Arsenal Ladies' Leah Williamson: "Football is the easiest way to stay healthy and happy"

PUBLISHED: 11:15 20 October 2016 | UPDATED: 17:12 20 October 2016

Arsenal ladies and England player Leah Williamson helps referee a game at St Albans Girls School.

Arsenal ladies and England player Leah Williamson helps referee a game at St Albans Girls School.

Danny Loo Photography 2016

Arsenal Ladies have noticed a "definite increase" in the number of girls following in their footsteps, when it comes to taking part in their favourite sport.

But, after participating in Girls’ Football Week last week, midfielder Leah Williamson admits there are “still barriers” to overcome.

The London Colney based team sent out players to a range of events at local schools for the week, which was designated by the FA to encourage as many girls and women as possible to get involved in the popular sport.

Jordan Nobbs and Leah Williamson got the ball rolling at an inter-school tournament at St Albans Girls’ School on Monday, October 10.

Headteacher Margaret Chapman welcomed their presence, saying the footballers’ visit would help to encourage girls to take up the sport.

It follows the scouting of two pupils, Anouk Denton and Teyah Goldie, both of whom were recently identified as elite footballers for the Arsenal Ladies FC regional talent club.

Leah told the Herts Advertiser: “I really enjoyed getting involved with Girls’ Football Week events. It’s good to connect with the young girls involved in our sport and hopefully inspire a few more to take it up!

“I have definitely noticed an increase in the number of girls taking up football. St Albans Girls’ School had so many girls at the after school club. When I was playing for my school team we could barely scrape 11 for the pitch. The push to get girls involved really is paying off.

However, she urged parents to “make sure their girls know that if you have a dream or even just a passion that you can pursue it all the way now.

England and Arsenal ladies Alex Scott takes a selfie with pupils from St Nicholas School.England and Arsenal ladies Alex Scott takes a selfie with pupils from St Nicholas School.

“There are pathways to help those interested but don’t know where to start. And also they need to encourage their kids to be brave and step out of that comfort zone because once they try football I think they would surprise themselves with how much they enjoy it.

“They also need to take away any stereotypes that may be in their children’s minds. Football is not just for boys!”

Leah added that there were still barriers as, “not all schools will provide an all girls football team etc. But that’s where girls need to be brave and take it into their own hands to get involved.

“I had to show my football coach I was good enough by trialling with the boys team and then he let me play. So although there may be barriers still they are certainly not as by as they were and there are always ways around it!”

She went on: “I come from a sporty and football mad family so after trying almost every sport I decided football was the one. I reaped the benefits when I was younger. I had so many friends at school - boys and girls - and I was healthy and active just from pursuing a passion! It’s the easiest way to stay healthy, happy and keeping out of your mum’s hair, ha!”

Arsenal Ladies held more than 30 events throughout the week, with captain Alex Scott attending a player development programme at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield.

Other sessions attended by players included those held at Cotlandswick Leisure Centre in London Colney, with Leah Williamson reappearing alongside Dan Carter at a five-a-side league for women aged 16 and over.

Dutch football midfielder Daniëlle van de Donk, who plays for Arsenal Ladies, emphasised the importance of female role models within sport.

She said: “I hope we motivate them to play more football, to exercise and train harder and play better. But [also] just to have a lot of fun.”

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