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Female football takes centre stage in Essex this weekend as the County FA Cup Final programme gets underway with an Under-14 and Under-16 Girls Cup double header at Burnham Ramblers FC from 11am.
The girls' game continues to go from strength to strength in Essex and four teams from across the county will be hoping to emerge successful when they take to the pitch this Sunday. In the Essex Under-14 Girls Cup Final, Leigh Ramblers tackle LOASS, whilst the Under-16s showpiece at 3pm sees Little Thurrock Dynamos go head-to-head with Southendian.
Howard Mackler, who oversees the structure at Leigh Ramblers, has explained how the female game is blossoming at his club. "It all began when Emma Burden from the Essex County FA and myself set up a School-Club Link in 2009. We started one side under the Leigh Ramblers name at that time and now we have six girls' sides," he said.
"Loads of girls play schools football in Southend-on-Sea, but there are very few other girls' clubs in our area. I'd happily see more - and I think there should be - but we're pleased that we're providing an opportunity for the girls to play. It's superb to reach another county final; it's great for the girls," Mackler adds of their achievement in getting to a third successive final in the Under 14s competition.
Counterpart Tom Cruse, who has led LOASS to their inaugural County Cup final, can also see the same burgeoning traits occurring in Essex's London Boroughs: "It's brilliant that our arrangement with Leyton Orient helps us get into schools and the local community. Our aim is to double, or even triple our numbers. There are so many people in Metropolitan Essex that it helps give us the opportunity to tap into all the talent that is out there."
He is also in favour of the 9v9 version of the game which was introduced by the County FA in 2011/12: "Nine-a-side football is definitely a positive format. It gives the girls a lot more touches of the ball and also gives them more responsibility. If anyone finds themselves out of position it easily allows other players to cover and I think it really is a good education."
Following the Under-14s final, Little Thurrock Dynamos Under-16s will be hoping to repeat their 2011 final victory by defeating newcomers Southendian. Player retention has been a key facet of their development under boss Stephen Ray, as he declares: "I'm extremely proud of the girls; I'm proud they've stuck together and I'm proud they've stuck by their morals.
"They've worked hard for this day and really deserve it. Success breeds other players and we have strengthened as a unit whilst also keeping hold of the main group. They all get on really well and there are no 'bad eggs' in the side whatsoever, so that's been really crucial to us."
Progression is cited as one of the main reasons for Tom Dalgarno moving his Southendian team away from Leigh Ramblers following their appearance in the 2011-12 Under-14s final: "Ramblers is a good club, but they don't currently have the natural progression of an open age women's side which Southendian can offer. Our aim is for this team to skip Under-18s next season and move into the women's game.
"That's where they'll become a reserve side for the existing First Team. I'm really proud the girls have managed to get to another county final. I still believe the County Cup is the biggest competition we can play for. Under both our guises we've won league titles and league cups, but we've yet to win the County Cup. We'd love to be able to do that. We lost to a good side two years ago, but it was a great day and a great experience. I hope they'll all enjoy it as much today."
Leigh Ramblers vs LOASS in the Under-14s kicks off at 11am on Sunday 16th March at Leslie Field, Burnham Ramblers FC. Little Thurrock Dynamos vs Southendian Girls in the Under-16s kicks off at 3pm at the same venue. Admission for each is £4 for adults and £2 for concessions, with a free programme upon entry. For live match updates, follow @EssexCountyFA on Twitter.
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