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Womens Football News Archive - 4th Jun 2003
City girls do alright with the boys !
Last summer Bristol City took the step of becoming the first club in the country to allow girl footballers to enter their FA Academy in order to train and attend college alongside the boys who were seeking to earn professional contracts with the Nationwide League club. In the season just finished, the City first team reached the Division Two play-offs and won the LDV Trophy with a first team squad that included around a dozen players who had come through the academy, making it one of the most productive in the country for their club.
The pioneering scheme began with three 16-year-old members of the Bristol City Ladies first team squad which had just won the South West Combination and promotion to the Premier League. Katy Little, Lizzie Barratt and Rachael Allen have all just finished their first year with the academy. Rachael is a talented defender who can play anywhere across the back four, Lizzie is a pacey striker who can also play on the wing, and Katy, who plays on the left side of midfield, has been in outstanding form towards the end of the season and may push for higher things in the future.
Former City captain and Watford defender Keith Millen, the club's under-17 manager, is in charge of training although it is sometimes taken by Alan Walsh and Peter Clayton. First team manager Danny Wilson also takes an interest: "He's always asking us how we're getting on !" says Katy.
Monday and Tuesdays see training in the morning and college in the afternoon, Wednesday is all day at college and Thursday is all day training, as is Friday morning. The players attend St George Communuty College whilst the new academy is still being built. "We have fifteen in our class and the education standard is very high - we are well looked after," adds Katy. The only difference between the girls and boys is that the girls are not paid.
Women's Soccer Scene caught up with Katy and Rachael to find out their thoughts on how the year had gone.
How does it feel to be one of the first three girls to attend a men's academy at a professional club ?
Katy: Good! I think it will be different in a few years time as it will become more commonplace and I'm glad I've done it.
Rachael: It feels pretty good but I haven't really thought about that! It was too good an opportunity to turn down.
What kind of experience has it been for you ?
Katy: It's been a good one, it was really hard when we started out in pre-season and we weren't prepared for it. None of us expected it to be so hard and we all suffered injuries as a result.
Rachael: It was extremely hard at first but I got plenty out of it. It has been totally different for us as it is a different world.
You train with the boys at every session. Has it been hard trying to keep up with them ?
Katy: Yes! They didn't expect us to keep up really, but we had to do the best we could. They all encourage us during matches and I'm pleased to say they've accepted us. It can be hard playing practice games against them but they don't tackle us too hard !
Rachael: It got easier as it went along but it's still hard as they are two years ahead of us. Small sided practice games are a lot betterr for us than the 11-a-side ones but the slower pace of women's football does make it a little easier when we play for City.
Do you think that the academy has improved you as a player ?
Katy: I've got a lot more confident and have improved most aspects of my game but to be honest I'll probably benefit more next season. Rachael has improved an awful lot but unfortunately Lizzie has been out through injury.
Rachael: Yes it has. Because it's been a trial, nobody knew what to expect - us or the club, but we learn things from playing with the boys. I've had a lot of injury problems but, touch wood, not since I returned to the side after Christmas as my body is adapting to training and I'm better off for it.
How would you recommend the academy if you were asked by anyone ?
Katy: I'd thoroughly recommend it, it's improved us and it's definitely worth doing it. I'd do it again if I had the chance !
Rachael: Definitely, but not unless you go into it whole heartedly and put everything into it. It's a great experience and opportunity, you improve parts of your game without knowing it !
City manager Jack Edgar has hailed the scheme as "very successful" although at times he has had to make do without the players. "Their progress has been a little mixed - their work rate has been very hard as they are trying to live with potential professional footballers and initially picked up little strains and injuries as a result. They came through all that however and Katy Little in particular has looked very strong since Christmas. It has probably been a little frustrating for them overall in that sense but it should be remembered that, as boys, they may not have had this opportunity."
"We operate a Centre of Excellence from the age of 10 and I wanted to establish a progression from the Centre to the senior teams. I would have liked an under-16 team but there is no league for them to play in so this is the next step for potential first team players."
So what will be the next step for the academy ?
"Next year, we are looking for more girls and an established structure, it should be a bit more scheduled as this year was an experiment. If we can overcome costs for accommodation there would be no reason why we couldn't take on as many as 14 girls but it is likely to be eight, including Katy, Lizzie and Rachael who will be starting their second year. One new member will be Joanna How who is joining from Portugal and another should be a goalkeeper who will be able to receive specialist training."
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