With Scotland about to make their major international tournament debut, this is a huge moment for Scottish Women’s Football. There is a political buzzword that people love to throw around at these points – legacy – but it is a valid question. How do we build upon this?
After all, if there is no young girls sitting at home, being inspired by the likes of Gemma Fay, Erin Cuthbert, Joelle Murray (I’m going to avoid listing the whole squad) can access the ability to play football – then this is a huge opportunity lost.
So are the SFA taking advantage? I’ve spoken to Megan McBurnie, a marketing executive at the SFA, about how they are trying to build upon the game.
The SFA divides Scotland into six geographic locations, and within each of those regions is a Girls and Club Development Officer. At the start of the year, the SFA launched the ‘Our Girls Our Game’ campaign, creating a soccer centre in each of the six regions. The soccer centres, named after star Scottish Female Footballers like Leanne Ross and Kim Little, are targeted primary school girls and are designed to introduce young girls into football.
The programme has received input from the SWF (Scottish Women’s Football) and head coach Anna Signeul to create an environment that is welcoming to young girls. It is meant to be a non-pressured place where they will be able to try out football for the first time, something that will be very important if the Euros is the first time they’ve ever watched a football match.
“Especially if they haven’t been exposed to women’s football before, so they don’t see it as an option for themselves.”
The soccer centres themselves are linked to a football club, which means that if a girl wants to take football further, they can progress into that side’s development programme.
The logic behind the SFA’s approach of targeting primary school girls is simply that if you get into football then, it increases the chances of you staying within the sport for life. It has to be remembered that this is not just about girls growing up to play for Scotland, it’s also about making sure girls grow into women who can still play football for fun, and turn up to the terraces to cheer on their club and country.
Each of the soccer centres has been named after Scotland stars like Kim Little and Leanne Ross. The girls who turned up at the soccer centres, for example, Kim Little’s Soccer Centre, received free Scotland shirts with Little’s name and number on the back. This means that the girls are able to turn up to a Scotland international with their Scotland top, as well as having their kit to play the game. And on top of that, the programme provides the girls with free tickets to Scotland Women internationals as well as Scottish Women’s Cup matches.
At the time of writing this, the majority of the soccer centres are on holiday as they are aligned with the school year, but there are still soccer camps running over the summer holidays. There are no exact figures on the number of girls who have taken up football pre-Euros, but it is at least 400. For the first six months of a programme, that is an impressive first step. It will be interesting to see how they grow post-Euros, where, no matter how amazing these programmes are, you are are clearly going to get the majority of inspiration.
The SFA are preparing for that big push to capitalise on the Euros, but they are also looking at trying to understand why girls often drop out of sport in their teenage years.
Their campaign during the Euros is #AllTheBest, promoting in the Daily Record and the Metro. And on the days of the group games, there are the Eurozones at clubs with great youth programmes. It’s a mixture of a fanzone with an ability to play football, and an attempt to get girls and boys excited and interested in football.
There has been some criticism that perhaps the SFA has not taken advantage of the Euros to promote the game, but McBurnie stated that since Scotland qualified, the SFA have been looking at how the brand and market the game – and that they have built these specific programmes because Scotland have qualified for the Euros and they want to take advantage.to get the girls involved. These campaigns have been more targeted at primary schools and their parents.
She said that these pre-Euro efforts have almost been exploring where there is potential to grow the game and avoid the Wimbledon effect where people get excited but, then, one month later, the numbers go back down. These will be looking at issues ranging from the primary school level to getting more people attending the SWPL and SWF.
You can look envious down south with the WSL clubs starting to become full-time professionals, but you have to remember how long that journey has been. It’s only really been the efforts of the Lionesses in the 2015 World Cup where it seemed to hit the mainstream, with massively increased coverage – of course, nowhere near to where it should be.
But, there are initial positive signs. Sky Sports were at the Soccer Centre launches, there is a documentary on Scotland’s women’s football coming out in September by Affeciendo studios.
Along with the coverage, BBC Alba has shown of Scotland games, the SFA streamed the Scotland v Romania friendly in June. This was a huge success, with impressive viewing figures, and on the back of that, the SFA have now committed to stream at least every home game that is not being broadcast on TV. The away game situation is a bit more complicated, due to the fact other FA’s stream their matches – like the Denmark v Scotland games earlier in the year, but it sounds as if the SFA could be interested in streaming them.
Any of these campaigns and engagements will be utterly pointless if the SFA abandons or reduces them after the Euros. But talking to Megan McBurnie, it definitely seems that the SFA is committed to the Shelley Kerr era.
This will rely on the SFA working with the SWF. With the appointments of Fiona Carswell and Lorna Cameron, it feels as if the two bodies have a better working relationship. That will be key in seeing the impact of the Euros onto the game.
When I asked people on Twitter and Facebook, the one common theme that came back was media coverage. This was not only directed at the SWF and the SFA, but at the clubs themselves. There is a feeling that clubs need to use social media better to promote themselves, but it has to be said they have made improvements this season.
But it feels as if before the game looks at the external aspects of media coverage (newspapers, TV) it needs to perfect its own internal media coverage.