On Saturday 16th October, I was lucky enough to be given the chance to be a ball girl for AFC Wimbledon's League One match against Sheffield Wednesday at Plough Lane. This is just one of the many opportunities that AFC Wimbledon are offering for young girls and women in an attempt to encourage them into football.


Even though they focus on the men's team, AFC Wimbledon have continued to invest in their women's team and girls' grass roots football. This is evident through the increasing number of players and the improving ability of the girls. In the past few years, the number of girls at the trials has increased, and this means the girls being selected for the AFC Wimbledon girls teams are at a higher standard than ever before. What's more, they have invested in high-quality FA coaches to help develop the young players' game. I was fortunate to be selected at aged 12 for their U13 team and have benefitted ever since from valuable weekly training sessions and regular matches. Last season, they made the choice to further our progression by entering an U16 and an U14 team into the Junior Premier League in their respective age categories. A chance to play against stronger opposition meant we all improved our skills and awareness of the game. It proved a big success and so this season they expanded their player pathway by entering the U15 team into to JPL U16 league in addition to the U16 Surrey League. This continued time and effort spent to try and help our progression has been a key factor in my willingness to put 100% into training and matches week in week out.


Through being a member of the club, I was able to sign up to be a ball girl for some of the Dons' games this season. A few weeks ago, I had my first experience of ball-girling for the men's game and I found it was a real insight into what my future could be like if I choose to pursue the football path. With access to the pitch and inside the players' entrance, I saw first hand not only the pre-match training up close but also the social side. I even spoke with the manager, Mark Robinson! During the match, although I only touched the ball twice, it was the whole experience that made it so enjoyable. This isn't the first game I've been to through my involvement with the girls' team. Before lockdown, I represented the girls' teams at Wimbledon's game against Bolton at Kingsmeadow in March 2020. This included walking onto the pitch and collecting money at half-time for the grassroots game.


Founded in 2003, a year after the formation of Wimbledon F.C Phoenix Club, AFC Wimbledon Ladies, have risen through the ranks of women's grassroots football and now sit in tier three of the women's game, in the FA Women's Premier League South East Division One. Sunday 24th October 2021 saw AFC Wimbledon Ladies play their first match at the newly built Plough Lane. Allowing the ladies' team to play at Plough Lane shows AFC Wimbledon's commitment towards promoting girls in football. Having opened on 3rd November 2020, COVID-19 meant matches were played behind closed doors so until recently, the ladies didn't have the opportunity to have a game at the completed stadium.  They were quick from the offset, eventually running out 7-1 winners in their FA Cup 3rd round qualifying match against Walton Casuals. This means they will face Millwall Lionesses in the 1st Round of the FA Proper. 1,405 people attended the match, and as tickets were free, many young girls took the opportunity to attend Plough Lane, hoping to get inspired by the women's team.


In an interview on their website with Rebecca Sargent, AFC Wimbledon Ladies' longest serving player, said: "It was clear from the start that AFC Wimbledon were serious about the female game, this was apparent when I look at the size of the girls section and the enthusiasm from the coaches and managers." This has been apparent ever since I joined the club, and it has been one of the reasons the girls' teams have thrived. And who knows, maybe one day I'll be playing at Plough Lane and be given a ball by a ball girl playing for one of the girls' teams.