Was 2023 a good year for the female grassroots game?

The honest answer to this is a resounding NO, in my honest opinion I don’t think it was a good year, in the famous style of Simon Cowell it wasn’t a great year, it’s been so much better than a great year, it was absolutely bloody amazing!!!!


If we start at the top of the game first, we seen the women’s England team reach the final of a World Cup and captivate the country whilst winning over the hearts and minds of millions of current and new fans.


We saw sold out matches and record attendances for both elite women’s football and the national team.


Most recently we’ve seen new brands move into the women’s game, the most notable of the year being the women’s FA cup 3 year partnership with Adobe. A real sign that brands are viewing the female game more and more as an attractive marketing option. This in turn generates more money and funding into the female game.


So what about the grassroots game then?


Lets check the stats;


  • 12% increase in total affiliated females playing football, October 2022 vs October 2023
  • 39% increase in female youth teams since October 2021, 17% since October 2022
  • 93% of County FA offering a high-quality girls’ league



For me the stat that jumps out there the 39% increase in female youth teams since October 21, made up of 17% growth from October 22 to October 23. These stats are incredible, and really back up what we see and feel on the ground. More female players, coaches, teams, refs, and volunteers.


I spoke to Lee Scott, Northumberland Football League secretary, one of the largest youth leagues in Europe and he said “Year on year we’ve seen a continued growth in the girls section of our league, we have also seen a significant increase in the number of our member clubs offering the wildcats programme. We started girls football in our league 10 years ago, at this time we had 30 teams and no women’s teams.


As it stands today across our thriving junior and adults sections we have over 200 teams. As a league we continue to adapt to the ever changing landscape of football and are proud of the work the league, our clubs and communities have done to achieve this growth and would certainly say 2023 has been a fantastic year for the female game.”


It’s great to hear feedback from leagues and clubs about the numbers and the growth that they’re seeing and the impact it has on the local community. One of things that we also hear more now in the sport is girls looking at girls as role models, quite often when asked who your favourite player, girls will tell us the answer is Chloe Kelly, Mary Earps etc rather than Harry Kane or Jack Grealish. So we asked new coach Helen Nesbitt from Whiteleas U10s how her first 12 months have gone and if she feels like a role model.


Helen had this to say “I do feel that womens football is more visible, even on local news which you wouldn’t have seen historically, I took my team to watch England play and it was awe inspiring, for me to watch the kids be inspired by the England ladies and in a way I was inspired. My players know that football even at elite level is available for girls. On the coaching side I’ve loved every minute of being part of a team, being part of another family that football has created, I was apprehensive at first, I wondered if my daughter would accept me as her coach but I know she has embraced this in so many ways, its had such a positive impact on our relationship and I can certainly credit the sport with that.


It’s great to hear this first hand feedback from leagues and clubs, and coaches about the numbers and the growth that they’re seeing and the impact it has on the local community.


Paul Kirton

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