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For our latest Humans of Grassroots Sport entry, we spoke with Bedfont Eagles and Wildcat Girls Operations Manager, Terry Reader:
The Bedfont Eagles are a non-league community club based in Middlesex which launched 41 years ago. It’s one of the oldest serving youth clubs in the county and has been making huge strides with girls’ football engagement in recent times.
The Bedfont Sports chairman, David Reader, won the BBC Get Inspired Unsung Hero Award for London – after 33 years of dedicated work and raising over 2.5m for the club.
Ten years’ ago, there were five girls’ teams being run by a chap Dennis Hart and after he sadly passed away the momentum slowed a touch until the decision to be involved in Middlesex FA’s fantastic Wildcats Scheme.
Now lead by Leah Ambridge who joined the club as a level 1 coach and is now supported from the club by a UEFA B Licence coach.
The scheme launched to inspire girls aged between 5-11 to get into football and the SSE Wildcats Girls’ Football Centres provide plenty of opportunities to play the sport as part of an organised coaching environment.
Every Wildcat session is designed to be fun, engaging and welcome any abilities to give young players a positive first introduction to football.
Since joining the scheme it has gone from strength-to-strength and there are now 33 girls registered. Next year looks like there will be two full teams playing, an Under 8s and Under 10s. If numbers keep increasing by a few then there will be another.
One of the biggest challenges is competing for girls with other professional clubs like QPR. If players are given the choice between non-league and pro, it’s not a tricky decision to make. Another issue faced is the sheer number of activities girls have to pick from and it’s down to us to show why football is the one for them.
Bedfont stands out from the crowd thanks to a special club ethos. The project is all about getting kids active and being part of a team and community. It helps kids stay focused and excel in all aspects of life. The best validation of the project comes from seeing the kids coming through school with qualifications before moving onto the next stage of their lives.
Parents have also said how much they enjoy meeting new people on the touch lines and have formed friendships away from the facility.
Games are not all about winning, it’s about coming together and making friends for life. I have been part of Bedfont for twenty years now and it’s incredible seeing the children coming through some tough situations.
Ten years ago, girls football had a big resurgence before dropping off, but the recent success of the Three Lionesses’ and heightened media coverage has reversed the decline.
Chelsea Ladies, until recently, played games locally at Staines (they have now moved to there own ground at Kingstonians) and they do a lot of good work in generating exposure for the game. They put on free tickets to encourage people to come along and see what all the fuss is about. It’s helped ignite the passion and the FA are doing great things around recruitment.
Wildcats has done wonders so far and can do so much more with additional volunteers to drive it forward. It’s becoming harder to find people to help out. Being an amazing footballer isn’t imperative as a volunteer and there are so many roles to get stuck into.
The more volunteers, the more girls can start playing. Bedfont currently has 26 teams within the club with each needing two volunteers, so you can see the numbers we’re after. It’s a great reflection on the volunteers that the retention rate among our players is so high.
For anyone wanting to find out more about the Wildcat project, Bedfont Eagles or the volunteering scheme just get in touch either via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07967 370109
BY - Will Chrimes
4 June 2018