Shortly before the start of the 2014-15 season, Sussex County Women’s and Girls Football League dropped the bombshell that this season’s Under-18 Division had been scrapped.
Already struggling with around half a dozen entrants, league administrators reluctantly threw in the towel after a couple more pulled out, leaving only three or four ready to participate – a sad indictment of the levels of commitment to competitive football at senior-teen level in the county.
But it wasn’t just in Sussex. Similar scenarios – though not necessarily with the same outcome – were probably being played out all over the country.
Certainly, I’m aware of at least one very talented footballer in neighbouring Hampshire who gave football the elbow this season after weighing up the pros and cons of stepping up her commitment at the higher, under-18 level at a time when academic studies, work commitments and a busy social calendar were competing for her attention.
And neighbouring counties are probably full of similar stories as football falls by the wayside for countless teenage girls on discovering a diverse new world that doesn’t require weekly (or more) training on cold, wet winter nights ahead of 90 minutes of mud and mayhem on a Sunday.
But – luckily for the women’s game – not everybody feels that way.
Sent Her Forward has spoken to a couple of young girls whose footballing futures were thrown into disarray by the scrapping of the Sussex Under-18s Division.
Molly Miller was an integral member of the Lewes girls’ team who romped to the Under-16 Division title last season.
When she spoke to me just before the start of the season, she was viewing the prospect of stepping up into adult football with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
Nina Wilson was one of her team-mates, Lewes’s goalkeeper in two hugely successful seasons. But only a few months into her 16th year, Nina was not old enough to follow Molly and most of the other Lewes players into adult football, where the 16th birthday is the crucial eligibility trigger.
She was left with the prospect of a wasted season – either take a step back into under-16 football and risk regression in her development or dump the game that she loves for a year – maybe more.