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No longer in a league of their own
Onside 39 promotional banner - Arsenal girls

This season saw the first all-girls teams enter boys’ leagues, after a landmark rule change by The FA last year. Our Head of Finance, Rupen Shah also coaches Arsenal FC’s Under-10s girls’ team who were one of those trailblazing girls’ sides. He exclusively shares their journey.

No longer in a league of their own

“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."

Faye White MBE

Girls football stats
You are probably not aware but this season a quiet revolution took place in junior grassroots football in England. In an admirably bold move, The FA decided to allow Under-10 and Under-12 girls’ teams to participate in Charter Standard Boys Leagues. For the first time ever, entire teams of  girls were allowed to play against  boys teams over the course of an entire season. 

The Arsenal Under-10 girls’ team were one of those teams and this is our story.


Before a pre-season ball had even been kicked, there was a degree of apprehension in the air towards the radical changes that The FA had rung in. Parents and even coaching staff were anxious about how quickly the girls – the majority of whom had not previously played together – could adapt to their new playing environment.

Could they cope with the physicality, the speed, the technical quality and the ‘winning’ mentality of the boys? How would they respond to negative reactions from opposition players, parents and coaches, who may also be sceptical of the new rules?

arsenal girls Onside

Equally some of the girls themselves, unsurprisingly, felt nerves about facing the boys.

“Different emotions went through my head,” said one of our players Olivia Bartlett. I felt excited because I knew it was going to be a tough challenge and we were going to come up against some of the best boys in the league. I also felt nervous because I didn’t know how big and strong they would be and if I would be able to match them.”

Ryeesa Sekhon echoed her doubts about the physicality of the challenge and wanted to know if it would make me a better player but I had worries if the boys were more aggressive and in case I got injured.”

However, this trepidation amongst some of our young guns was matched with feelings of excitement and a defiant confidence about stepping into the unknown.  “I did feel a little nervous as we were the first girls’ team to play in the Watford Friendly League,” Maddy Earl, told me. “But I was keen to show the boys that girls can compete and show that it really doesn’t matter who you play. It’s about learning and developing.”

The choice of league and division was essential to addressing these concerns, as Tessa Payne, Technical Director for Arsenal’s Regional Talent Club explained.

“It was important to make sure that the girls were placed in an appropriate league and division to stretch them, but not to the point that they become disheartened or lost their desire and love for the game.” 

Officials from the Watford Friendly League recommended that this team, being from a Premier League outfit, should compete in the top division. As per standard rules set by The FA, the games at Under-10 level would be played in a 7v7 format, have retreat lines (to help develop playing out from the back) and last 50 minutes.

And then almost immediately, and with only a handful of training sessions under our belt, the pre-season friendly calendar was upon us. We were to about to take our first tentative steps into this brave new world…

This is an extract from the feature 'No longer in a League of their own' in Issue 39 of ONSIDE magazine.

Read the full article for free at the following links:

also in issue 39

The FA's New Women's Strategy

Learn about The FA's exciting new vision to develop the women's game.

An Extract From...'Taking it on the chin'

Foundation President Lord Pendry's rip-roaring memoirs chronicle his campaigning for grassroots sport, against Apartheid and how an incident with Muhammed Ali left him nursing a serious injury!

Class of the own!

Pupils across the country are benefitting from free books, football kit and equipment thanks to Premier League Primary Stars.

The Interview: Sports Minister Tracey Crouch

The Minister talks strategy, grassroots coaching and tell us which player she pretended to be as a youngster!

There's only one Graham Taylor

England Manager, Watford and Villa legend, and Football Foundation Ambassador who will be greatly missed. Read the heart-warming tribute to one of football's most loved men.

Ambassadors in action

Stars of stadia and screen Dion Dublin, Hayley McQueen, Lawrie McMenemy, Nigel Adkins and Georgie Bingham have been out and about on our behalf.