TRCH Full Monty

From Notts to UEFA: Polly Bancroft

2 October 18 words: Colin Sisson

Despite being based 700 miles away in Nyon, Switzerland, Polly Bancroft’s thoughts will be very firmly fixed on her hometown this Saturday, as England Women take on their Brazilian counterparts at Meadow Lane. For it was an England Women’s fixture nearly 30 years ago that led to her prestigious role at Europe’s footballing heart, UEFA.

Polly is currently part of the GROW team, UEFA’s central business development support programme that was launched in 2015 with the aim of systematically and strategically growing European football, “My specific remit involves integrating women’s football within national associations’ key strategic priorities and providing advice on increasing participation” a role that is informed from Polly’s previous experience in UEFA’s Women’s Football Unit and her extensive work with the Football Foundation and the FA in England.

But it was a women’s international match at the City Ground in 1991 that Polly credits as being the catalyst for her determination to increase participation in The Beautiful Game, “The first time I watched England women play was as a birthday present at the City Ground. I was allowed to take five friends along with me. We were so excited to see the women’s team playing in the three lions jersey that we’d prepared a homemade poster, despite the fact we didn’t really know any of the players”.

“As a season ticket holder at Forest I was used to seeing hordes of people going through the turnstiles on match day. I couldn’t then hide my disappointed on witnessing just a handful of people arriving to watch the women. I knew I was in the minority back then but it still struck me just how unpopular women’s football was. The whole experience didn’t offer much inspiration”.

Disappointed yet determined, Polly’s path led from studying PE at Fernwood School and being involved in the Football Academy at Bilborough College, to studying Sports Development at Leeds Met University. She spent her summers back home with Nottingham City Council’s Sports Development Unit, coaching hundreds of the city’s children on the Forest Recreation’s astroturf, while gaining coaching qualifications in multiple sports, working up to her UEFA B Licence.

Opportunities at local, regional and national level followed, as Polly continued her quest to ensure that girls everywhere realise the benefits that football can bring; as her role in UEFA’s #WePlayStrong testifies through its excellent YouTube and Instagram content. A recent UEFA study shows teenage girls who play football report higher levels of self-confidence, and that football can have a greater positive impact on the self-confidence of teenage girls than other popular sports.

And she’s thankful that those attending this weekend’s international at Meadow Lane are going to have a better experience than she had; “Over 25 years on, and thanks to huge investment from The FA and multiple stakeholders, the women’s game is almost unrecognisable. There’ll be a bumper crowd to see the Lionesses - many of whom are now household names. All the squad are fully professional, playing in front of thousands of supporters on a weekly basis. It’s safe to say that girls and boys alike will not go home disappointed this time!”

Polly is equally confident about the long term impact that bringing women’s international football to Nottingham can have; “The city has a proud football history. Notts County Ladies flew the flag high in 2015 by reaching the Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley and many international players such as Jo Potter and Sophie Bradley have come through a thriving grassroots game. With both Forest and County rejuvenating their women’s teams, the future of the elite game is bright”.

 

And what advice does she have for anyone wanting to make a similar impact in the sport? “I would urge women and girls of all ages to contact Nottinghamshire County FA to find a way to get involved as either a player, coach, referee or volunteer - you won’t regret it!”

Get tickets for Saturdays match here. 

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