Watford Women FC defender and Reading academy coach sparks hope for Thatcham Tornadoes girls
Kicking it like Clifford was just that bit better than bending it like Beckham for the girls at Thatcham Torndaoes this weekend.
The under 12s were treated to a visit from Watford defender and Reading academy coach Georgia Clifford at their Friday evening training.
The 24-year-old centre back stopped to chat to the young players of all ages, field questions and get inspiration flying.
She ran a coaching session for the U12s and answered their burning questions about her career and what it takes to play pro.
As Clifford stepped onto the pitch, there were gasps from the girls, from the under 7s to under 12s.
Coach Matt Winch said: “The girls were so excited, she is a role model for them.
“You can’t imagine that happening a few years ago. It shows quite how far the game has come for girls.”
Thatcham Tornadoes U12 coach Mark Williams, who has been coaching for eight years, organised the visit via Reading Football Club, where Ms Clifford coaches.
He said it was interesting to see the difference in being guided by a grassroots coach like himself to being guided by an academy coach.
“It was really interesting listening to Georgia and seeing the girls inspired,” he said.
“I watched how she conducted an academy style session, the girls were encapsulated.
“I am hopeful to keep that connection.”
He added: “I get as much out of this as they [players] do. The women's game is the fastest growing sport in the world.”
Mr Williams was also pleasantly surprised to hear one of the U10s told Ms Clifford who her favourite Reading women FC player was.
“I was expecting her to say a men’s player, I thought maybe her Dad took her to games at the weekend but she said the Reading women goalkeeper,” he said.
Reflecting on his own childhood Mr Williams said there has been a noticeable shift in societal attitudes towards the women's game.
“There were no girls' teams when I was young, girls didn’t play football,” he said.
“It was not a done thing to see.
“Three years ago I coached football at a local school and I put a girl in the boys' school team and it was frowned upon.
“Nowadays there’s no barriers anymore, it is generally widely accepted.”
The coach, who is also a father to a young female player, said he hopes to see growth in women’s Sunday league teams as this young generation of budding footballers move on.
“We’ve just got to get that ball rolling,” he said.