In her exclusive column for GiveMeSport Women, England and Manchester City superstar Lucy Bronze discusses her experiences of playing football at school and the importance of the FA’s Let Girls Play campaign.
When I was growing up, I was the only girl in the school that played football. In fact, I was the only girl that played in the entire area!
I played for a boys’ team until I was 12, and it wasn’t too bad really. Sometimes there would be little comments from opposing players about a girl being with the team, but I never really paid any attention.
I was lucky that my brother, who is two years older than me, encouraged me to play with him and his friends at breaktime and after school. A lot of my best friends were boys too, so I’d also play with them.
But things started to change when I moved out of a rural area and went to secondary school.
Battle to play football at school
At secondary school, boys and girls got split up for the majority of sports, so I would normally play netball and hockey, or do athletics. I didn’t get to play football in a lesson at school from about Year Five onwards.
At one point, it got really ridiculous. I did PE at GCSE and A-Level, and everyone had to be assessed on the sports they had chosen.
I had picked football, and was playing for England Under-17s at the time, but the boys’ PE teacher said I couldn’t do the assessment.
It was lucky because my Mum worked at my school as a maths teacher, and she managed to convince him to let me do the assessment with the boys. After it was finished, the teacher even told my Mum that I was better than everyone else!
I was fortunate that I had my Mum to fight my battles for me. When I was younger, things like that never really bothered me. I couldn’t play with the boys when I was 12, and I had to move teams. But I never really got frustrated by it.
I think my Mum and my Auntie took that frustration on themselves. They never made me feel like I should be angry about being a girl, and they always found a way to work it all out.
It frustrates me now that I understand what was happening, but I’m glad that when I was a kid, I just got to enjoy being young and not get frustrated by prejudice and things that went against me.
Currently, only 63 per cent of schools in England offer girls’ football in PE lessons. I’m really surprised that it’s still not common for girls to have a chance to play football at school.
When I look back on it, it really annoys me that I had to stop playing football with the boys when I was 12, because it actually stunted my development. I could literally see the football fields where I played from my house. I went from that, to travelling an hour to play for a girls’ team.
The rule that stopped me playing with the boys when I was 12 was to prevent me from getting hurt, but I remember my manager saying, ‘I’m not worried about Lucy getting hurt, I’m more worried about her hurting one of the boys!’
The FA has now changed that rule, so girls can play with boys a little bit longer. They’ve helped create more girls’ teams as well, so everything’s much more accessible. I don’t understand why the school system hasn’t changed as well, especially with more girls playing up and down the country.
I think it can be very damaging if there isn’t a supportive environment for girls to play football. If any young child has a bad experience, they’re not going to feel comfortable doing whatever it is they want to do, and that applies to girls and football too.
I definitely noticed when I was younger that there were a couple of girls who took interest in football but stopped because they didn’t have the opportunity to play. Not letting girls take part in football at school lets talent slip through the cracks.
Let Girls Play campaign
I think the FA’s Let Girls Play campaign is really important. As the governing body for football in England, the FA have so much power to change things.
I think they recognise that girls’ and women’s football does need a bit more of a push, especially because women’s football was repressed in England for so many years. So, any initiative which gets more girls involved, makes them feel more comfortable, and shows a bit more of an understanding, is great.
If there are more opportunities for girls, the likelihood is that there are going to be more girls playing and more girls making it to the very top of women’s football. We just need to keep increasing the opportunities.
It could be at school, in a boys’ team, in a girls’ team, in a training session. The opportunities could be anywhere, but as long as they’re available, more and more girls will be able to get into football.