It’s a well-known fact that in recent times, Perth has produced some fantastic female footballers who’ve gone on to represent their country and play professionally at the highest level of the women’s game. For a city our size, we really do punch above our weight.
A lot of that is down to fantastic community clubs like Jeanfield Swifts and Letham, who give our local girls a platform to play the game and reach their potential. And there are even more exciting times ahead as Jeanfield recently announced plans for brand new facilities down at Riverside, and the senior team will now compete in the SWPL2 as St. Johnstone Women FC.
What you don’t often hear about though is the work that the SFA is putting in behind the scenes to help drive participation levels among women up and how they are working at the grassroots level to try and make the national team excel in World Cups and European Championships. That’s the job that Sam Milne, Girls and Womens Development Officer for the SFA in Tayside and Fife, is tasked with. She has to make sure that we keep producing players like Lana Clelland and Lisa Evans on a regular basis and to do that she needs to encourage more and more girls to take up the sport.
“I cover the whole of Tayside and Fife – from the Forth Road Bridge right up to Highland Perthshire – so it’s a very big area,” Sam told me.
“We want to use football as a tool to change people’s lives and hopefully we can have a positive impact on the area’s young women and girls.” Scotland is now second in Europe when it comes to female participation in football. I think that’s something we should really be shouting about more!
Sam started working with the SFA straight out of university and has spent the past eleven years of her career championing women’s football and doing everything she can to get people playing the game. And it seems to be working – participation levels have sky rocketed in recent years and Scotland is one of the continents leading nations when it comes to getting girls to play football.
“The growth in participation in the women’s game here is huge just now. UEFA recently produced a report which shows that per head of population, Scotland is now second in Europe when it comes to female participation in football. I think that’s something we should really be shouting about more!
“We’ve hit over 10,000 players in Scotland and when I first started, we didn’t even have any data on the number of players. It certainly wasn’t anywhere near that many though! In this region alone we now have over 2,000 players registered and I reckon back when I first joined the SFA you’d be lucky if we had 200.”
As with any rapid growth, it comes with new challenges and struggles. Sam and her colleagues at the Scottish Football Association are working tirelessly to try and improve the infrastructure in the women’s game, and are desperately trying to attract referees and volunteers, as well as help clubs with funding to improve their facilities.
And one of the projects she was involved in locally was the Inspiring Girls Through Football initiative, which was run in partnership with Live Active Leisure and the Gannochy Trust. The project was aimed at girls aged between 16 and 24, and offered them the chance to learn about non-playing roles within football and give them the opportunity to shadow some of those working within the sport.
“The programme was a great success,” Sam said, “some of the girls have really engaged with it and now have a clear idea of the different paths they can take in football in coaching or other non-playing roles.
“One of the girls has now enrolled to do an HNC at college and has a job coaching with a focus on disability football. That’s something she had no idea was possible until she got involved with our initiative. Another girl is heading off to university to study sports science and we’re trying to get her involved with some shadowing of the Scotland national team’s sports scientists too.
“Lana Clelland came and spoke to the girls as well and I think that really helped inspire them. Lana has done amazing and has achieved so much through the sport that I think it really showed them the opportunities that are out there for women in football.” Lana Clelland came and spoke to the girls as well and I think that really helped inspire them.
With the likes of Lana, Gemma Fay and Lisa Evans all hailing from Perth among some of the other fantastic players our region has produced, our city has found itself firmly on Scotland’s footballing map. And from what Sam has seen with the next generation of talent, she’s pretty certain that there are even more stars to come from Perthshire in the future.
“I don’t know what is about Perth and producing players – maybe there’s something in the water here! There’s a huge list of great players that come from this area and it looks like that conveyor belt of talent is just going to keep going and going.
“There are some unbelievably talented players in the younger age groups in this area and there’s actually one young girl in particular – playing at the 2007 age group level – who I think is going to go to the very top. She’s only young but she’s got so much talent and in my opinion she could potentially be a European Player of the Year one day she’s that good.
“The clubs like Jeanfield and Letham are doing so well here in developing young female players and they deserve so much credit for that. We’re working with other parts of the Perthshire community to try and establish more clubs so that there are even more opportunities for girls to play football.”
That work has taken Sam to all corners of our region, from Highland Perthshire to Strathearn, Kinross-shire to Blairgowrie, and she’s been working on brand new soccer schools within the different local communities that are using the name of one of Perth’s most famous female stars.
“We’ve got more and more clubs now trying to come forward and be like Jeanfield and Letham. Scone Thistle is now developing a pathway for girls from under 9s through to under 13s, and Blairgowrie is the same. Dunkeld and Birnam now has a women’s programme too which is doing really well.
“We’ve recently developed our Lisa Evans Soccer Schools in the area too. Lisa is a fantastic role model for girls in Perthshire because she’s a Balbeggie lass who has reached the absolute pinnacle of the women’s game. She started at Jeanfield – who were St. Johnstone at that time – before going to Glasgow City. Then she went to Bayern Munich and now she’s at Arsenal Ladies – that’s two of the biggest clubs in Europe.
“Blairgowrie, Scone and Jeanfield have all started their Lisa Evans Soccer Centres already and Crieff are going to be launching very soon. We’ve gone from having just two clubs in Perthshire to now having lots of different opportunities for girls to start playing football and I think it’s absolutely great for the game. I’d ask young girls who their favourite players were and it would always be Beckham, Ronaldo, and Messi – now we’re actually seeing girls running around with Lisa Evans on the back of their Scotland tops.
“When I first started, I’d ask young girls who their favourite players were and it would always be Beckham, Ronaldo, and Messi – now we’re actually seeing girls running around with Lisa Evans on the back of their Scotland tops and it’s great that they now have these role models and they can see there’s an avenue for them to become professionals in the future.”
Things are looking very bright for the women’s game in Perth and Scotland as a whole, and if Sam’s predictions about the next generation of talent come true then we could be looking at another crop of stars to follow in the footsteps of Lana, Gemma and Lisa in the not too distant future. And the best place to keep up to date with their careers is here in the Small City Sports section!
For more information on how you could get involved in the women's game in the local area through volunteering or other roles, contact Sam Milne at the Scottish Football Association at Sam.Milne@scottishfa.co.uk.
The main image in this article was taken by local photographer Stuart Cowper.
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