Women’s football coaches back campaign for girls’ league in Camden and Islington

Local league players and officials at Market Road with coaches Sarah Cleary (right, front row) and N

Local league players and officials at Market Road with coaches Sarah Cleary (right, front row) and Natasha Ademakinwa (second from right, back row). - Credit: Archant

Female coaches are backing a campaign to give Islington girls what they never had – a genuine opportunity to play competitive football in the borough.

Camden & Islington Youth League secretary Karen Greene is aiming to establish a full-fledged girls’ league at Market Road from the beginning of next season.

Along with Michael MacNeill, who heads the Islington Football Development team, she has organised a series of free come and play sessions for six to 16-year-old girls starting on Friday to coincide with the end of National Girls’ Football Week.

The plan is to gauge interest in setting up a girls’ league – and former West Ham Ladies and QPR Ladies midfielder Sarah Cleary, who grew up in the borough, feels the idea is long overdue.

“I think this can open up girls’ football in Islington,” said Cleary, who is now player-manager of Islington Borough Ladies and also coaches junior teams at Camden & Islington Youth League club Fusion FC.

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“When I was younger I always played with my brother and my cousin, but I remember it could be hard at school because a lot of the boys would just say ‘you can’t play’.

“Some girls are really confident and don’t care, but I think a lot of others are being held back a bit. They hesitate to play unless one of their friends is playing and it’s not easy to encourage them to play with the boys.

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“For a parent, it might be hard at first to find a girls’ team and then find one that actually has somewhere to play matches. You don’t want to tell girls they can train, train, train but that there’s nowhere to play.

“It’s definitely got better since I was younger but it could still be more accessible and I’d love to encourage more girls to play. If they did have a girls’ league I think a lot more would come out of hiding.”

Cleary, 31, has promised that Fusion – who have a number of girls training with their boys’ teams – will be entering a side if the new league is given the thumbs-up.

“We try and coach the girls the same way as the boys, we don’t water it down or anything,” she added. “We want them to feel like footballers rather than girls or boys.

“When Karen told me about this, I thought it was such a good idea, and I feel it’ll really take off. Even if we had just one player out of the league who went on to make it, that’d be superb.”

Cleary’s thoughts were echoed by fellow coach Natasha Ademakinwa, who played football alongside the boys in Camden until she was 13 – and was then barred from playing in mixed teams.

Although she went on to play for Tottenham Ladies, Ademakinwa largely turned her attention to coaching and, having gained her UEFA B licence, now works with girls at the Millwall Lionesses Centre of Excellence.

“I was one of those unfortunate girls who had to stop playing with the boys at a certain age,” she said. “I’d still have a kickabout in the park with them, but it wasn’t the same.

“There wasn’t much football around for girls in north London and my parents weren’t willing to drive me a long way to play.

“But when I was 17 I thought I’d go for a trial with Tottenham and fortunately it worked out.

“It’s good that there are more girls’ teams around now, but there are still a lot of girls who don’t have anywhere to play and it’d be really great if we can do this in Islington.”

Ademakinwa, who is now 28, spent a decade coaching junior teams at Isledon Wolves – steering their Under-14 side to the treble last season – before recently joining another junior outfit, The Heath.

And, since she began her role with Millwall, she has become aware that girls’ football seems to enjoy a higher profile south of the River Thames than it does in the northern boroughs.

“There are more teams out there in south London, more people working at primary schools and I think we need to advertise it a lot more in north London,” added Ademakinwa.

“I think we’re going in the right direction, but there’s so much talent in girls’ football, they want to be involved, and it’s just a case of getting them into a team.

“This can be a great pathway for them. We’ve got trials at Millwall in June and I’m sure other clubs will be watching girls as well.”

The first girls’ event takes place from 6pm to 8pm on the Market Road Astroturf pitches and will be followed by subsequent sessions at the same time each week until mid-June.

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