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Wildcats Festivals continuing to grow

WILDCATS Festivals in Suffolk are continuing to go from strength-to-strength.

WILDCATS Festivals in Suffolk are continuing to go from strength-to-strength.

The festivals provide an introduction to competitive football for girls who attend Weetabix Wildcats sessions.

Set up as an FA initiative, Wildcats sessions are a fun way for girls aged between the ages of 5-11 to get involved in football for the first time and play with girls their own age.

The Wildcats Festivals are organised by Suffolk FA in conjunction with the Suffolk Girls’ & Women’s Football League.

The fifth of this season’s six festivals took place on Saturday morning at Kesgrave Community Centre, near Ipswich.

A total of 25 teams from seven clubs - Brantham Athletic, Coplestonians, Debenham Hornets, Felixstowe & Walton United, Kesgrave Kestrels, Stowupland Falcons and Woodbridge Town - took part.

The festival, which featured around 135 girls aged between U7s and U10s, followed on from one at both Brantham Athletic FC and Hadleigh United FC and two at Coplestonians FC.

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Action is pictured above from the U9s/U10s festival between Kesgrave Kestrels (sky blue & white striped shirts) and Debenham Hornets (yellow & black striped shirts). Main photograph: Felixstowe & Walton United (red & white striped shirts) and Stowupland Falcons (blue & yellow shirts) in the U7s/U8s festival

Mark Lay, who is the league’s fixtures secretary, is also secretary of Kesgrave Kestrels FC, who have 12 girls’ teams playing in the SGWFL.

The club have 55 girls registered for Wildcats sessions and regularly get 30-35 attending each Friday.

He said: “The festivals bring together girls of all age groups and abilities and gives them the opportunity to play football outside of a Wildcats session.

“We have a mix of girls here today who have just been involved with Wildcats and it gives them an introduction to what playing league football would look like for next season, as well as promoting girls’ football.

“Take Ava, for example, who came to my club as a Year 5. She has just got into football, and so has started playing later in life than most of the other girls.

“This gives her an opportunity to play proper festival football, whereas as she would not get that opportunity if these festivals did not exist.

“She would literally get to the age of 11 at the end of this school year and would have to stop attending Wildcats, and a lot of teams would not be interested in taking girls like Ava because they have not had playing experience, but these festivals give her that opportunity.”

He also believes that with the continuing growth of girls’ and women’s football, the festivals will go from strength-to-strength.

He said: “The Wildcats Festivals started last season and they have evolved incredibly since Issy (Suffolk FA Women & Girls’ Football Development Officer Isabel Chaplin) has taken them on board with the organisation that Suffolk FA provide.

“The number of girls involved has continued to expand and we have also learnt from mistakes as well as having more parents wishing to get involved in girls’ football.”

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Action is pictured above between Brantham Athletic (maroon shirts) and Coplestonians (sky blue shirts) in the U9s/U10s festival

Jez Birt, who is Vice Chair of the SGWFL, said: “For me and the league this shows how well the Suffolk Girls’ & Women’s League and Suffolk FA work together with the clubs to promote girls’ football for those aged from 7-10-years-old.

“It gives a platform for players of all abilities who may have been playing for two or three years or may be new starters to enjoy football in a suitable environment and it also helps with their development.

“It is also a really good way to attract new players into league football.

“When we had our first festival at Brantham at the start of last season we had three pitches and seven or eight teams, whereas today we have ten pitches in use and 25 teams with around 135 players!

“We are not sure if there is another County FA that works with the league and the clubs to offer this.”

Suffolk FA Women and Girl’s Football Development Officer Isabel Chaplin said: “When attending each festival, it is brilliant to be able to stand back, look around and see so many girls playing football in one place at one time.

“The festival element adds a bit of a competitive edge to the games and the girls are able to play lots of different teams. 

“They have grown as the season has progressed and it is great to see both new and returning clubs continuing to attend throughout the year.”

If you are interested in finding out more about Wildcats sessions or the Wildcats Festivals, please contact Isabel Chaplin on 07432 735986 or via email isabel.chaplin@suffolkfa.com

The final festival of this season will take place at Stowupland Falcons on the morning of Sunday, May 26th.

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Suffolk Girls’ & Women’s Football League officials Jez Birt (left) and Mark Lay (right) pictured at Saturday's Wildcats Festival

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