last two years to give everyone the opportunity to just enjoy football and the girls and their parents seem to like the fact there is no pressure to then sign for a team making it feel like trials.”
Women’s and Girls’ Football is on the up across the country and this trend doesn’t seem to have passed Abingdon Youth FC by. With four established girls’ teams and a thriving Wildcats Centre, I asked ‘What’s next for girls’ football at Abingdon Youth?
“We will continue to try and encourage more girls to play football and hopefully will grow our girls football offering again next season.
“We’re currently a partner club to Abingdon United Ladies which provides a pathway for girls to enter into the adult football - so far we have had two girls go from Abingdon Youth to Abingdon United Ladies and we hope to help more players progress down that path in the future. We’re also a sister club to the Arsenal Ladies team which provides the Girls at Abingdon Youth opportunities to play in sister club tournaments and be mascots at Arsenal Ladies games.”
One of the final things Susan mentioned to me was that the club’s ultimate aim would be to have a girls team at every age group from U9-U16 and, whilst they aren’t quite there yet, it’s clear that they’re determined to succeed, she finished by saying; “We’re not there yet as our journey is long and only just beginning but we’re not turning around and heading home.”
If you've been inspired to get involved by hearing Abingdon Youth FC’s story, please get in touch with Ellen Hopkins, our Women’s & Girls’ Football Development Officer for more information, or to discuss any queries or questions you may have, via Development@Berks-BucksFA.com or call/text/WhatsApp .
Alternatively, you can visit our dedicated Wildcats page or find out more about becoming a Wildcats Centre in our story about applying.