Football-mad duo Donna Carden and Millee Clarke spent many late nights in front of the telly, cheering on the England women’s team at the World Cup in Canada earlier this year.
They knew instinctively what a positive impact the success of Mark Sampson’s team in reaching the semi-finals, finishing third and beating arch rivals Germany for the first time in 31 years, would have.
Now mum and manager Donna and her 15-year-old star striker Millee, tipped to be a future England player, are at the forefront themselves of a campaign in the Mansfield area to promote female football.
“I am extremely passionate about it, and England’s success definitely raised the profile” said 33-year-old Donna, who is chairwoman of Woodhouse Colts Football Club, based at the Forest Town Arena.
“Football is a fantastic sport to be involved in, regardless of gender, age or ability. But when girls play, it becomes less about the game and more about the passion and determination to prove that this girl can!”
Her comment is a reference to the nationwide #thisgirlcan initiative, which has been launched by Sport England as a celebration of active women up and down the country. And that celebration has been applied to football by Donna after she won a Grow The Game grant of £6,000 from the Football Foundation to push the girls’ game in her local region.
“We are using the money to get more girls into football,” said Donna. “We have already set up a girls’ futsal team at Woodhouse Colts. Now the plan is to start a girls’ futsal league if we can find a suitable venue.”
Futsal is an exciting, indoor five-a-side version of football. The demand has been so great that Woodhouse already run the most successful sessions for girls in the county, at Garibaldi College in Forest Town every Wednesday night, and the squad take on boys’ teams in the Junior Elite Futsal League at West Notts College in Mansfield.
“Anyone can pop along to our sessions,” said Donna, who lives in Clipstone. “We teach the basics and then throw the girls in at the deep end by getting them involved in matches. It’s a nice, fun, friendly atmosphere, with music playing.”
Donna first got into football four years ago when searching for a local team for her daughter Chloe to play in. Now she not only heads a thriving Woodhouse club that runs 29 teams for boys and girls, including disabled youngsters, but also manages Mansfield Town U15 Ladies.
Her footballing pride and joy is Millee, of Mansfield, who has progressed from five years at Woodhouse to join the Derby County Centre of Excellence U17 girls’ team.
“Millee has no family background in football, and her mum isn’t a huge fan!” said Donna. “But she’s had a ball at her feet since the age of four and just fell in love with the game.
“She’s doing extremely well. She is a fantastic player and has the potential to go all the way.” Just like girls’ football as a whole!