FOOTY ADDICTS: CASUAL WOMEN’S GAMES

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Footy Addicts has a thriving community of casual footballers, and we went to investigate their growing women’s football scene.

By Mike Backler. Images by Gem Atkinson.

It’s 7.02pm on a Wednesday night and I’m sitting in Gem’s car (who I’ve just met) while we wait for a brutal hailstorm to subside over a housing estate in Shepherd’s Bush, where a worn down 3G pitch with fencing for nets awaits a weekly game of football. 

As the dark clouds recede, sixteen ladies appear from cars and soaking wet commutes and start knocking the ball about and sorting the teams. Some are kitted out in the finest shirts from across the globe (Nunzia from Milan is in a Sheffield United strip, Chelsea from Middlesbrough dons the Nigerian World Cup classic). When the weather’s like this, which it often is on this pesky island, it’s easy to say no. To drop out, to surrender to Netflix and the warmth of home. Nobody does here. It’s eight v eight and off we go.

You never regret turning up. We’re all looking to improve ourselves and better our situations. There are those personal goals that crop up time and time again. Looking to improve physical and mental health? Find a new hobby? Be more active? Make new friends? Recover some self-esteem? Improve second-language skills? It’s clear that football can support in all those things, and it’s abundantly clear that this particular game, featuring players pulled together on the Footy Addicts app, is helping these ladies achieve a vast majority of them.

It’s one of over 300 female-only regular games that have been played since 2018 and there are currently 700-plus female footballers on the app. There are over 100 average unique women players every month and one visit to one of these games and it’s evident that this will grow. It has to.

One thing that stands out from attending a women’s Footy Addicts game is the diversity. This game in Shepherd’s Bush has a multitude of nationalities. Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, South African, American. All with different backgrounds and different experiences in coming to London, or in football. But there is a through-line that connects a lot of their stories, which seems to be the lack of accessibility to play when they were younger.

Gem’s thirty-seven and after a successful sporting career as a cyclist she hung up her cleats a couple of years ago after a bad crash. 

“My Dad’s a mad Sheffield United fan. Brought up bleeding red and white blood. I was never allowed to play as a kid. It wasn’t really a thing twenty-five years ago, ladies’ football; it certainly wasn’t accessible, so I would always kick around with the lads. Went to high school and didn’t play and after uni I got into cycling which I did for fifteen years and raced for eight.”

But when the long days of training and the sacrifices were over, Gem knew she wanted to play football again.

“This one Christmas, I went and got some boots, some cones and a football and went to the park and set up some silly drills. I was beaming ear-to-ear. I needed to find a team and I had one friend that wanted to play. But it’s super hard as you can’t really commit to anything as we have high-pressured jobs. And then I found Footy Addicts.

“I joined a game in Whitechapel. I was like a teenager, super excited. I rocked up and nine of the other girls were all Italian. I was buzzing. Then I just went for it. Registering for all kinds of games. And I got a really good crew of mates from it!”

One of those Italian girls is Nunzia. Nunzia turned up in the Sheffield United shirt for a bit of banter with Gem. And that’s the vibe throughout. Friendly, positive, fun. And no one minds taking a turn in goal. But more than that, the game is disciplined, creative and very, very technical.

Nunzia is an example of that discipline. From a family of Inter Milan fans, she’s got Catenaccio in her blood. She’s never shirked a tackle in her life and simply loves to defend. And that flows throughout the game. It never loses its shape or its intensity but it never boils over. Players are picked up from the floor with an apology and a smile, then it’s back to finding space, asking for the ball and tracking runners. It’s great to watch. And there are some seriously good players there.

Chelsea came through Middlesbrough’s academy as a centre-back, but has a strike on her that makes you wince from the sidelines and say a prayer for the keeper’s cold and gloveless hands. She’s had quite the career; travelling to North Korea with Middlesbrough Ladies and getting a scholarship to play football in Texas. Chelsea now works with young offenders and it’s that nurturing side that shines through, above the thunderbolts from distance.

“Football’s been my life, but seeing the other girls progress is one of the best things. Turning up each week, supporting them, helping them and watching them improve.”

Robyn is a brilliant player. Fast, technical. A playmaker and a goalscorer. Having moved to London from South Africa three and a half years ago, she immediately found Footy Addicts.

“I lived down the road in Shepherd’s Bush and I came here, and it was very small at the time. There weren’t a lot of girls. We were playing four v four and it’s just grown and grown and grown. The main thing for me is I’ve made a lot of friends here. There’s a really nice community of girls here and everyone has stuck around. Very nice vibe, very friendly, good level of football and we welcome all different levels.

“I love grassroots football. I love the passion. Girls will come up, rain or shine, five-a-side, seven-a-side, whatever it is, they could be inside under a blanket but they want to be out here playing football.”

So, what’s stopping you? Whatever your level. Friendship, fitness and football awaits.

Download the Footy Addicts app on Google Play or Apple Store, or visit footyaddicts.com

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