We like to think we know the grassroots sports industry inside-out, but there are so many different stories out there, and they need sharing. We need to share the stories of the clubs, the people involved, their achievements and their individual circumstances. This is why we began the Grassroots series.
First up, Academy Juniors in Bolton. An all-girls football team that focusses on female empowerment and providing life skills that help players beyond the pitch.
From player to coach and chairperson, meet Jemma
My name is Jemma, I’m from Bolton and I’m the club chairperson of Academy Juniors FC.
I was first involved in the club as a player when the club was founded and swiftly moved into volunteering in any way I could, shadowing coaches and refereeing matches before becoming the coach of my own team at 16 years old.
From then I have taken up pretty much every role at the club and have been chairperson for the past 6 years.
Inspiring and empowering girls to play football
Academy Juniors FC was founded in 2008 by Steven Watson, alongside his brother Gordon, and was inspired by their late mother, Joyce.
The club is a female-only football club and was set up with a mission to ‘champion’ girls’ football. When it was set up there were limited opportunities for girls to play football, never mind in a girls-only team!
We aim to inspire and empower females to play football and, through that, develop life skills and provide them with opportunities within football and beyond.
At the moment we offer football for ages 6-14 years old but, in the past, have been able to offer from ages 5 to ‘open-age’ women’s football.
We train and play in Bolton, although we have no set home of our own and rely on hiring our facilities from other people.
We have had several players who have played for us who have gone on to play for RTC’s and have been in first-team squads in both the FA WSL and FA WC.
Our club really is about female empowerment
It starts with building confidence, to engage with football and develop on the pitch, but it goes beyond the white lines.
We pride ourselves on the personal development of both our players and our volunteers. We have a wellbeing officer who regularly checks in with our players and volunteers, organising self-care activities and occasionally, when funds allow, we are able to send our players home with small wellbeing packs and activities to do with the family. Our club is about providing a safe space for our players to relax, enjoy and feel valued without having to face stereotypes, discrimination or harm.
Club funding that is accessible and flexible
The club is funded mainly through members’ subscription fees. We offer different payment plans to make it accessible to as many players as possible and always cater to individual circumstances. We like to be flexible and understand everyone’s financial situation is different.
However, without funds we cannot do what we do
As we like to keep subs as low as possible, and we train twice a week with an additional match day, more often than not the members subs aren’t quite enough to offer the extra activities that we deem so important to personal development.
We rely quite heavily on sponsorship donations from businesses or kind-hearted individuals which can cover kit sponsorship, equipment costs, courses and qualifications for our volunteers, amongst other things.
COVID-19 has proved limiting to club fundraising
On top of this additional funding, we do many fundraising events each year. Unfortunately, for the past 12 months, Covid-19 has meant we have been unable to host our usual fundraising events and parties. However, our volunteers have been creative and have still managed to bring in funds online via ‘Just-Giving’ pages for sponsored walks and match cards.
We have frozen our members’ subscription fees during the lockdowns as this time is a difficult time for us all and we want to support our families. However, this has increased the financial pressure the club is under as we still have expenses, such as facility fees, league fees, insurance and banking charges.
In the past, we have been able to apply for grants and funding from the FA, County FAs and charities such as the Football Foundation.
You have to meet certain criteria to secure this funding, as well as write a good bid. Because of Covid-19, this funding has not been as accessible, as you can imagine, due to financial difficulties from the organisations themselves as well as not being able to meet the criteria (for example setting up new teams) due to not being able to play or train under the government guidelines.
Beyond COVID – building a diverse & inclusive club
In the future, we would love to grow back to a size where we can offer football for females of any age.
We have always catered for any ability, but we want to develop this even further by being a diverse and inclusive club that is representative of society. We want to continue championing girls’ football and remain the constant and stable ‘figure’ in our players’ lives.
One day we would love to have our own home ground that we can call our own and be able to offer even more activities from there that would benefit our players, their families and our community.
If you want to learn more about Academy Juniors FC, you can visit their website here, http://academyjuniors.org/