Love Football, Live Football: Suffolk FA planning headquarters move, focus on girls’ football

Girls' football is a major focus for Suffolk FA in 2017

Girls' football is a major focus for Suffolk FA in 2017 - Credit: Archant

Suffolk FA are aiming to develop a facility which the whole of the county is proud of and one which everyone will enjoy visiting.

Ian Atkins has joined the SuffolK FA

Ian Atkins has joined the SuffolK FA - Credit: Archant

So says chief executive Laura Smith, who has reiterated that moving to a new headquarters in Stowmarket, where the current offices are based, remains the County FA’s number one priority.

She said: “We are coming up to mid-way through our four-year business plan with many of the projects and opportunities developed to benefit Suffolk football now well established in the calendar.

“Relocating to a new headquarters, based on a community football site, remains our number one priority and we hope to further progress that project with the support of our partners at Stowmarket Town Council, Mid Suffolk District Council and Suffolk County Council during 2017.

“There is a real need for artificial pitch provision in Stowmarket and we are excited at the prospect of being able to offer clubs in and around the area the chance to train and play competitive matches on our new site.

“It will also give us a base from which we can deliver some of our representative football, our County Cup competitions, coach and referee education, walking football, talent ID programmes including our Girls’ Advanced Coaching Centre, Monday Night Football, Youth football festivals and much more!

“We are also looking forward to developing some non-football specific opportunities at the site with our partners within the health sector to further benefit the local communities and to encourage people of all ages to lead a healthy lifestyle.

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“Financing the new facility will, of course, be a challenge, however we want to develop a facility which the whole of Suffolk is proud of and one which all those who volunteer countless hours to develop and grow our game each season will enjoy visiting.”

Laura said that the women’s and girls’ game has been a priority both locally and nationally for a number of years, however during 2017, The FA will be investing more than ever before to encourage more females to participate in football.

“Their strategic priorities of doubling the player base and fan following of women’s football and offering flexible, inclusive and accessible playing opportunities for everyone have culminated in additional funding being ring-fenced and distributed to County FAs to grow participation in the under-11s age group during 2017 and beyond,” she said.

Research conducted by The FA during 2016 highlighted that the majority of girls in this age group want to play in girls’ only teams, however only 3 per cent of mini-soccer teams in England are girls’ only.

It also identified that only 65 per cent of current female footballers started playing before they were ten and only 41 per cent of girls are doing so now – yet 95 per cent of boys are playing by the time they are ten.

Laura said: “To address these issues, we will set up four mini-soccer centres over the coming months. Our mini-soccer centres will provide girls aged 5-11 with a fun introduction to playing football with their friends – they will be turn up and play sessions, not structured coaching sessions.

“The centres will begin at Easter time and we hope our partners within schools, local authorities, sports and leisure facilities and children’s centres will help encourage girls across the county to access these fantastic new opportunities.”

- A review is currently taking place at Suffolk FA that is likely to result in more staff being employed than ever before.

The review follows the loss of two key members of staff; football services manager Steve Hemp departed before Christmas while football development manager Nathan French leaves next week to take up the post of national respect officer at The FA.

Ian Atkins has already joined as the county’s youth referee appointment officer.

Laura added: “Ian’s appointment will aid the development of young referees, minimise disciplinary issues within youth football and ensure all young players have a great experience on a match-day.”