The FA recently launched a new series of features reviewing the Gamplan for Growth; a national strategy aimed at doubling the number of females involved in grassroots football across all areas by 2020.
Included within the first feature, focusing on the impact the Gameplan for Growth has had on participation, is a case study feature with one of our own clubs – Canterbury Old Bags United.
"Canterbury Old Bags United started as I was looking for a kick around and wanted to give older women the chance to join me,” explained Jo Treharne, the club’s founder, manager and coach. “Over the last three years we have grown the club and now have over 70 women aged between 24 and 60 involved at some level.
“In 2017 when I was studying for my FA Level 1 coaching badge, I decided to upload a Facebook post on the local residents' group asking if any women aged over 30 would be keen on joining a football club. I was inundated with replies, and at the first session, we had 24 women aged over 30 join us. From that moment, we were up and running.
“Due to the mixed levels of ability of the players, we began a Thursday night session where women aged over 35, including many of whom had never kicked a ball and didn't know the rules, could join us for a run-around, a bit of fitness and socialise with others. Friday night sessions were organised to focus on those who were younger, more experienced and wanted to improve their ability.
“Two years later in 2019, alongside the Crawley Old Girls, we organised the Old Girls' World Cup in France to coincide with the Women's World Cup and arranged for 250 women over the age of 30 from England, Wales, France and the USA to join us for a one of a kind tournament. We all descended on a stadium near Paris, and although the USA were crowned winners, it was one of the best experiences we have had. It was a real pinch-me moment when I looked around and saw players aged between 30 to over 60 join us to play a game we all love.
“When I first started this club, I felt I was judged when I said that I played football on a Thursday evening,” Jo admits. “I wasn't the only one; some players used to tell me they would be embarrassed about wearing their training kit on the way home. Now, perceptions have changed, the players now feel comfortable wearing their kit home, and I feel immense pride when I say Thursday nights are my football nights.
“There are many reasons I enjoy running Canterbury Old Bags United, but it's the teamwork, the socialising, the camaraderie and knowing we are getting people out of their homes and active that makes it worthwhile. Since starting, I've had a considerable number of members who said they were lonely and suffered from their mental health, but the club has given them a new perspective on life, and they feel part of a family. Football really can be such a power for good, and I'm delighted that I am bringing a community together through this beautiful game."
For more information on Canterbury Old Bags United, please click here to visit their Facebook page or follow @OldBagsUnited on Twitter.
Click here for more on the Gameplan for Growth review.