Manchester schools to offer equal football access to girls

This file photo taken on March 28, 2018 shows young girls take part in a training session of the first municipal women's football school in France, in Grenoble central eastern France - AFP
This file photo taken on March 28, 2018 shows young girls take part in a training session of the first municipal women's football school in France, in Grenoble central eastern France - AFP

Manchester is aiming to lead the way in creating equal access to football for all girls in schools, with the mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham predicting that every girl in the city will have access to school football within 12 months.

Burnham, the FA and former England and Manchester City goalkeeper Karen Bardsley sent a joint letter to every school in Greater Manchester on Thursday, urging them to provide at least two hours a week of PE to girls including football, ahead of Sunday's Manchester derby in the Women's Super League.

Bardsley, who made 82 appearances for England, is also now the chair of the Greater Manchester women's football board, and speaking after a kickabout with a group of schoolgirls on a frosty morning in Salford, the 38-year-old said: "The time is right for equity. There's a real need to do something special here, almost a pilot if you will, to grow the game across the country. That starts with grassroots movements and changing perceptions.

"[Since England won the Euros] girls are getting a lot of confidence from the fact that they can join in with the boys at break times. It feels like this sense of parity is dribbling into the younger generations where the boys no longer feel it's weird that the girls want to join in, which is really awesome."

Thursday's news follows an open letter sent by the whole Lionesses squad this summer to the then-candidates to be prime minister, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, calling on them to provide equal access for all girls. Burnham says that around 70% of schools in Greater Manchester currently do so, but adds: "I'm going to make a prediction that a year from now we'll have 100% of schools in Greater Manchester signed on.

"It's a very simple message: Give all girls growing up in Greater Manchester the right to play football as part of their school years.

"[Sometimes] there is still kind of an old sort of mentality that says different sports are for girls - it's just not the case. We need to sweep that away and make all sports available. Football is for girls."

The announcement comes as more than 40,000 tickets have been sold for Sunday's WSL fixture at the Etihad Stadium, with just three points separating fourth-placed Manchester City and second-placed Manchester United in the table.

Bardsley added: "It's going to be a really great spectacle, with two really top footballing sides. City have turned the corner and won nine games on the trot in all competitions, and United are flying at the minute as well, so it's going to be great fun to watch."