onsıde| ISSUE 39 GIRLS FOOTBALL 24 Moreover, in January, the girls travelled to France to take part in a Futsal tournament, playing against more boys’ teams. The experience was a brilliant and unique one for the girls, providing them with further opportunities to play the game at higher speeds and make faster decisions. The group increasingly arrived at league games not only more psychologically prepared with an ‘I can and we can’ approach, but also with far greater technical ability, physical strength, speed and conditioning. The group began to play an exciting style of football, which not only generated impressive performances and victories, but most importantly represented the style of play of Arsenal Football Club. This was a long way from the game against the Lions in pre- season. Things were starting to click in training and on the pitch, and the girls’ confidence was improving exponentially. As Ryeesa explains, “Sometimes you could hear parents and people on the side-lines saying ‘“They can play good football!’” Perceptions amongst spectators, parents, players and coaches were changing, game by game, and when that first victory finally came, the girls only continued to grow in confidence. “When we first beat a boys’ team it made me feel very good because it showed how much the team had progressed,” said Olivia. “We had to become more aggressive in shielding the ball and in all aspects of our game play to get better.” The difference that this new approach was having on the girls’ individual and team performances were reflected in some of the other comments the girls told me of those early wins. “Boys play a much more intense, high tempo, physical game. They close space down so quickly. I like the fact that the boys don’t treat us any differently and don’t hold back when it comes to strength or tackles. I think they were a little surprised that we could be just as tough and tackle strongly too!” said Maddy. Olivia adds, “We had to change and play a higher tempo otherwise the boys would be onto us and also be quicker on the ball otherwise if we held onto it too long the boys would be able to tackle us.” Whilst the transition to becoming competitive in the league took a EXPERT COMMENT FAYE WHITE MBE – FORMER ENGLAND & ARSENAL CAPTAIN, & FOOTBALL FOUNDATION AMBASSADOR “It is great to see the girls having the opportunity to test their wits against the boys. I spent a number of years playing in a boy’s team when I was younger and found this a really good challenge. “I also think it really helped me become more resilient when things got tough throughout my career. I think this initiative could make a real difference to the women’s game in this country.”