Long-awaited football stadia scheme ‘crucial for boosting women’s game’, NI Assembly hears

The long-awaited scheme to upgrade football stadia in Northern Ireland will be a crucial part of the development of women’s football in the region, an Assembly committee has been told.

By Dominic McGrath, PA
Thursday, 10th March 2022, 8:44 pm
Northern Ireland's Ashley Hutton celebrates scoring their second goal during the UEFA Women's Euro 2021 Qualifying Group C match at Rodney Parade, Newport. Photo credit: David Davies/PA Wire.
Northern Ireland's Ashley Hutton celebrates scoring their second goal during the UEFA Women's Euro 2021 Qualifying Group C match at Rodney Parade, Newport. Photo credit: David Davies/PA Wire.

Gerard Lawlor and Steven Mills from the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) appeared before the Communities Committee yesterday to discuss the promotion of women’s football.

Asked by Alliance Party MLA Kelly Armstrong about what the Assembly committee should prioritise to aid the development of the women’s game, Mr Lawlor was unequivocal.

“It is sub-regional. It is genuinely that, honestly,” he said.

“It is about giving young boys and girls the changing facilities that they require, toilet facilities.

“Our clubs all play a part in the community and I believe clubs should be playing a part in crèches in the morning and, for OAPS, activities and bingo in the evening and such things. It’s facilities.

“We often see sub-regional about footballers and professionalism and the men’s game. That’s not what this is about. This is really about our clubs playing a role in their communities and being able to develop.

“Sub-regional is the biggest gift this committee, or through the minister, could give to sport and that’s what we’re crying out for.”

The comments came during a wide-ranging set of hearings on women in sport.

NIFL said that despite significant progress in recent years, more work is needed to encourage and support women in football.

Women’s football in Northern Ireland received a boost last year, when the ladies’ squad made history by qualifying for the Euro 2022 tournament.

That unprecedented success in qualifying for a major tournament was repeatedly referenced by politicians at the committee yesterday, with members heaping praise on the team.

Footballing officials pointed to significant strides made in recent years, with large crowds attending matches and more opportunities for coverage on TV.

Steven Mills, the chief operating officer at NIFL, said it was important that more women were in leadership roles in the organisation.

“We are getting better at giving them a voice and supporting them. There’s certainly more work to be done,” he said.