WOMENS FOOTBALL: A SENIOR figure in women’s football in Essex has said participation in the ladies game is dwindling and has called on budding young stars to don their boots and get involved in the game, writes Luke Lambert.

Kim Coster, manager of the successful Billericay Town Ladies team and representative manager for Essex County Ladies Football, has long championed participation for girls and women in the sport, but says keeping the game accessible and exciting for youngsters was crucial for its longevity.

In the last few months, women’s teams in Witham, Peterborough and Cambridge have disbanded and Coster admits that is a big worry – as clubs at the top of the women’s game are able to progress due to funding.

“It is something that needs to be recognised,” she said. “A number of teams have just stopped due to poor participation and that is no surprise. There needs to be a provision where girls are encouraged to continue with the sport as they get older. And that won’t happen unless things change.

“The Women’s Super League and Women’s Premier League are developing, but they are significantly ahead of the other leagues.

“One of our main problems is changing the mindsets of people towards the women’s game. We have excellent support from the Essex County FA which is positive but we need more participation.

“Grass roots clubs are desperately looking for players and I would say to girls thinking of giving it a go, ‘why not?’ We need more people playing and we want them to go as far as they can – it is about keeping them there and making sure they enjoy it.”

However, girls and women playing at grass roots level have to pay to play, and Coster said that makes it difficult to encourage new players to take up the sport.

“I have been on the waiting list to use 3G pitches for four years (with Billericay Town Ladies and Girls) but it will cost more than our annual income to use it for two hours a week for one year.

“We would never be able to afford that.”

One of the recent success stories is C&K Basildon, who only came into being 10 years ago. They have since won six promotions in that time and are currently playing in the Women’s Premier League Division One South East.

The Town manager says she thinks her Billericay side can achieve whatever they want this season, with the league, county cup, league cup and women’s FA Cup all targeted, and she said she would never hold her players’ back if they wanted to develop at a higher level.

“I want my girls to do the best they can,” she said. “We will always support them and encourage them to better themselves.

“Look at Keegan Russell (who recently moved from Town to join Charlton Athletic) and I am sure there will be more to follow her.”

Billericay Town Ladies next match is on Sunday against Great Shelford Ladies, at the home of Billericay Town (kick-off 2pm).

Visit the Essex FA website for more details on girls and ladies football.