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England v Sweden: Semi Final - UEFA Women’s EURO 2022

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Our Girls, Their Future - How Sunderland’s alumni are shaping the lives of young women!

“This competition has lit a spark for a game that has been crying out for support and investment for so long. A once deprived sector of sport is coming out of the dark – brighter than ever before”, writes Amelia Laybourn.

Photo by Lynne Cameron - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

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For so long, women’s football has been fighting, struggling to be seen or heard. There was so little coverage, and attendances were so low that you’d be forgiven for even questioning matches taking place.

But finally, the world has woken up to the existence of the female game, and the skill these women hold. It is these Lionesses that are driving the growth of female sport and paving the way for young girls across the country.

Despite the nationwide appeal that is increasingly growing, it is truly incredible to see so much of the talent stemming from the northeast – with two of our own proving invaluable for the lionesses during this European campaign.

England v Sweden: Semi Final - UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 Photo by Lynne Cameron - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

Growing up in the region, and through all-girls education – the disparity between gender and football has been obvious to me for a long time.

The so-called ‘beautiful game’ has been on the back-burner throughout my time at secondary school, with it being played once a term (if we were lucky), firmly overshadowed by the likes of hockey and netball.

Even when we were finally taught the ins and outs of corners, and free kicks, it was never in the same that detail chest passes and penalty corners were on the hockey pitch – with shin pads and studs always seemingly inferior when compared to gum shields.

A lack of access

Sadly, the statistics say it all, with only 44% of secondary schools offering equal footballing opportunities for girls – depriving teenagers of their chance to follow their dream, and most importantly, have one in the first place.

I knew, and still know girls longing to learn, and I just hope that the uptake continues positively, until football becomes a mainstream activity accessible to all – not just a select few.

I firmly believe that it is these women, and this competition has lit a spark for a game that has been crying out for support and investment for so long. A once deprived sector of sport is coming out of the dark – brighter than ever before.

The support far afield is undeniable, but, as I mentioned earlier, we don’t have to look far to find local talent, taking the spotlight on the big stage.

Beth Mead, on her time at Wearside, scored 77 in 78, and had her England debut in 2018. She went from the pitches of North Yorkshire at six years old, to scoring in the Euros semi-final at 27. A country girl with a passion for football, an exceptional right foot, and 44 caps under her belt…

WSL 1: Reading FC Women v Sunderland AFC Ladies Photo by Ben Hoskins - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

The portfolio of northeast superstars, however, does not stop there – with academy-raised defender Lucy Bronze proving pivotal in recent campaigns.

Brought up alongside many of the seemingly more ‘well-known’ male products, her leadership skills are second to none, and are clear both on and off the pitch.

Born just south of the Scottish border in Berwick, she started her youth career at Sunderland, signing a senior contract with the Black Cats at only 16, having previously captained a side of girls her own age the season before.

Her skills were obvious from the onset, with the defender winning trophies, and awards in both her individual and team endeavours. It was clear early on that she would go far in life, and, with her recent move to Barcelona FC, perhaps these past few months are only the beginning!

It’s safe to say that the Euros have been a sizable success. Great matches coupled with the increased media exposure have combined seamlessly to make this the summer of women’s football.

England v Norway: Group A - UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Almost 250,000 spectators turned out to watch the group stages – with the knockout tally set to surpass that - outstripping previous records, which once were seen to be unachievable.

With the crowds’ help, these women are being heard, listened to, and most importantly supported on a scale they deserve, one that matches their talent.

People I know, who were once opposed to the idea of ‘women’ being on a pitch, are finding themselves caught up in the magic of the tournament.

People who once criticised are rightfully astounded, and silenced.

The Lionesses are giving girls an opportunity

Although it is a long, long journey to complete equality, the first hurdle has been not only been crossed, but blown away completely.

With continued media coverage, nationwide support, and the people of today encouraging the youth of tomorrow, I am in no doubt that this game will continue to go from strength to strength.

Whatever happens this weekend, we will always be grateful for this team, and forever proud of the truly incredible things they have achieved.


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