Get ready for Girls Football week -my daughter was inspired by Arsenal & England star Kelly Smith #WeCanPlay

My daughter is a long-haired princess who enjoys ballet, singing, crafts and matching her earrings to her outfits. She has never expressed any desire to play football and barely tolerates it as part of school PE lessons.

ballet pose

 To be fair, despite my husband's lifelong passion for the beautiful game and a staunch belief that Arsenal is, and forever will be, the best team in the universe, my boys have never been that interested either.

When my eldest two (both boys) were little, as a matter of course I enrolled them with a local kids club.

This was before the thoughtful rules were put in place to protect child players from aggressive onlookers (those sideline mums could be vicious!) and I allowed them to leave after a couple of seasons.

My eldest, then aged 5, spent an entire tournament birdwatching from his lonely and largely unchallenged position in goal - when the event ended one parents harangued us and him for being useless for letting a goal in. Did I mention these boys were aged 5?

The other son who hates the cold begged to be saved from what he claimed was hypothermia after a particularly bad winter and our brief flirt with footie ended.

Subsequent sons preferred ballet, archery and other hobbies and the girls - well they were girls so to my shame I never considered asking if they wanted to play!

Interest in women's football  thankfully is on the increase and since the rise in awareness of talented club, national and olympic stars like Kelly Smith more and more people are sitting up and taking the lady's game seriously.

Not seriously enough though - matches even at national level don't reach anything near the "bums on seats" levels of the boys and (probably because of this) pay and sponsorship deals even for our best female players are much lower than those the men enjoy. Think annual pay for women at top level equating one week's pay for a top male player.

The FA want this to change so have started a campaign to encourage more girls into football launching with a girl's football week commencing on Monday April 25.

The aim is to encourage more girls to consider trying football - apparently unlike sports like tennis and netball a survey by the FA revealed that only just over half those surveyed believed football was a good sport for them.

To help launch the #WeCanPlay initiative (what a great hashtag!) my youngest daughter who celebrates her 10th birthday this week came with me to the iconic Wembley Stadium for a fascinating tour and a skills session.

We were joined by football legend Kelly Smith, who was made an MBE in 2008.

Arsenal footballer Kelly Smith #WeCanPlay dressing rooms at Wembley

Kelly is an English football forward currently playing for FA WSL (Women’s Super League) club Arsenal Ladies.

Whilst growing up in Watford, just up the road from my home, Kelly regularly played football on boys' teams until she was kicked out of Garston Boys Club aged 7 (despite being the top goal-scorer) when the parents of her male opponents complained. 

She carried on playing football at Pinner Girls, a team formed by her father, moving onto develop her skills at Wembley Ladies, making her senior debut in 1995. 

She has since accumulated over 100 caps for the England women's national football and is England's record goal-scorer with 46 goals. Kelly also played in the women’s football team for Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympics.

My daughter was completely awe-struck by the friendly and chatty Kelly who proved to be an inspiration for my little girl who happily pushed aside her initial fear of the ball and tackling to enjoy a lovely sunny afternoon of footie.

My daughter told me she had not really wanted to go the event because she wasn't really interested in football but after meeting Kelly and having a go without the pressure of playing with more experienced boys she decided she really loved playing and would be more willing to join in at school.

She talks about her experience in this video. I'd love it if you'd watch it as she will be counting the views!

Right after the event she was adamant she had changed her opinion of football. I took her enthusiasm with a pinch of salt if I'm honest but a few days later she spotted a neighbour and her son carrying his football heading for a patch of public green at the corner of our cul-de-sac.

My daughter called for me and her little brother asking if we wanted to go and join in with a kick about! We played until it was time for tea with Maisy growing in confidence by the minute. 

mixed football #WeCanPlay

OK so she was playing with boys younger than her but I believe she will carry that enthusiasm and confidence forward and be much more willing to have a go with boys and girls of her own age.

I'm not saying she will completely swap her ballet shoes for football boots but you never know, maybe if she transmits some of her enthusiasm to her female classmates we might find another Kelly in our playground.

The FA website has lots of useful information as to how male and females with or without disabilities can get involved, find clubs, skills sessions and other footballing opportunities. 

Believe it or not there are already almost 6000 women's and girl's clubs playing affiliated club football with more than 2.89 million players.

The FA hopes that with the focus on encouraging primary and secondary schools and clubs, community groups and other educational establishments to organise football sessions for girls, soon there will be millions more female footballers.

There are free resources available for participating schools and institutions including session guides and promotional materials - just register your session HERE.

If you want to encourage the girls in your life to explore the sport you could mention the initiative to your school in case they don't know about it. I'm definitely going to ask our Head if we can organise something. And I'm checking out the FA website to see where both of my daughters could play. I think they'd enjoy some skills sessions in particular - I really hadn't realised football for girls was so accessible.

As a start you could just ask your daughter if she wants to go for a kick about in the garden or park with you. If nothing else she will be getting some exercise, fresh air and have some fun with you!

FA badge 3 lions
Disclaimer: We enjoyed a free tour of Wembley and football skills sessions for the purposes of learning about the #WeCanPlay initiative. Views and opinions remain honest and my own.