YOU could say football is in the genes for the Gadd family.

Watching their favourite team, Bradford City, in action on the pitch it was inevitable that Laura Gadd would become involved in the sport.

“My Dad plays football and cricket as well. He has been going to watch Bradford City for a number of years,” explains Laura.

Incidentally though, while her 24-year-old brother, Thomas, picked up cricket bats and badminton racquets, Laura pulled on her football boots to join her peers on the pitch.

And, by doing so, the 27-year-old from Bradford is helping to raise the profile that football is no longer a predominantly male-dominated sport.

Women and girls are being encouraged to pursue their passion for the sport through programmes such as SSE Wildcats Girls Football Centres which are rapidly expanding throughout the UK.

Initially piloted across the country in 2017, 900 or so centres have now been set up - including Bradford - with 26,000 participants countrywide.

The initiative offers organised sessions in a fun and engaging environment created exclusively for girls.

When Laura isn’t teaching Year 6 pupils at Newby Primary, Bradford, she’s helping out at the SSE Wildcats sessions which run weekly through the summer from 6 until 7pm at Bolton Woods JFC in Powell Road, Shipley.

Laura explains the aim is also to help the girls develop their technical skills. “I’ve been going down to help out on the programme and there has been a growth of girls week on week,” she says.

She believes it has become more ‘normal’ for girls to play the game. “I am a teacher and I see the girls playing football all the time with the boys. I think it has just become ‘normal.’”

Sessions are aimed at the five to 11s and take place weekly either after school or at weekends.

The SSE and The FA hope the initiative will inspire participants to engage with football, meet new friends, develop fundamental skills, learn new things and create the foundation for a lifelong love of football.

Each SSE Wildcats Girls’ Football Centre will be run in conjunction with local County FAs and utilise qualified coaches. Bolton Woods has an all female coaching team.

As well as activities for girls, there will also be opportunities for attending parents, carers and siblings to engage with the sport at the same time through ‘Family Sessions’ including Soccercise and Walking football.

The initiative is in line with The FA’s Gameplan for Growth, with the target of doubling girls’ participation in the sport by 2020.

The strategy for women’s and girls’ football at grassroots level includes initiatives alongside SSE Wildcats, such as FA Girls’ Football Week involving activities for girls to try football.

Michelle Woollias, Centre lead, says “I started playing football at a similar age to a lot of the girls taking part in these sessions and that’s when my love of football began.

“It’s so important to encourage them to enjoy the game from a young age and SSE Wildcats provide a great resource for that.”

Kelly Simmons, FA Participation and Development Director, says: “Since the launch of SSE Wildcats we have seen great enthusiasm from the girls taking part to continue learning and playing football.

“The centres have proved a huge success and we are pleased to be able to considerably grow the size of the initiative in 2018, offering a much higher percentage of girls across the country the opportunity to enjoy football in a safe and inspiring environment.”

For women like Laura programmes such as the SSE Wildcats are indicative of how far the sport has come in encouraging more girls into the game.

“Thankfully at the school where I was it was really encouraged and the school team did really well,” says Laura, who went to Hanson school in Bradford.

“I ended up going to Bradford City and it became part of my life,” she says.

Laura was 11 when she started playing with City but her career was curtailed after she tore ligaments in her knee putting her out of the game for a year.

Last year, after Michelle Woollias formed Thackley Ladies Team, Laura went to help out and is enjoying being part of the team.

“It’s gone from strength to strength - it’s absolutely brilliant.”

Michelle, a previous recipient of the FA Football Mum of the Year which recognises mums who put in countless unpaid hours of hard work so their children and the local community can enjoy playing football, created Thackley AFC Ladies to encourage the development of the girls game.

“I played football in the street until being about 15 and there was nothing for me. I dropped out and picked up other sports but it’s great now,” says Michelle, referring to the plentiful opportunities now offered to girls to get into the sport such as the SSE Wildcats initiative.

Due to the success of the Thackley AFC ladies team since launching their first season in September - their recent win was the double scoring 6-0 in the league Supplementary Cup playing in the final at West Riding - they are now introducing a second team.

“Because it has done so well we are now introducing a second team so more opportunities for more girls to come and join,” says Michelle.

Open training sessions will be held this month (June) for those aged 16+.

“It’s about opportunity. Why should football be a male sport? It’s about choice. It’s a team sport, young girls love team sports, we know they have that social aspect,” explains Michelle.

She says many young girls are also under pressure with school examinations and football can give them a release while pursuing a healthy and active lifestyle.

Adds Laura: “I just love it and it’s so good to see so many clubs have got so many girls teams because that wasn’t the case 15 years ago.

“It’s so good to see girls getting involved and it being OK to play football.”

For more information, or to get involved, contact Thackley AFC through Facebook or email: