Pupils at a Perry Barr academy experienced a once-in-a-lifetime moment as they conducted the draw for the third round proper of the SSE Women’s FA Cup.
In front of Broadway Academy lecture hall packed with classmates and teachers, Leya Hussain and Sana Kazi drew the 12 ties that make up the third round of the competition.
The teenagers were joined by Aston Villa captain Beth Merrick, who also conducted a question and answer session with the pupils and joined in a training session with the girl’s football team.
Hussain, a member of the student council and keen football fan, was one of the lucky girls chosen and took time after the ceremony to reflect on what was far from a regular Monday morning at school.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I felt really honoured to be chosen to represent my school,” said the 16-year-old from Aston.
“And to show other girls, and other pupils in general, that people from our backgrounds can have these opportunities, that it doesn’t matter where your from – your gender or religion does not matter, anyone can do it.”
Leya teamed up with 14-year-old Sana to conduct the 24-team draw, in the age old tradition of pulling numbered balls from a velvet bag.
And the keen footballer was delighted to have the opportunity to meet Merrick, who helped Villa to the quarter-finals of last season’s competition.
“It was a privilege to be able to help with the draw. We know that moments like this do not happen all the time,” she said.
“I started playing football when I was quite young, but in primary school there weren’t many girls that played – but in secondary school you see that you’re not alone, and to have the cup here in the school, and meet Beth, gives me motivation to hopefully, one day, make it to a cup final myself.”
Broadway Academy was chosen to host the draw thanks to its partnership with Teach First, a charity supported by SSE that aims to address educational inequalities in English and Welsh schools.
And headteacher Ron Skelton highlighted the importance of a balanced education in producing positive academic results.
“We believe that getting our students into sports, such as football, and activities like the Duke of Edinburgh awards, has a really positive effect on their academic performance,” he said.
“Hence why we invest heavily in sport, and particularly girls’ sport.
“And having a multi-national business, such as SSE, coming into the school and support us through Teach First, is bringing sport, education and business together – and that’s a really powerful combination, it can have a huge impact, particularly on those from the students from the inner city.”
And 21-year-old midfielder Merrick, who grew up in Lichfield and came through the Villa youth system, was heartened to see girls football take such pride of place in the school’s plans.
“To be a local girl, seeing girls that are younger than me, on a similar path to myself, at occasions like this is massive,” said the former England under-19 international.
“As a woman I’m trying to promote the women’s game because it wasn’t the same when I was younger.
“So to see them having the opportunities they have now, is great.”
Tickets are now on sale for the SSE Women’s FA Cup Final on Saturday 13th May at Wembley Stadium connected by EE. For the second consecutive year, kids go free to the final, tickets can be purchased here: https://ticketing.thefa.com/