THE hugely successful 2012 Olympic Games acted as a worldwide platform that allowed some of the lesser known sports to thrive, and one of those that came under the spotlight during the London extravaganza was women’s football.
Scottish Football Association (SFA) Club Development Officer for Girls’ and Women’s Football, Shirley Martin, believes that this exposure can only lead to a prosperous future for the game and its stars.
Shirley, who is responsible for the South West region of the country and charged with encouraging youngsters to find their place in the environment, insisted that inclusion on such a grand stage will see more aspiring talents making a name for themselves than ever before.
She commented: “The Olympics have been a great advert for women’s football and will definitely lead to increased interest from youngsters. In addition to this, the Olympics have inspired players who were already playing football and really shown them that if they work hard and want to reach that level then the opportunity is there for them.
“One of the most challenging aspects of my job is facing people’s attitudes to girls’ and women’s football, however, this event – and the fact that some matches were played at Hampden – has gone some way to changing perceptions. The more attention the women’s sector is given, the more attitudes we will change.”
Discussing the growth of females in Scotland’s national sport, Shirley stated that their importance would be highlighted if the media were to dedicate more coverage to women’s ties, at club and national level.
She commented: “It would be nice to see more of the women’s side of the game in the media. Things are getting better. With Scotland doing so well at the moment and one of our clubs (Glasgow City) progressing into the latter stages of the Champions League, some of the media have been taking more of an interest. I would love to see regular coverage and this is something that we are trying to achieve.
“I think that the various competitions being given more media prominence would also result in more young people actively pursuing a career in the industry, definitely.”
Public perceptions of football are changing, and this clearly driven professional said that although it was once thought of as something that only men should be involved in, this is no longer the case.
Shirley continued: “I think that views are evolving all the time but we still have a long way to go. The fact that there were over 80,000 people watching the women’s football matches at Wembley and around 18,000 people at one of the women’s fixtures at Hampden (both during the 2012 Olympic Games) would indicate that attitudes to women playing football are not what they were.”
It is obvious that Shirley relishes all aspects of her role and is passionate about developing a system that allows Scotland’s female participants to shine.
Describing her long-standing association with football, and how this lead to taking up a position with the SFA, the Falkirk squad member said:
“I have always loved football and have played for as long as I can remember, so to be able to work within it is perfect for me. I started playing for Falkirk when I was aged eight and I still play for them. I remember being the only girl on the school team and even used to play for the boys brigade on a Saturday as there was no girls’ outfits. I wish the opportunities that are available to girls now had been in place when I was younger.”
Elaborating on why she enjoys her current capacity so much and the rewards that it brings, Shirley added: “The girls’ and women’s area has so much potential. I think it is going to grow dramatically over the next few years and hopefully I will play a part in that.
“I have been in my job for just under a year now and there have been many highlights. In the South West region alone we have managed to create a number of new clubs and also increase the number of girls playing by 35%. A particular highlight for me is that the Under 9 and Under 11 teams now compete in regular weekly fixtures.”
Shirley’s post is one that it is funded for an initial period of three years, but it is strikingly apparent that she would like her input to be of a long-term nature. Drawing on her professional goals and aims, she explained:
“We have very specific targets, which include increasing registered players in clubs, establishing new clubs and identifying new volunteers. My main aim is to support our existing teams so that we achieve everything we set out to do.
“It is vital that we inform girls of all ages that there are clubs out there for them. If this is emphasised then we will find more and more girls participating in football.”
Report by Cheri Burns