Barclays-sponsored women MPs team: “Football is for everybody”
As part of Barclays’ ongoing commitment to women’s football, the bank has announced its sponsorship of the UK Parliamentary Women’s Football Club, an all-party team of MPs and political journalists. We report on the team’s first Labour Party Conference match and a subsequent roundtable exploring the barriers facing young girls in the sport – and how Barclays’ sponsorship of the Women’s Super League could be “the missing piece in the puzzle”.
“When I was younger, I was the only girl in a boys’ team, and you’d get bullying and other things like that
“So what we need to do is give our young girls the best opportunities possible, show them there’s no barriers and they can just play and be free. Football is for everybody.”
It was a powerful moment as former England international footballer Karen Carney MBE described the unfair barriers she faced as a young girl – all for trying to play the game she loved.
Carney – who went on to play as a winger for Arsenal, Chicago Red Stars, Birmingham City and Chelsea, represented her country 144 times. She was speaking at a roundtable discussion organised by Barclays and featuring MPs from across the political spectrum.
The event took place immediately after the inaugural party conference match between the Barclays-sponsored UK Parliamentary Women’s Football Club and Lewes FC Women’s Vets, held at Brighton and Hove Albion’s training ground to mark the start of the Labour party conference in Brighton.
The cross-party team, which includes Conservative, Labour and Co-operative party MPs and political journalists and is captained by former Conservative Sports Minister Tracey Crouch, has been training for around 18 months. The match ended in a 4-2 victory for the Brighton-based side.
To mark the occasion, Carney and former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis managed the opposing teams – with Brown-Finnis even putting the gloves back on and playing in goal in the second half.
At the subsequent roundtable event, the former players, politicians and teammates discussed the growth of the women’s game – and how they can actively encourage others to get involved.
“Mummy is off to play a match”
In a sentiment shared by many, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour MP for Tooting and Shadow Minister for Sport, said she felt a responsibility to play the game she loved – so she could encourage and inspire others around her.
“As the Shadow Minister for Sport, I’m out there championing women’s rights, telling people: ‘If you see it you can be it.’ So when they asked me if I wanted to play, I thought ‘why not?’.”
She continued: “I’ve also got two little girls who love football and they are the only girls on their team. They now see that mummy is off to play a match and it becomes very normal for them.”
Anna Turley, Labour Co-operative MP for Redcar and self-described ‘football obsessive’, echoed those sentiments – and said the team had “created a safe environment where I could indulge myself with something that I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a kid”.
Barclays and the women’s game
Sunday’s events were part of the bank’s wider commitment to UK women’s football. This year, Barclays announced a record-breaking three-year sponsorship of the Women’s Super League, and through the FA Girls’ Football School Partnerships the bank has pledged access to football for every girl in England by 2024.
Paulette Cohen, Barclays Director of Diversity and Inclusion, said: “What I think we’ve seen today is the role football can play in preparing young woman with the skills they need for life.
“And I love the fact that is business is part of that conversation. Today we’re having important discussions with players, key policymakers and the media about how to impact wider society through football.”
Brown-Finnis, who spent much of her career with Liverpool and Everton, agreed – and praised Barclays for creating new opportunities for young girls up and down the country.
She said: “Now I have finished playing I recognise the real benefits. It’s not about my achievements or caps, it’s about the life skills you pick up. Things like learning to work as a team, and how to communicate with different people from completely different backgrounds to yours. These are important attributes that you can take away and use off the pitch.
“Things like Barclays’ FA Girls’ Football School Partnerships are unbelievable. I really feel like it’s the missing piece of the puzzle for the women’s game.”
But what about the elephant in the room? Could a football team made up of members of opposing parties put their differences aside for the sake of three points?
“I don’t care who is from what party, it makes zero difference,” smiles Allin-Khan. “For an hour every week at training we’re laughing, taking the mickey out of each other and just having a good time.”