Inspired by 2022 - MK United
People often talk about the impact of sport and the affect it can have on people’s lives.
This summer we saw the power of football in action as England’s Lionesses took their place in history by winning the UEFA Women’s European Championships 2022, in doing so, leaving a legacy of the games that will go on to impact and inspire generations new and old for many years to come.
MK United’s Women’s Over 30s Recreational Sessions are one of many already feeling the impact of the Lionesses’ success.
This inspiring programme is already making its own mark on the game, going from strength-to-strength having won the Leap Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes ‘Innovation Award 2022’ celebrating projects that bring communities together through sport in June this year, they then cemented this achievement with another award, The FA & England Football Grassroots Project of the Year, for Berks & Bucks FA.
The project began in April 2021 borne from the Women’s EURO 2022 legacy programme for Milton Keynes, but the idea was formed long before then, back in 2015 as a result of the Lionesses’ performance in the World Cup in Canada.
It was at this time that team founder, Kate Davidson (whilst watching the Lionesses on TV take home a Bronze medal) felt an overwhelming urge to get back into the game she loved.
Encouraged by England’s progress in the tournament and feeling a renewed sense of passion for the game she grew up playing, Kate went about trying to find a team that was for women of her age at the time, in their thirties.
Despite trying local clubs, she couldn’t find a dedicated session. The closest was out of County, even then, the sessions were cancelled after a few weeks due in part to limited numbers. Undeterred, Kate tried her local village team, however, as friendly and welcoming as the team was, the age difference and ultimately the expectation of what she wanted to gain personally from the game at this stage of her life got in the way.
Having started playing football at a young age, Kate recalls fondly a memory when she was just 14 years old of watching Arsenal Ladies, giants of the Women’s game, take on her local women’s senior team.
Fascinated by seeing women play professionally and realising that it was possible to dare to dream, it was an experience that would go on to shape her own playing career, as she went on to represent Wales in the British Universities Team, achieving 9 international half-caps and playing against the likes of, England legends, Sue Smith and Jane Ludlow.
Having experienced so much at a young age the desire now, after 15 years out of the game where she raised a family and focussed on building a career, was simply to play.
She didn’t want to play matches anymore, or train competitively. Just an overwhelming urge to play again in a supportive environment and with people that understood where she was on her own journey, both in life and in her love for the game.
Like so many other women in her position, often referred to in football terms as ‘the missed generation’ (an age group of women who did not have the access or opportunities to participate when they were younger), Kate wanted to raise a family, juggle a career, and play football for fun and she wanted other women with similar circumstances, to feel and know that they could too.
With the full support of the MK United FC Club Chairman, Gary Tinkler, this is where, and how, the MK United Women’s Over 30s recreational sessions came to be.
Having created a fun, welcoming and safe environment for women to play, the sessions regularly see between 20 and 40 women in attendance each week. One of the benefits of the sessions is that women know they do not need to show up week-in, week-out, but simply whenever they can, whenever they need or want, life allowing.
At Berks & Bucks FA, we believe wholeheartedly in the indelible power of football and its ability to connect people and change lives. No truer is this sentiment than in the context of these sessions and the impact they have had on the women that benefit from them.
Lara Yáñez started attending the Women’s Over 30s sessions for the first time in May 2021 she says they have given her a sense of belonging.
“This session is one of the highlights of my week, it is about being active and enjoying football but also about the feeling of belonging somewhere.”
The programme, and the women who attend it, also serve to create an invaluable social network through mutual support and encouragement both on and off the pitch.
Having moved to this country five years ago for work, Lara understands the impact of the camaraderie and sense of friendship than most, she said: “Personally, the joy is one of the immediate effects that the football sessions brought to my life but also a bunch of amazing ladies that are always happy to help on and off the pitch.”
The Lionesses winning the EUROs has only served to cement the value of projects like MK United’s Over 30s sessions further. Lucky enough to be in attendance on the day, Kate received multiple messages from women wanting to get involved before she’d even left the ground.
The women’s game is changing, not just at the highest level, but at the grassroots too and Lara, like many others is excited about the future of sport, but also sessions like the one she attends.
“Thinking bigger, we have built a community that care about this new phase of women playing football and we are ready to help this grow: supporting our local team as season holders, spreading the word of our sessions, doing our best to let all know that women can play football. Now? The things are changing, and we are being part of that change and I cannot be prouder.”
On the day I visited the project and spoke to some of the women involved it was cold, wet and dark but there were still 38 women that turned up, each arriving with a genuine smile and their own relatable story of how they got involved and what the sessions have done for them.
There’s a well know phrase in football, often used in jest to judge somebody’s ability or to, a question mark over whether they will succeed – ‘But can they do it on a cold, rainy Tuesday night in…’
The answer to that question here is, yes. They can and they do.
Whether new or old to the game, if you’re reading this and feel the story resonates with you personally, know this; you can too.
MK United Women Over 30s Recreational Sessions take place on Tuesday evenings from 7pm-8pm at Fairfields Sports Hub (MK11 4BA) in Milton Keynes.
Making contact can be daunting and often that first step is the hardest. Kate understands this and is more than happy to help answer any questions you may have about the session and to help allay any fears you may have over coming along for the first time.
Kate Davidson can be contacted via email at MKUWomen30@mkunitedfc.co.uk
START YOUR OWN SESSION?
If you as a club or individual would like to set up a similar session in your local area, please get in touch with Football Development Officer, Alex Pratt, via Development@Berks-BucksFA.com for information and support.