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 In each issue, FotMob – the livescore app – are sponsoring a feature on inclusive and inspirational grassroots stories and assisting in their development by providing equipment vouchers to these special football clubs. Next up, Ladies Football Academy in London.

By Tayyiba Yunus. Images By Gem Atkinson.

Drive past Clapham Common on a Saturday and it’s impossible to miss the Ladies Football  Academy (LFA) in action, with well over a hundred women attending the club training sessions  throughout the day. Sessions run from early in the morning into the late afternoon for all abilities. 

The LFA setup was established in 2014 by Suresh and Rishi. I speak to Suresh as he arranges a set piece drill for his Premiership team. He has been involved in women’s football for close  to sixteen years and, as with most great things, his journey started off totally unplanned. 

“A friend of mine was coaching a group of girls. I was an injured player at the time and he  needed someone to cover a session so I just went to fill in for him. We ended up taking the group from these sessions to eleven-a-side football and eventually developed two teams from it.” 

“the most important thing for us is we develop our players, regardless of  whether they’ve never kicked a ball before or if they play at an elite level”

“With the LFA, the most important thing for us is we develop our players, regardless of  whether they’ve never kicked a ball before or if they play at an elite level. We have a player  who started with us at sixteen and six years later signed a pro contract. Development is a  priority for us. It is also incredible that this club brings together players from all walks of life  who play football with confidence, enjoy the game and have created a social aspect beyond  weekly football. There is a family feel to the club.” 

LFA defenders Sam and Jay are both part of the aptly named “8am squad” and, like a lot of the players, found the club after a search on Gumtree for women’s football. Sam has been  involved in football her whole life and recalls how much women’s football has changed in the  past ten years. “It’s much easier for girls to find a place to play football now. When I was in  Year 7 I had to start a petition to convince my school to give girls the same opportunities as  boys’ football at the school.” 

Gem, resident TGP photographer and a winger for the LFA Clapham team, adds that she “loves to see ladies of different ages and abilities come together at the LFA, united by football. We don’t take each other seriously and we love that.  

“We love the team spirit and culture. There isn’t a pressure to turn up every week. We have  picnics after games and go for socials which is great to meet players from our other teams.  Suresh and Rishi somehow know everyone’s names. They never criticise and actually  encourage us to make mistakes.”  

Suresh and Rishi sum up the gist of grassroots football when neither of them want to even  estimate how many hours they invest into running the club. It’s inspiring to hear about the  fruits of their efforts and how much the players look up to both coaches on a personal  and professional level. 

Of all the work the pair have done with women’s football in South London, perhaps the most  impressive is the establishment of the Clapham Women’s Saturday Football League, which  the duo started in 2017. Suresh and Rishi explain how the league was created as an alternative  to Sunday League football.  

“I love to see ladies of different ages and abilities come together at the LFA, united by football”

“With Sunday League, the players struggle with travelling to different locations and  committing to games every weekend. Teams struggle with administration, finances and  putting together a full squad every week, especially during the winter season. We started the  Clapham Women’s Saturday Football League to provide a high quality platform for teams to  play in a structured, competitive environment.” 

Teams across London travel to Clapham Common to play in the Clapham Women’s Saturday  Football League. There are three divisions catering to different abilities and all are  “competitive, with very high standards of football”. The aim for Suresh and Rishi is to continue  its development with further divisions, using the league to help develop players and eventually expand the Saturday league to different locations.  

Rishi and Suresh

“The teams appreciate the minimal administrative work and the level of competitiveness of  our leagues. We have created a setup where games aren’t weekly and this means teams  aren’t scraping to fill their squads and it really supports the teams to grow.”  

The Ladies Football Academy and the Saturday Football League are both incredible structures and dedicated, inspiring individuals are behind its success. Suresh and Rishi have created something special in Clapham, bringing together hundreds of women to both enjoy the beautiful game and develop as football players. 

FotMob is the essential football app. Scores, stats, news and more. Get the app on iOS and Android. 

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