Beating Barcelona in a European cup final would normally be enough to guarantee a shot at defending your title – but one Manchester team needs to find £6,000 before they can dream of lifting the trophy again.
Gorton-based West End AFC girls’ team only launched a year ago but they have already caused a stir in the North West and beyond.
The team capped a remarkable ascendancy by beating Barcelona’s development team in Toulouse’s prestigious Challenge Des Etoiles tournament last June, scoring 27 goals in just 13 goals and conceding only two.
Now the club wants to go back and defend their title with two teams, so that both Under 14 and Under 16 girls get to enjoy the thrill of the European stage for which they’ve been training so hard.
But spiralling costs and declining sponsorships mean the club’s dreams are hanging in the balance so they’re appealing to the public’s goodwill.
Under-14s and Under-16s coach Ian Blackwood, 40, told MM: “This year we want to give more girls the opportunity to go and experience the competition but that obviously makes everything more expensive.
“The organisers will only pay for 11 girls and two coaches to go out there but we want to take 22 girls with us this year.
“The economic decline is also making it more expensive: we’ve got to pay for all the accommodation this year because the organisers have lost sponsors.”
The club have set up a Crowdfunder page under the title ‘Get the girls to France’ and are also actively seeking new sponsors to help finance their trip.
They’ve even been bag packing in local supermarkets in the hope of reaching their £6,000 target.
Running a youth football team is expensive: the cost of renting pitches, buying equipment and supplying club kit for the year can top £20,000.
Mr Blackwood, who went to Toulouse on rugby tours as a schoolboy, knows that the competition offers an incredible opportunity for the girls.
He said: “Last year the tournament was really, really good. The organisation was superb and the organisers took the girls sightseeing, fed them and watered them. It was a pleasure to be there because they were dead good to us. The girls got so much out of it.
“We’re keeping them off the streets, we’re giving them passion and drive, and we’re helping them see a different side to life. It’s a great opportunity for all of them.”
KICKSTARTERS: Ian Blackwood, 40, Alex Speight, 15, Ellie Huddlestone, 15, set up the Crowd Funding page in the hope of raising the extra £6,000
Many of the girls are former members of Manchester City’s youth academy and most of the girls who participated last year now train in FA Centres of Excellence across the North West.
West-End AFC Girls currently comprise an under-14s and under-16s team who train for two hours every Wednesday night at Wright-Robinson College in Gorton, East Manchester.
Along with Mr Blackwood, the girls benefit from the coaching methods of Manchester City’s Sam Brown, who works as a City Street Coordinator for the Premier League champion’s Community Cohesion team.
Mr Blackwood praised the girls’ strong work ethic, talent and discipline. He said: “This sounds insulting for other clubs in the North-West, and I don’t mean to discredit them, but these girls are the best around here.
“They play at a standard where they all know what they’re doing and I can certainly see some of them going on to being top professionals.
“They are great to work with: their enthusiasm and engagement is fantastic. It is miles different to working with boys: you get more thinking and concentration from the girls and they listen to you and then do what you’ve asked.”
Ellie Huddlestone, 15, and Alex Speight, 15, used to train with Manchester City and were both part of last year’s championship winning team. They are eager to head back to the south of France.
Alex said: “Playing against people you don’t know from other countries is nice and the weather was good too. We want to go back because we want to defend our trophies – we want to win again.”
She believes the competition offered some unique challenges they couldn’t get in England.
She told MM: “It was a really hard tournament and the games were really quite intense because you had to be able to think quite quickly. Playing the Barcelona development squad in the final was the hardest – they were fast, physical, athletic, aggressive, and just quite nasty really.”
Ellie agreed and said playing for West End AFC was a pleasure.
“We like playing in the team because everyone is dead nice and you get a lot of opportunities,” she said.
“We get to do more than we ever did at City, and we get this kit and the bags and everything. It’s also really good experience here.”
Olivia Potter, 13, and Keighley Pryce, 13, weren’t part of last year’s winning team but the stories they’ve heard from their teammates have convinced them that it would be foolish to miss this year’s competition.
Olivia said: “I think it will be a good experience and I’d like to meet new people –it will be interesting playing with foreign teams because most people won’t get to do that in their lives. The girls who went last year said it’s really good and stuff too.”
Keighley also praised the club’s resources and dedication. She said: “Everyone gets on here and we learn new things all the time –it’s not the same stuff every week. It’s always good training here.”
West End AFC has a long and distinguished history that dates back 40 years but the club only introduced girls last year.
Club chairman Ged Redman is proud of what the girls have achieved.
He said: “At West End AFC we’re now looking at projects that capture every part of the community because it’s the right thing to do. Girls are a really important part of that drive.
“I was surprised more than anything when they came back with the trophy. But you’ve got to welcome and celebrate something like that –the scale of what they achieved is incredible because we were relative minnows playing against Barcelona and winning.
“It was a big thing for the girls and it was a big thing for the club.”
To help the girls reach France, visit their Crowd Funding page here.