Norfolk Football: A flourishing female game
The FIFA Women’s World Cup is underway, and as The Nation once again gets behind the Lionesses as they compete on the world stage, there’s a buoyancy around our county that is impossible to ignore.
Everybody associated with the local game will undoubtedly be proud to be involved in Norfolk Football, in whatever capacity. However, the rising excitement, interest and appreciation associated with Women’s and Girls’ football across Norfolk at present is hard to ignore.
A period of high focus and investment from The FA and County FA’s, which aimed to increase accessibility and visibility of football to Women and Girls, is now bearing fruit as participation and engagement across all areas of the game is at a high.
Progress in this nationwide strategy was amplified in 2019 by the Lionesses, managed by former England and Manchester United player Phil Neville, having an exciting and competitive FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign. The country watched on with a familiar sense of melancholy as England bowed out in the semi-finals in unfortunate fashion to the eventual World Champions, USA.
The sport exploded this time last year however, when under the new stewardship of Sarina Weigman, the Lionesses’ UEFA European Women’s Championship journey culminated in victory over Germany, with Captain Leah Williamson and Millie Bright lifting the trophy in front of a sold-out Wembley Stadium.
Leah Williamson and Millie Bright raise the trophy after winning the UEFA Women's European Championships at Wembley Stadium. Photo Credit: The FA
The Nation was captivated. An extraordinary group of women had inspired multiple generations, and people across the country fell in love with their passion, commitment, integrity, and infectious personalities.
From Williamson’s leadership and conviction throughout the tournament, to Alessia Russo’s technical innovation in the semi-final. From Chloe Kelly’s famous game winning goal celebration, to the press conference gate-crashed by dancing Lionesses singing ‘Football's Coming Home’; featuring a rather excitable Mary Earps.
Karaoke performances of ‘Sweet Caroline’ and the late Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep Mountain High’ in front of thousands during the trophy parade in Trafalgar Square sealed the deal, the Lionesses had captured the hearts and imaginations of people all over England.
For the Norfolk Football population there was an even bigger sense of pride seeing homegrown Lioness, Lauren Hemp not only make the squad for the tournament, but play a pivotal part throughout, including providing the assist for Kelly’s extra time winner in the Final.
Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly following the victory over Germany in the 2022 UEFA Women's European Championships. Photo Credit: The FA
The North Walsham native played grassroots football for the Angels before joining Norwich City and eventually moving west to play professionally for Bristol City. In 2018 she was signed by Manchester City and made her Senior International debut a year later. By 2020 Hemp was named by UEFA as one of the most exciting upcoming talents in European Women’s Football.
At the time of writing Hemp and her teammates are preparing for England’s second fixture in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The game against Denmark on Friday morning will see the winner take control of Group D, with the Lionesses having beaten Haiti 1-0 and De rød-hvide overcoming China by the same scoreline in the opening round of fixtures.
Hemp’s success story continues to shine as a beacon of inspiration to those involved in the grassroots game in Norfolk, and that coupled with investment, accessibility and visibility has had a tremendous impact on the female game in our county.
Norfolk’s female game has more players, coaches, match officials and supporters than ever before, and that success has largely been down to the great amount of activity and effort on the ground, from multitudes of clubs, teams, and volunteers.
As the Governing Body of football in Norfolk, we have consistently strived to include more opportunities for females of all ages to enjoy the game.
From supporting the growth of Wildcats and Squad Girls centres in clubs; to facilitating Women’s Walking Football sessions at our FDC facilities, which has seen some women eagerly take their first steps in a game that previously shunned their generation. Only a few days ago did we see our Women’s Walking Football Festival coupled with a ‘watch party’ for England’s opening World Cup game against Haiti, and we are delighted at the recent formation of our first affiliated Women’s Walking Football Club.
We have also utilised FA funding support toward the formation of ‘Female Football for Mental Health’ sessions, to enable improved positive wellbeing for women and girls through football, regardless of experience and ability.
Norfolk FA's Women's Walking Football Tournament held at The FDC on 22 July 2023. Photo Credit: Norfolk FA
Last month we hosted our biggest female summer tournament to date in the 2023 Harrod Sport Women’s and Girls’ Cup, which saw dozens of teams compete across multiple age groups at our Football Development Centre in Norwich. It was all hands on deck from a staffing perspective, with 87 teams ranging from U10 to Women’s enjoying a brilliant weekend of football.
