International Women's Day

Yankey: We want to make sure that every girl has access to play football

8 Mar 2024
Danielle Carter, Janna, Rachel Yankey

England and Arsenal legend Rachel Yankey reiterates the importance of FA Girls' Emerging Talent Centres and support on career pathway

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Aspiring young footballers from four FA Girls’ Emerging Talent Centres (ETCs) were given a day to remember when they had the opportunity to showcase their skills in front of England legend Rachel Yankey OBE, current stars Danielle Carter and Shannon Cooke, and rapper Nadia Rose at a special session hosted by Leyton Orient.

Players from Tottenham Hotspur, Crystal Palace, West Ham United and Leyton Orient took part in a four-team tournament with Under-12, U14 and U16 category sides competing at the Peter May Sports Centre.

The UEFA Women’s EURO Trophy and Premier League Trophy were also on show on the day to inspire the next generation of young talent.

Leyton Orient ETC, PL trophy

Since its launch at the beginning of the 2022/23 season, the Premier League’s £5.25million investment into The FA ETCs has helped to more than double the number of girls aged eight to 16 on the pathway to a career in professional football.

There are now 5,000 girls enrolled at 73 ETCs nationwide, with the aim of increasing the numbers further.

Yankey, who was the first professional female footballer in England, has seen the growth of young girls wanting to play football, and understands how important it is for them to have the opportunity to do so.

“We want to make sure that every girl has access to play football," said former Arsenal and England forward Yankey, who won 129 caps during a 20-year career.

"There’s so many different life skills that you can learn out of the game of football that it can only be a positive that comes out of it.

Leyton Orient, ETC

“Having local Emerging Talent Centres will allow the access to everybody and break down the diversity problems that we have within women’s football, and we’ll hopefully see more diverse, more talented, better footballers coming out of it.”

Women's Super League star Cooke, who plays for West Ham, and London City Lionesses striker Carter kept a watchful eye from the sidelines during the tournament, but they then also got involved handing out tips and led the shooting drills too!

Shannon Cooke, ETC

“The fact that the Premier League are encouraging more girls participation in football is needed," said Carter, who began her career at Leyton Orient and scored a hat-trick on her England debut in 2015.

"The Premier League, obviously they’ve got the brand. For the girls coming today, this is really nice glitz and glam, it makes them want to stay in the game and see how far they can take their development.”

The day was even more special for 14-year-old Janna, who was honoured with Leyton Orient's Community Captain award in recognition of her personal development through football and becoming a role model for others. She was presented with a unique captain's armband and pennant by Yankey.

Janna, Rachel Yankey

Janna, who used to spend her primary school lunchtimes playing football with the boys, started out as a Premier League Kicks participant two years ago while at secondary school and has gone on to become involved with Leyton Orient's U14s age group at their ETC too.

She has not only found her voice on the pitch, but off it, as Janna explained.

"I'm not quite sure why I got the award, but I am very happy that I was considered and that shows how my club is, and always has been, really appreciative and supportive, she said." "I'm very happy about it.

"Football has helped me because in football, you have to be more vocal, more confident when you are playing. When I play I have to shout a lot so it helps me to know other players and then when I'm off the pitch to talk to everyone because I don't really talk to others if I don't have to.

"Playing with my hijab isn't something that stops me, because everywhere I go everyone is really positive. It makes me feel part of the team as well - just because I'm the only one wearing a hijab doesn't mean that I have to be the one being treated differently.

"Everyone is treated the same and having fun together."

Janna, Leyton Orient

For Emma Thorne, youth engagement lead development coach at Leyton Orient Trust and centre manager of their ETC, Janna's Community Champion accolade is a reward for both her development as a footballer and inspiration to others.

"Janna is one of our participants who has really gone above and beyond in terms of engagement with us," said Thorne. "She has represented us in tournaments both on the Kicks programme and on our ETC programme.

"Janna has now started her volunteering journey with us, so she is learning the ropes around coaching and even refereeing.

"She's taken every opportunity that we've thrown at her and she's made it her own. Janna's absolutely run with it to help her develop on-pitch and off-pitch. She's a brilliant example of the kind of people we engage."

Investing in women’s and girls’ football

The Premier League is investing £21million into women’s and girls’ football between 2022-2025.

Within this is £10.5m for the grassroots game, including £5.25m for the FA’s network of Girls’ Emerging Talent Centres (ETCs) and £3m for a new strategy for the FA Women’s National League.

There are now 73 ETCs open, which have increased the number of young female players in the England talent pathway from 1,722 to almost 5,000 young girl players in under two years (a 187 per cent rise).

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