Despite a modest population of just three million, Wales have certainly made a considerable impact on the game in recent years. Inspired by the development of stars such as Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, the Dragons have embarked on a dramatic ascendancy, rising from their lowest standing in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking of 117 in August 2011, to reaching eighth spot in the world in October 2015.
And while the men’s team have been making impressive strides, so too has the women’s game. Emblazed on the chest of the national team’s jersey is the inspiring Welsh slogan Goarau Chwarae Cyd Chwarae, meaning Together, Stronger, and it is this particular ethos that is helping drive the women’s game in the country – from grassroots to the senior side.
Similar to the men’s team who appointed Chris Coleman, Wales entrusted the women’s managerial role to a former star. Capped 61 times as a player, Jayne Ludlow was appointed head coach in October 2014. In keeping with the ethos of ‘Together, Stronger’, Wales’ youth and senior teams have been integrated to establish a consistent playing philosophy among the ranks since Ludlow, a nine-time FA Women’s Premier League winner with Arsenal Ladies, took charge.
“One of my main aims is to progress the provisions we have for young female players in Wales,” Ludlow told FIFA.com. “We now have a national youth and senior academy that has been set up with educational partners, which means our youth international players have full-time football alongside full-time education.
“We now have a women’s national player pathway that runs from 12 years of age to seniors, but it’s still very much in its early stage of development.
“It’s also the first time we’ve linked our U-15 and U-16s teams to U-17, U-19 and seniors because in the past, there’s been people in charge with different philosophies and different thought-processes. Now there’s a continuous pathway so the girls are learning things at 13 years of age that will help when they get to the senior team in the future.”
While pleased with the impressive strides that have been made in Wales – with the country now boasting 5,015 registered female players – Ludlow has called for even greater participation, referencing countries closer to home as an example to follow.
“There are a lot of different areas that need to grow with the women’s game,” she said. “There have been positive impacts in the last 12 months but in comparison to other nations that are local to us – England, Scotland and Ireland – we still have quite a way to go in bringing participation numbers up.”
The development of the Wales women’s national team is also being supported by the growth of their domestic league. Mirroring the philosophy of Together, Stronger, the Welsh Premier Women’s League, which was once regionalised as north and south, merged to form a united national division in 2012.
“There have been massive changes with the development of the women’s league,” said Lucy Kelly, the Women’s Competitions Executive of the Welsh Premier League. “We’ve seen more players coming through the league and going into the international set-up, particularly at U-17 and 19 levels.
“There have been massive improvements in terms of the amount of players that are making it in the international set-up.”
With more and more youngsters participating in the game, women’s football in Wales certainly has a bright future. From 2010 to 2014, girls’ memberships in clubs grew by 40 per cent and the Welsh Football Trust, an organisation committed to encouraging more people to play football, hopes to have 20,000 registered female players by 2024.
FIFA’s Live Your Goals initiative, a campaign which aims to encourage more girls and women to participate in football, also concluded its second year in Wales, with 1,890 females recently taking part at eight venues across the country.
“Live Your Goals has been fantastic for us,” said Jamie Clewer, Head of Growth at the Welsh Football Trust. “We had around 1,500 girls participate at our festivals in year one, and we’re working hard to convert that festival format into a weekly turn-up-and-play structure that we’re looking to launch next year. We’ve also tried to get traditional male clubs to embrace women’s football.
“I would hope that we have an environment whereby right across Wales, girls have an opportunity to play football and it’s a real inclusive pathway, and that whether you want to play recreationally or you want to play for competition purposes, you can do so. That’s firmly embedded within our regional FA and league structures right across Wales.”