At the chalkface: A game of their own

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

Give girls the choice to participate in the beautiful game. Like my four-year-old granddaughter does now. She’s already two-footed and executed a rather cheeky Cruyff turn on me the other day.

Please indulge me for a little personal reminiscence. It gets relevant later on. I’m afraid it concerns football. No! Don’t go away. It also concerns serious pedagogy. Don’t forget Camus said that football taught him all he knew. Me too. I spent my childhood doing little else. Every spare moment I played with my chums in the playground with jerseys for posts or on Gold Hill Common with the silver birches for goals.

We’d play late under the stars. Ah, splendour in the grass. And girls played too. There was no discrimination. Brenda Edwards could do flying drag- backs and stepovers years before Ronaldo. She was the ace striker for our school and village teams.

Magic, indelible times.

Then something happened.

The 11+ exam happened.

I passed the wretched thing – and went to a fancy grammar school, where the game was banned. Rugby was the only option. My football career was tragically truncated. Thus were QPR robbed of a midfield genius in the mould of Stanley Bowles.

I spent my winters trudging through mud, while a Pentecostal Welsh coach and crusty masters on shooting sticks urged us to murder the opposition. What a thugs’ game! Why were we condemned to play it? Class it seems. And snobbery. Rugby Union was the public school game and that’s what our school aspired to. Football was for Secondary Modern oiks. Girls had a worse problem. They were lumbered with lacrosse, netball or hockey. Football was quite off limits. Why? Maybe it gave them too much confidence. Poor Brenda Edwards. She just wilted.

Things have improved enormously, but there are still problems. There’s still too much gender segregation in PE. In too many schools girls are still not given the chance to play what they want – and 93 per cent want to play football. Some schools clearly ban it, despite some excellent initiatives. Tracy Crouch, former sports minister, slashed the starting age of the national sports strategy from 14 to 5 – for girls and boys. Excellent.

An FA and Youth Sport Trust evaluation of their Game of Our Own programme finds it has delivered football sessions to 86 schools and 5,537 secondary girls, and there’s a real buzz around women’s football at all levels at the moment. The England team are an inspiration. More girls are playing than ever and still more want to. It’s looking good.

So give girls the choice to participate in the beautiful game. Like I did all those years ago. Like my four-year-old granddaughter does now. She’s already two-footed and executed a rather cheeky Cruyff turn on me the other day.

This is to be encouraged.



• Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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