It’s Saturday-morning 11-a-side at a football pitch squeezed between a scrubby path running along the River Lee Navigation and a technology campus in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Hackney. A dark-haired woman in red defies a gaggle of defenders with a skilled pass to the front. “Yes! Beginner’s debut, right there,” yells coach Julie Leaff at the top of her Mancunian lungs. The player breaks into a grin.
The camaraderie and joy on the pitch, where women are playing football, some for the first time, is noisy and infectious. This is Clapton Community Football Club’s open access training, one of thousands of grassroots sessions in England that have sprung up as women’s football has advanced. Unlike many targeted at encouraging young women and girls to take up the sport, however, it is for all ages.