North Walsham Town Girls celebrating winning the 2023 Harrod Sport Women's and Girls' Cup at The FDC in June. Photo Credit: Norfolk FA
In May, the Harrod Sport Women’s Cup Final between Mulbarton Wanderers and Norwich City saw a record-breaking attendance of over 2,700 people attend Carrow Road. The fixture was the most attended Cup Final of the season, and a record attendance for not only the competition, but for any County Cup Competition in over two decades. We are pleased to confirm that this season, for first time in our history, we are piloting Girls’ County Cup competitions at multiple age groups.
The 2023 Harrod Sport Women's Cup Final between Mulbarton Wanderers and Norwich City. Photo Credit: Matt Usher
We were proud to announce four female match official appointments across last season’s County Cup Finals, as well as seeing appointments made across the finals of League competitions around the County. Our Football Development Officer for Disability, Anoushka Williamson received appointments in both the Stuart Dracup Cup Final and an Anglian Combination League Cup Final last season, as well as being the first female to officiate in a Central and South Norfolk League Cup Final in the previous campaign. Anoushka has also recently become one of Norfolk’s new Referee Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Ambassadors.
In addition, another of our female Referees, Alice Parker was appointed to an England U18’s fixture in which the Young Lionesses took on Republic of Ireland U18’s at St George’s Park. Alice is a former staff member at Norfolk FA and began to climb the Refereeing ranks via The FA's Emerging Talent Programme while employed at the Association. As well as officiating, she also plies her trade as a player for Norwich City Women.
With our ambition to increase the number of female match officials in Norfolk, we will be hosting a female only Referee Course in August to directly engage with more women and girls and communicate the pathways available in officiating.
Officials walking out for the 2023 Norfolk U12's Cup Final at The FDC in May. Photo Credit: Cyan Fullbrook
Our Football Development Team has hosted female only coaching and CPD events, and we are currently promoting The FA’s opportunities to apply for fully funded places on a range of FA and UEFA Coaching Qualifications. Both our Football Development Manager, Rachel Cossey and Head of Marketing and Communications, Rebecca Burton are UEFA Qualified coaches working within the Girls’ Talent Pathway at our Community Partners, Norwich City Community Sports Foundation, playing their part in nurturing the next generation of talented female players.
The FA's Jo Wilson delivering at the Female Coaching Workshop CPD event held at The FDC last season. Photo Credit: Norfolk FA
We have continued to work with the Norfolk Women’s and Girls’ Football League to support the development and growth of Women’s and Girls’ teams competing across the county, including the progression of Women’s teams to Tier 6 and above, with Norfolk now having seven teams playing at regional level.
Norfolk’s premier female team, Norwich City Women, announced that their operations would be taken in house by Norwich City FC last summer. The 22/23 season proved extremely progressive for the Canaries, with the club taking strides toward the team becoming a semi-professional outfit.
On the pitch, Norwich City Women enjoyed a successful run in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup and a fourth-place finish in the FA Women’s National League. While off the pitch, increased attendances at home games saw hundreds flock to The Nest each week. The team’s final league fixture of the season was played at Carrow Road, and with the team capturing the interest of the club’s wider fanbase as well as Norfolk’s female football following, the fixture saw over 7,500 fans witness their 5-3 victory over Ashford Town.
Anna Larkins leads out Norwich City Women at Carrow Road in their record breaking fixture against Ashford Town. Photo Credit: Norwich City Women
Norfolk FA’s Women’s & Girls’ Football Development Officer, Anna Larkins, lead Norwich City out as Captain for that fixture, as well as the previously mentioned Norfolk County Cup Final. Anna, while spending her time developing the game, playing the game, and not to mention signing autographs for hundreds of young fans starting their journey in the game, has seen first-hand not only the growth of her own club, but Women’s and Girls’ football across the County.
Female football in Norfolk is thriving more than ever, and while there is a fresh and fervent passion for the wider national game owing to the Lionesses’ recent success, the effort and determination shown by everybody involved in our County is ensuring Norfolk not only stays with the trend, but exceeds it.
Staff at Norfolk FA strive to develop Women’s and Girls’ football, as do the hundreds of volunteers that have played a part in its journey so far. And of course, the game grows exponentially with eager and enthusiastic fans too.
So, while the summer seeps into pre-season, get behind the Lionesses as they take on the world.
Join in, support, embrace the excitement, and enjoy the ride.
And as 23/24 casts light on the horizon, think about what part you can play in the future of a flourishing female game in Norfolk.