Colleges set to capitalise on England Lionesses’ success as women’s football participation peaks

AoC Sport is set to see female football participation reach an all-time high in 2017/18, with a record number of teams entering its league and cup competitions.

Following the recent success of the England Lionesses in reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Women’s European Championships – and with more than four million viewers tuning in to their final match of the tournament – interest in women’s football has spiked over the summer.

And it doesn’t look likely to diminish, with a record number of teams entering AoC Sport league and cup competitions ahead of the new academic year.

The number of teams entering English Colleges FA (ECFA) Category 1 leagues has grown by 22% from last year, Category 2 entries by 29% and Category 3 entries by 76%.

In addition, the AoC Sport Knockout Cup has seen entries increase by 3%, and the Premier Cup by 60%.

AoC Sport Managing Director, Marcus Kingwell, said: “The substantial increase in the number of female teams entering AoC Sport’s league and cup competitions for 2017/18 is a clear indication of the direction in which the sport is going.

“Thanks to the hard work of college staff, initiatives such as The FA’s Girls’ Football Week, and AoC Sport’s own dedicated ECFA team, women’s football in colleges has never been in a stronger position.

“We look forward to seeing this upward trend in participation continue following the launch of our new four-year ECFA strategy.”

AoC Sport’s National Football Development Manager, Lauren O’Sullivan, added: “It’s been fantastic to see the England Lionesses enjoy another successful tournament and inspire so many females to either get involved in football or return to the game.

“Women’s football has grown massively in the further education sector as a whole over the last few years, and we expect the impact of the Lionesses to help further this growth again in 2017/18.

“Having launched the new ECFA strategy in May, we hope to use the Lionesses’ success as a springboard for females in colleges across the country, as we look to support The FA’s aim to double participation in women’s football by 2020.

“Having role models like Jill Scott, a former England College National Team player and college student, performing at the highest level and representing her country lets young women know there is a pathway to play at every level.”

Women’s football in colleges has grown in both popularity and importance in recent years, with a number of institutions across the country opening specialised academies and creating links with FA Women’s Super League clubs.

ECFA College Football Hubs have recruited 231 female football activators over the past year, engaging more than 3,300 female participants within colleges, and a further 5,300 outside of colleges. In total, College Football Hubs have provided playing opportunities to more than 31,000 players, 26% of whom are female.

Nearly 1000 female students volunteered in football through the Hub programme in 2016/17, while nearly 400 were actively coaching and another 100 officiating.

Through AoC Sport’s Women and Girls Apprenticeship program, a further 231 female college students were engaged in football, alongside more than 70 secondary school students and nearly 450 primary school pupils.