WHEN youth worker Paul Smith founded a girls’ football team in South Tyneside in 1992, he little realised the small number who showed an interest would develop into a thriving club and produce two trophy-winning England players.
When the FA took over the women’s game a year later, there were still just 183 teams around the country.
Today there are over 12,000 and the game is enjoying a boom, largely thanks to the success of the Lionesses and superstars like Manchester City captain Steph Houghton and former England midfielder Jill Scott.
Amazingly, both Houghton and Scott were graduates of Boldon Community Association Girls in its early years.
“There’s a lot of pride in Jill here and she’s definitely somebody for the girls to look up to and aspire to be,” says club treasurer Adam Kennedy. “We hope to produce more Jill Scotts.”
Last year, the BBC took Scott back to the club that nurtured her. She told them, “Football was literally our life when we played here. I always class it as home.
“I don’t think I’d have gone on to play for England without Paul. Grassroots football here gave me my happiest memories.”
Boldon, a community club in a former mining area north of Sunderland (denoted by a colliery wheel on its crest), continually punches above its weight, regularly competing and winning in top-level competitions.
Several of its girls’ team play in boys’ leagues; one girls’ team famously went undefeated all season.
“There are not so many girls teams in the region, so the decision was made to enter some of the girls into the boys’ league, and they’ve gone from strength to strength ever since,” says Kennedy, an electrical technician.
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Parents do their best to fundraise, but having a big lump sum like that makes a huge difference
“It’s made them a lot tougher and a lot more confident. The boys always know they’re in for a game with us.”
Boldon has six teams through the age ranges, plus a women’s side.
Last year, its U-10s applied for funds through the local Tesco Community Grants scheme.
Working in partnership with charity Groundwork, the supermarket has awarded over £100million to more than 50,000 local projects through its funding programmes across the country, including 6,000 schools, over 2,000 sports teams and 2,300 other youth organisations.
Customers can participate by voting in their local stores to support projects or even nominate them.
An allocation of £1,000 to Boldon was used to buy training equipment.
This helped set the team up for an impressive season in which it reached two national finals, including one played at St George’s Park, a match they only lost on penalties. They also reached the final of the National Futsal championship.
“The money was vital. It allowed our coaches to carry out more technical training drills and refresh tired equipment,” says Kennedy.
“Parents do their best to fundraise, but having a big lump sum like that makes a huge difference.”
This summer Tesco launched a grant programme, Stronger Starts, committed to giving £5.3million to schools and children’s groups to fund healthy food and activities.
“It’s clubs like Boldon who see first hand the difference these opportunities can make to young people’s lives when they’re moving, motivated and mentally energised,” says Christine Heffernan, Tesco group communications director.
“That’s why it felt right to extend the reach of our Stronger Starts funding to grants to ensure any child can play football and take away the worry about paying for subs or kit.”
The supermarket has also teamed up with The Sun’s Footie For All to help it find local clubs in need.
The Sun launched the campaign in September after charity Sported revealed that a worrying 94 per cent of clubs nationwide are struggling. It also found that young players were dropping out because parents could not cover subs.
“Obviously you can’t ignore the problem at a community-based club like ours,” says Kennedy.
“We made a decision at the beginning of the season not to raise subs because of the cost of living.
“We even made sure we spent the Tesco money at a local sports shop rather than with an online chain. We’re proud of the role we play in the community.”
Stronger Starts is open to any local club or charitable scheme. Add your support by voting for local groups using the blue tokens in your Tesco branch.
To find out more, head to tescoplc.com/strongerstarts
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