In a corner of South Manchester, there is something rather special brewing at Didsbury Girls.
The footballing programme was crowned Best Participation Initiative at the FA Women’s Football Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel in central London on Friday.
The founding voice of Didsbury Girls is Jane Carroll, who formed the initiative after growing frustrated at failing to find opportunities for her football-mad daughter to play the game in her local area.
After starting the ‘Pay & Play’ programme two years ago, the group has since gone from strength to strength.
It has also worked with partner clubs from the local community, including Bluestar F.C. and the Manchester Respect league, to give girls the opportunity to join a club and play in competitive leagues.
Since its launch, it has gone on to welcome over 275 girls through its doors as well as offering parents and carers an opportunity to get involved – sending four parents on FA affiliated coaching courses and adding them to the coaching team.
“It’s amazing, I’m really, really proud, not so much for me but for the girls, because they have been brilliant over the last two years,” Jane said. “It’s unbelievably rewarding to see so many girls playing football.
“I drive all our initiatives, I do all the marketing and recruit the girls, but ultimately it’s the parents who bring the girls down, it’s the coaches who take the time to engage with the girls, that’s been really key to us, that we understand the girls and what they’re doing with them.
“We’re literally changing perceptions in our little corner of South Manchester. My daughter has been football mad since she was about two-and-a-half, and when she got to five, I started phoning round all the local clubs to see what her options were, she was ready to join a team.
“But people thought girls dropped out after a while and were reluctant to play – so I literally took it upon myself to change that, I was tired of parents saying my daughter could not play.”
The club now fields several league teams every weekend, and Jane believes they are doing their bit to breaks down barriers that stand in the way of more girls playing football.
And the key to their success, Jane says, is an element of care and consideration that ensures each new girl signed on the books gets a fair crack of the whip.
“We care about every single girl, every girl who comes to us generally stays, even if they don’t, we know that if they’ve participated, they’ve had a go and they will go on to play another sport,” she added.
“That makes me immensely proud, even if they only play with us for four or five months, and go off and play lacrosse or hockey, that’s great for me because they’re participating in sport.
“We’ll get bigger, we’re almost at capacity in some ways – I’m working with a lot of local clubs to show them what we’ve done to say ‘come on, everybody do it’.
“All this week, I’ve had club messaging me saying ‘we’re following you, we’re doing what you said to do and we’ve had all these players turn up.
“I had three enquiries while I was at the awards!”
For more information and to see all the award winners visit www.thefa.com/forgirls Join the conversation online using the hashtag #FAWomensAwards.