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Female college football has had a competitive edge introduced to it with the creation of two innovative, brand new leagues to cater for both small sided and full eleven-a-side teams across Essex, designed for further education colleges and sixth form colleges in the region.
The eleven-a-side competition sees teams play each other both home and away during a set fixture window. In order to ensure travel time and costs are kept to a minimum, sides have also been placed into either a North East or South East Division depending upon the location of their educational establishment.
Upon the culmination of each division's schedules, the top two teams from each will go on to compete for the Cancer Research UK Women's Football Cup, those that finish at the top of the respective divisions having home advantage for their semi final. The winners of the semi finals progress through to the Final which is to be played at a neutral venue on Wednesday 27th May 2009.
Looking forward to the progress of the competition, ECFA Girls & Women's Football Development Officer Emma Burden explained: "With young female players coming through the system and looking at alternative educational programmes, more and more college programmes are setting up female-specific football academies and teams. The more opportunities we can offer to engage with the 16 to 19-year-old age bracket the better."
The Futsal competition kicked off in September, with a Central Venue competition running in the North of the county and one in the South. Emma is excited at the prospect of things to come: "We have massive issues with girls dropping out of football in this age group and if we can address this in some small way that can only help the development of the game. We started the Futsal events last year and already the number of teams involved has led to us staging two separate divisions. Our fingers are crossed that these will continue to grow." Each Futsal event will see the points from matches accumulated and carried over from each event to the next. The Essex FA are funding three events in both areas and the eventual winners of the North will play-off with the winners of the South.
The winter window for the eleven-a-side matches rests between 29th September and 28th November, while a second period to compete in has been set for 2nd March to 30th April 2009. All semi final fixtures will then be completed between 4-15 May. "We had a number of enquiries from colleges looking for opportunities for their female players to play," Emma continued. "The Futsal format was set up as an easy way to get everyone together to see how we could move forward."
Futsal is the FIFA and UEFA recognised form of small sided football. The FA's 2001 Development Strategy cited the development of this form of the small sided game as a key objective and Futsal has been designed to provide a high paced, energetic and fast-flowing game for spectators at the same time as allowing players to be at their most creative by protecting those showing attacking flair.
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