Girls’ big win at Wembley

Joseph Bulmer

YOUNG Shannon Cohen from Combe Martin and her Tarka Football Club team-mates are celebrating an historic win at Wembley.

Shannon, 10, and her mum Leisa were among some 20 girls, boys and parents from North and South Devon who travelled to London and won a milestone decision which will allow girls to play mixed football with the boys until they are 13, instead of the current age of 11.

They presented a petition of 6,000 signatures and lobbied FA shareholders to make the change when the question was voted on at their AGM – and also took the opportunity of a tour around Wembley.

The petitioners were led by Shannon and Leisa from North Devon and Emily Lewis-Clarke, 11, and her mum Michelle from Newton Abbot in South Devon.

Shannon told the Gazette: “We are really happy about this. We want to stay with our own teams and now I can do that for another two years. But if they don’t change it to 16 years, we will go up there again.”

Leisa said: “We are absolutely elated. This was a tremendous victory. One delegate said that the fact the children were there had swayed people who had been sitting on the fence. Shannon has worked tirelessly on this. This includes standing outside Tesco collecting names on a petition the weekend before, during which she also played two football matches and two friendlies. This was driven by the girls, who do not have parity with the rest of Europe,”

The concern was that many girls would not be able to continue playing the game after they were 11, said Leisa. There was only limited availability of football for girls after that age, particularly in rural areas. Many also wished to stay in their mixed teams, with whom they had learned and improved together. The boys were happy with them in the teams and did not want them to have to stop playing.

The limit for mixed-sex teams in Scotland is 15, in Wales 12 and there is no limit in Northern Ireland. On the Continent, girls play in mixed-sex teams up to the age of 18.

North Devon Girls Football League has pointed out that it has been running for three years and currently has teams from Barnstaple, Bideford, Torridgeside, Braunton, Holsworthy and North Molton.