England manager Phil Neville has named his squad for the FIFA Women’s World Cup with several North East talents hoping to make their mark in France this summer.
Sunderland Regional Talent Club (formerly Sunderland Girls Centre of Excellence) graduates Steph Houghton, Jill Scott, Lucy Bronze, Lucy Staniforth and Demi Stokes will join fellow ex-Sunderland AFC Ladies stars Beth Mead and Carly Telford in the 23-strong group.
And, with a ‘new dawn for football’ being ushered in, Foundation of Light continues its unrivalled reputation for developing future generations of female footballers through its Talent Pathway which engages over 1,000 girls every year.
There is a great depth to the Foundation’s Women and Girls programmes which offers opportunities for everyone, whatever their ability or goal.
Having so many current and former Foundation participants involved at all levels of the women’s game from the England captain to those trying football for the first time demonstrates the strength of our pathway.
Inspiring youngsters from as young as 18 months in fun, weekly sessions with Little Dribblers and then SSE Wildcats Football Centres, the Foundation ensures a growing number of girls can take their first steps in the game.
Through Premier League Girls and Primary Stars, school teams participate in festivals to celebrate their love of football and compete in regional and national tournaments – opportunities which saw St Joseph’s Catholic Academy representing Sunderland AFC win the EFL Girls Tournament at Wembley Stadium.
From there talented players are signposted to grassroots clubs or invited to trial for the Sunderland Regional Talent Club and Player Development Centres.
One of the country’s leading RTC’s, players take part in a comprehensive training programme covering the tactical, technical, physical and social elements of football under the guidance of the Foundation’s specialist UEFA and FA qualified coaches.
The RTC’s U16s have challenged the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City in the FA Girls’ England Talent Pathway Division One North while 10 players have been selected for the Lionesses youth teams and England Schools in tournaments across Europe.
This season has also seen the U14s players attend FA National Performance Camps as well as represent their county sides, while the younger age groups (U12s and U10s) are celebrating winning their Russell Foster Youth Leagues against boy’s teams.
In 2017, the Foundation announced a partnership with Hetton School, where England captain and Ambassador Houghton was a pupil, which would see a football academy for girls established – the first of its kind in the country.
The academy sees players aged 11-15 combine their studies with high-level football training to develop all aspects of their game.
For those looking to continue their education and football, the Foundation’s Scholarship gives footballers aged 16-18 years old the chance to represent Sunderland AFC and gain nationally recognised qualifications.
Winning the National Football Youth League Women’s Premier Division and Women’s Cup last season, the Ladies Scholars made history in 2018-19 by joining the EFL’s first competitive league for females while playing Durham FA’s Futsal League and reached the ECFA Premier Cup Final where they represented partners South Tyneside College.
Off the pitch, students progress to Higher Education, employment or Apprenticeships, meaning there are exit routes available for those who wish to pursue a career outside of football.
Following their demotion from the Women’s Super League in 2018, Sunderland AFC Ladies started life in the third tier, finishing runners up in the FA Women’s National League Northern Premier Division with more than half the squad made up of current and former Foundation of Light participants.
Careers in coaching or officiating can also be achieved through the Foundation, funded by the Premier League, with nine participants achieving their FA Level 1 Coaching and qualifying as referees.
Other Female Talent Pathway products include Arsenal’s Ballon d’Or nominated defender Jordan Nobbs, Rachel Laws (Reading Women), Olivia Watt (Middlesbrough Women) and Victoria Curtis (Newcastle United Women) as the North East continues to be play a major part in the future of the women’s game.
Written By CHRIS FRYATT
13 May 2019