The grassroots game is alive and well in the north of the country, as the annual women’s Highlands and Islands tournament illustrated this weekend.
Eight teams from across the region descended upon Dingwall Academy for a festival of free-flowing football as part of UEFA Grassroots Week, with the length and breadth of the region represented at the event.
Squads from the Western Isles, Inverness City Development, Ross County, Nairn, Brora and Caithness, as well as two teams from Orkney, ensured that the day was to be a success, with players over the age of 15 eligible to compete.
Jo Murphy, Scottish FA Girls and Women’s Club Development Officer for the North region, explained some of the unique logistical challenges that hosting a grassroots tournament in the region poses.
“Although this competition is for a trophy, it is really about getting the teams more games in a festival format,” she said.
“Due to the geography of the region, it takes some teams ten or twelve hours to travel by boats and buses to get to the event. Therefore, we have to make it a one-day festival where they play lots of shorter matches.”
Despite the relatively remote nature of the region in relation to the rest of the country, that doesn’t stop the area’s football-mad players, volunteers and supporters making their presence felt at national team games.
In particular, the region has been able to contribute some of the most loyal supporters to the Scotland Women’s National Team in their recent FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign, with Shelley Kerr’s goal of ‘inspiring a nation’ capturing hearts and minds across the country. With Women's and Girls Sport Week taking centre stage in the coming days, there has been an unquestionable surge of interest in the women's grassroots game.
“There has been a huge increase in participation in the past few years within the girls and women’s game,” said Murphy.
“Although most SWNT games are played in the central belt, around 200 spectators from the North travel to most home games, meaning that they often don’t get home until the early hours of the morning.
“Players, their families and teams are now true supporters of the SWNT and have positive female role models to look up to and aspire to be like.”
The growth of the grassroots game in the region shows no signs of stopping, with the ongoing success of the women’s Highlands and Islands tournament paving the way for an exciting new development.
Our Junior Keeper Rachael only went and won an U16 Cap for Scotland today! 1-1 with Poland away. We are all very proud of you 😊🏴⚽️ @sfa_north @wiiga2017 @SportOuter @lewisharrisfa @gaelicmedia @BBCSpors pic.twitter.com/X5gGYr3kPd— WIIGA LadiesFootball (@WiigaLadies) September 19, 2018
“A proposal to create a women’s Highlands and Islands League for 2019 has just been ratified by SWF, which would be huge for the area,” she said.
“It will allow women to compete in a local league for the first time, and also hopefully inspire young girls to get involved in a local team. It gives women something to aim for – at the moment, a lot of these teams are just training, not knowing when their next game may be.
“Due to their location, teams may only rarely have home fixtures. We are hoping that by showcasing this level of football at the heart of these communities, the game will become increasingly more popular in these areas .”