More than half of female players have been bumped off a pitch for a men’s team – we need parity

Jill Scott alongside girls promoting the Kick On initiative
Jill Scott and Beth Mead went along to Vicky Park Rangers as part of the Kick On campaign - Kick On

Pitch access wasn’t a problem for me when I played in a boys’ team as a kid. The first time I experienced it was when I was playing for an all-girls’ team. We used to get the 7-9pm slot and the pitch wasn’t even lit up sometimes – and there would be no toilets – so we would do a lot of running sessions down on the beach instead. Even at the start of my senior club football career, we would always get the last slot of 8-10pm after the boys and academy had trained.

With the recent growth of the women’s game, I would have hoped pitch parity would have improved by now, so it was a surprise to find out that more than 50 per cent of women’s players had a pitch booked and then found their slot had been given to a men’s or boys’ team instead. That needs to change straight away. Pitch access needs to be equal, with the same number of training slots for all genders and not bumping slots at the last minute.

Beth Mead and I went to Vicky Park Rangers recently where the girls’ team was kicked off for a boys’ team last year. It highlighted the fact that a lot more work needs to be done – until that happens the game isn’t going to develop.

A solution needs to be found because currently women are twice as likely as men to consider quitting football because of pitch access. What you have to remember as well is a lot of these women and girls will be coming to training after a long day at work or school and the last thing they want is to turn up and find they don’t have a pitch. It takes enough to get there as it is without the added uncertainty. On top of this, there are the safety concerns around pitches being in locations where players don’t feel safe or where you have to travel late at night.

There is a push to get more women playing but how can you do that and sustain the growth when you don’t have equal access to pitches?

Girls playing grass-roots football
More than 50 per cent of girls have found themselves kicked off a pitch to make room for a boy's team - Kick On

The “Kick On” manifesto launched by Starling Bank highlights the changes that need to happen to level the playing field for women and girls and why equal pitch access is so important. It’s part of a wider ‘Pitch Pack’ that is full of advice for how teams can contact local communities, pitch providers and so on to gain equal access. People probably don’t know how to go about challenging pitch parity so this is a great tool to guide girls’ and women’s teams who may be struggling to know where to start.

The manifesto also highlights the importance of having female-specific facilities available at sites. Girls are different to boys, women to men, and it’s making sure we have the right facilities. That might be something as simple as having a sanitary bin in the toilets. We’ve seen a lot of work has been done to change women’s teams wearing white shorts because of players worrying about period leaks and such a small change like that can help girls stay in sport. I don’t think it’s a subject we should shy away from. Women get periods, men don’t. You want to make girls and women as comfortable as possible.

We want to get as many girls playing football as possible and if you look at the bottom of the pyramid the numbers are going up. However, as I mentioned before, there’s also a massive drop-off in the middle – and not getting pitch access plays a huge part in that. There could be future Lionesses, aged 12 or 13, who aren’t comfortable in the changing room, who can’t find the right facilities or pitch access, and they leave the sport.

Teams at the top may be thriving but you don’t want to create a gap below where teams can’t reach the next level because a pyramid is only ever as strong as its foundation. Equal pitch access is vital to help close the gap.

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