Lionesses’ legend Fara Williams MBE has backed a campaign to save the humble football kickabout amid concerns kids have less space than ever to play.
The 39-year-old was capped 177 times for England and scored 40 international goals in a career that included stints at Everton, Liverpool, Arsenal and Reading.
But it started modestly – with her first taste of football taking place on concrete council estates in south-west London.
And now, after a poll of 530 children aged six to 16 who live in urban areas found 44% have ‘nowhere’ nearby for a kickabout, the ex-Lioness is determined future generations don’t miss out.
She has teamed up with Weetabix to launch a new campaign called ‘Balls Allowed' – which is helping more girls play football by placing pop-up goals in urban areas across the country including London, Leeds, and Manchester.
It aims to raise awareness of barriers to kickabouts in public spaces – including ‘no balls allowed’ signs, which aren't always legally enforceable – after 38% said such signs have deterred them.
Fara Williams said: “For me, it all started on a council estate.
“Being able to have a kickabout in my local community was my first step to discovering a love for football.
“Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today, I wouldn’t have been a Lioness.
“I really hope more girls get the opportunity to play – both in their communities (through the Balls Allowed goals) and at grassroot programmes such as the Weetabix Wildcats.”
The study also found 55% of boys and girls are more interested in playing football than they were before, thanks to this year’s endeavours by the Lionesses.
While it also emerged 11% think they could ‘definitely’ make it as pro footballer – with 23% describing themselves as ‘very good’.
But regardless of their current level of ability, 53% polled fear a lack of space to play could hold them back in their attempt to become a pro player like Fara Williams.
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Further to this, 60% believe they’d have more kickabouts with friends than they’re currently able to – if there were more places to do so.
Instead, the research carried out through OnePoll found 65% of those who feel this way spend their time indoors, watching TV or playing video games.
Lorraine Rothwell, spokesperson for Weetabix, which is giving away 100s of footballs through the 'Balls Allowed' website and special packs of the cereal, said: “For many of us, our first experience of playing football is a casual game against local kids.
“But, if you don’t have a garden, and local green spaces ban you from playing by putting up ‘no balls allowed’ signs, potential Lionesses of the future may never achieve their full potential.
“We know that when communities can come together through play, they thrive which is why we’re launching our pop-up goals and free footballs to give everyone the advantage to have that kickabout (with parental supervision of course!)."
'Balls Allowed' sits alongside England Football’s 'Weetabix Wildcats' programme, which sees more than 1,800 football sessions take place every week.
Delivered by qualified FA coaches, the sessions are aimed at girls aged five to 11 and offer them the "chance to try football for the first time and provide regular opportunities to play in a safe environment" – for more information click here.
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