Castle in the Spotlight

6. An Ever-Evolving LAdies’ Section…

The jubilation was shared across the land as Northern Ireland’s women fought vigorously and valiantly to emerge victorious over Ukraine.

  An underdog story for the ages as they ensured that their place was booked at the Euros next year, headed across the water to England as tournament debutants and displaying the ascent of the women’s game in embarking on this adventure.

  This year also marks a significant centenary, not just of Northern Ireland as a territory, but of the Football Association in England revoking the rights of female football clubs to play at FA-affiliated grounds and pitches. It stunted the growth of the women’s game in its golden era, the popularity of it during the First World War drawing the ire of the authorities who wanted to assert their place of dominance in a gender-imbalanced era.

  They said that football was a sport “quite unsuitable for females” despite there being as many as 150 recognised women’s teams in 1920, just one year prior.

  Thankfully such cruel, callous measures as these are unlikely to happen again, and women’s football again finds itself on the rise across the world, the success of the 2019 World Cup in France attracting astonishing television audiences and positive reviews across the masses as America sat atop the summit.

  Bangor was proud to host one of the Women’s Challenge Cup semifinals a couple of years ago, back when the atmospheres of fans was audible and anticipated within arenas, and the aura that night as Linfield overcame Crusaders Strikers was emblematic of the feeling towards the women’s game here and beyond.

  And this is where Castle Juniors come in. The club feels a distinct sense of responsibility in developing footballers as players and people, and this extends to their recently-established women’s section.

  Director of football Kyle Spiers absolutely holds the ambition that this town will be a feeder of international-standard talent to the team, that if they make the sacrifices then they can fulfil their hopes and dreams. There are already two members of the 2008 section who are part of Northern Ireland’s setup at that level, a number projected to increase in the coming years with a highly-motivated and gallant group of 2009-born talents within the team, taught the same values as all others and a reflection of the fact that more young women and girls want to play at the top table.

  In three years since setting up Castle Ladies, the membership number has quadrupled with fifty girls across the ages of six to thirteen, and this continued growth will be extremely important going forward per Spiers, who leads the section alongside UEFA C Licence-qualified coach, Ashleigh Flannigan.

  The club is well aware that a heightened standard of competition makes for a higher standard of player, that as the availability of competitions like the Foyle Cup grows, the competitiveness and fight to finish on top will allow their players to flourish. Castle Juniors always welcomes new members and invites young girls interested in football to come along and experience a training session for themselves, able to benefit from the tutelage of top-quality coaching and improve in line with the club values as an asset to the club and community.

  Castle Juniors relishes its position as a community hub, one that serves all our members if and when they need, with all afforded an even playing field and the same opportunities to avail of in the short and longer term. All members in our Ladies’ section at every age group each have the independence to learn their own way with a helping hand from high-quality coaches, and can likewise avail of our top-class coaching pedigree and partnership with Coerver, while shadowing at schools to inspire the next generation and heighten their acumen.

  They can apply said expanded acumen out on the pitch, contributing to an ever-evolving and ever-increasing level in the women’s game, continuing their trajectory while mentoring those in younger age groups and convincing girls in schools that there is ample opportunity for them to hone their skills.

  In final summary, for the town of Bangor to be a go-to for future internationals is an important thing, a big deal. With growing popularity and resources comes greater competition, with greater competition comes better players, and with better players comes success on the big stages. Northern Ireland’s success in qualifying for the next iteration of the Euros proves the growth in the women’s game, and it is up to local clubs across the land like Castle Juniors to provide the access for young girls to take their first steps and develop in a comfortable, content but competitive environment.

  Castle Ladies are going to be big in the future, growing sustainably and continuously as popularity booms, and local options are available for taking the next step too.

By Lewis Bennett