Young female football fans take pride in seeing Lionesses

Eliana Huggett and Millie Renouf were given free tickets by the Chelsea Football Club Foundation to watch the Lionesses play against Sweden at Wembley Stadium last month

TWO young Islanders were recently given the chance to watch the England women’s national football team as part of a bid to inspire the next generation of young female footballers and tackle gendered stigma in sports.

Ten-year-old Eliana Huggett and Millie Renouf were given free tickets by the Chelsea Football Club Foundation to watch the Lionesses play against Sweden at Wembley Stadium last month.

The opportunity inspired Eliana and Millie to pursue their love for football and improve their skills by challenging stereo-types in sports and showing them what they could achieve, their parents say.

Chelsea FC Foundation gave the tickets to the girls and their families after hosting football matches and training events on the Island in partnership with the Jersey Football Association.

Eliana and Millie attended a week-long all-girls training event during Easter at Oakfield Sports Centre with 50 other girls, which aimed to provide them with fun and enjoyable sessions, helping them to make new friends, while increasing activity levels and a love for football.

Charlie Balcombe, the Jersey FA Football Development Officer for Women and Girls, highlighted the importance of having “role models in action” and how it can inspire young girls to see elite athletes in play.

He said: “For those girls to watch the national team, it will be so inspiring to them to show what young women can achieve.

“So many kids have the dream to play professional football, so it is so important for them to see how that looks.

“It’s more difficult for women so it is great for them to see the top end of elite athletics as it’s less represented on TV.”

Eliana’s mum, Sheena Huggett, said: “She couldn’t believe that we were actually going to see the Lionesses at Wembley and was so excited.

“She packed a football boot and a Sharpie on the off-chance she’d get to meet some of her favourite players. However, I did explain to her that it would probably unlikely.

“She was particularly looking forward to watching Lauren James and Alessia Russo.”

Sheena said that watching the women play had really inspired Eliana to continue to work hard at training with JWFC and during her matches.

She explained: “She really wants to develop her skills and maybe one day have anopportunity to try out for a professional team.

“We felt it was important for Eliana to have the chance to watch the match in person, not only to see for herself how the team worked together and how each player gave 100% in their positions, but to experience the atmosphere at Wembley as well.

“It was great to see so many people supporting the women. There were around 64,000 there.”

Sheena continued: “In terms of football, the female game isn’t nearly as lucrative as the male game, but having this opportunity has shown Eliana that with hard work, skill and determination, there are still opportunities to progress to the professional level.

“Finally, I’d just really like to thank the Jersey FA and Chelsea FC Foundation for the opportunity. Had we not received the surprise tickets, who knows when we would have taken Eliana to her first match.

“Now she is asking to go and watch the Arsenal and Chelsea ladies play so we are going to have to look into that.”

Meanwhile, Millie’s mum Claudine, said: “Millie was very excited to see women’s football being played at international level. She loves Millie Bright (of course) and was hoping to pick up some skills.

“It was a fantastic opportunity and the experience has inspired them to continue learning new skills, and developing their game and great friendships along the way.

“It is very important for young girls to get opportunities like this to battle gendered stigma in sport. The much-needed and growing coverage of women’s football plays a big part in ensuring that girls know that they can achieve the top level of the game.”

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