Founders of St Matthew’s Project have spoken about the joys and challenges of running football clubs for boys and girls in poorer south London communities in Brixton and Lambeth.
Their mission statement is to provide a safe and encouraging environment where young people can come together to enjoy structured sport.
As well as their boys’ teams, they offer coaching for young girls across a range of ages and backgrounds.
Project coordinator Dwight Barnett said: “We always had girl’s football from when we started, because boys and girls play football – everyone plays football.
“All the coaches on the girl’s side are all ex-participants so to know that they’ve been there from the jump tells you how we do things there.”
Female presence in grassroots football has always been a problem, with males being the focal point of talent development.
Lambeth Council’s ‘This Girl Can’ program back in 2017 advocated for young women to get more involved with local sports.
Before the pandemic hit, the program was funded through Sport England’s Community Sport Activation fund and offered sports activities and seasons to girls aged 14-25.
With programs like this popping in and out of the limelight, the inconsistency is not enough to offer stability to young girls looking for opportunities in sports.
This is where St Matthew’s aims to change the approach from the get-go. The club has been catering to girls since their conception in 2004, offering mixed-gender training and holiday camps.
With more than 340 participants a week, St Matthew’s offers 48 hours a week of programs like Saturday clubs, estate-based football, and a girls’ school league.
They don’t just have one program for girls wanting to get into football, they have a wide range for different ages and abilities.
Their estate-based football program offers free activities for three local housing estates in the SW2 area of Southwest London.
Barnett said: “The type of demographic of girls that we’re working with, their parents are poor or always working so they’re not going to be able to get dropped off and picked up.”
These sorts of opportunities are valuable for young women looking to get into football and it will be interesting to see the paths their members take.