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The Football Association's Head of Football Development, Kelly Simmons MBE, is confident that the forthcoming UEFA Women's Championships in the North West will go a long way towards further increasing the interest and participation of girls in football in this country.
Speaking to Women's Soccer Scene at last week's announcement of the tournament's venues at Blackburn, Kelly admits that there is a real sense of anticipation amongst the organisers. "There's a real buzz that we're finally here (at the launch)," she says. "A lot of planning and a lot of hard work has gone on behind the scenes for many months, now we're here with our partners and the media, announcing the tournament dates and venues. It's a really exciting time."
Kelly is also quick to point out the hard work has gone on for much longer than when the announcement was made that England were to host the Championships. "A lot of effort was actually put it before the announcement, as the Football Association had to submit a bid to UEFA to host the tournament. So it's been a couple of years of work leading up to today."
How confident is Kelly that the Championships will help to increase the fast rising numbers of girls playing football in this country? "Girls and women's football is growing significantly year after year, averaging about 1,000 new affiliated girls and women's teams every year," she replies. "It is now easily the number one female participation sport and this can only help get more and more girls into football. It will give an opportunity up here in the North West to see the best teams in the world, hopefully people will see the tournament on television and raise the profile of the game.
"There are some fantastic role models we have got that girls just don't know about, like Katie Chapman, Rachel Brown and Faye White and they can be such an inspiration for girls in this country. I'm confident that, with good coverage and good publicity, we will generate another big increase in girls' participation."
In which case, what would Kelly deem to be a successful tournament in terms of girls taking up the game? "Any success would probably be measured a year later," she admits. "I would like to think by then that we might have another 1500-2000 affiliated girls teams playing every week, and that would be a success."
England go into the tournament as hosts but are unlikely to figure among the favourites as the tournament commences. Would a successful tournament by the host nation be paramount in helping the game's development? Kelly does not feel this, replying: "It would help if England do well and perform well and people get to know the players, but it is not the be-all-and-end all. I think the fact that the Championships are here and on the television, and there are lots of opportunities going on across the country for girls to take part in, it will be successful."
You can view the full interview with Kelly Simmons MBE on our WSS 2 TV Channel, simply click the TV Button on our news ticker!
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