More and more girls are playing soccer: ‘We won 18-1 on the boys’ team’

Five thousand girls and women in Brussels tie their soccer shoelaces every week in preparation for the next match. Football is more popular than ever among girls between the ages of eight and fourteen. “At school I sometimes get comments from boys that as a girl I shouldn’t play football, but ‘je m’en fous’.”

On a sunny Tuesday evening at Molenbeek Sippelberg Stadium: The various youth teams of the RWDM Girls train along the entire football field. This is the Brussels football team with the biggest women’s activities. “We started about eight years ago with about ten women, and every year around fifty are added,” sports director Ramzi Bouhlel estimates. “We are now around 350 girls, and after the summer there will likely be 400. The presence of the red torch at the European Championships in July will probably boost the scoring again.”

Gina (12), Camelia (11), and Amaya (12) spoke to us on the sidelines. Camellia has been in love with ball since she was three, she says, with the other two hitting at the age of five and six. “At school, I sometimes get comments from boys that as a girl I shouldn’t play football, but I shouldn’t play football,” Camelia says. Amaya nodded in agreement: “If you do something wrong as a girl while playing football, you will be judged much more difficult than boys.” But she also noticed right away that in matches with the RWDM Girls against boys’ teams – with the younger boys a year – they always win consistently. “We won recently 18-1 and that one goal was a stroke of luck,” she says. Who are they looking at? “Tessa Walert, I even got a T-shirt from her,” Gina says right away. “Everyone always talks about Messi and Ronaldo, but not enough about Walart, for example,” Amaya adds. “In men’s football there are also a lot of fans and a lot more money is used, there is no equality yet.”

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† Amaya (12), Camelia (11) and Gina (12) play with the RWDM girls: “Everyone always talks about Messi and Ronaldo, they don’t talk much about Tessa and Walart, for example.

proud parent

Besides us, father Hassan also supports his daughter Soraya (12 years old), who works in the same team. “I’m proud of her,” he says, “she chose football herself.” “It wasn’t easy with the competitive side, she still has to grow in this field.” Hassan says he always comes to watch the matches whenever he can. “Personally, I find women’s football more beautiful than men’s football, and the focus is more on technique and finesse.”

We move on to the other side of the site, where a group of older girls give their best. After training, Angel and Maeda, both 14-year-olds from Molenbeek, stayed in the park for a while to chat. They both have a few years of experience, playing since childhood. How do their families feel about their passion for football? As Maida explains how proud her family is, it’s even more difficult with Ingiel. “My parents support me, but other family members, like my uncle, think that this is not a girls’ sport. There have been intense discussions about it, but fortunately things are getting better. Anyway, I will continue, I like the sport itself, but also the general atmosphere in the group I dream of one day becoming a professional football player.”

For Maida, it is also a way to mentally recharge the batteries. “During football, you can put your fears, for example about your studies, behind you and completely immerse yourself in the game.” In their age group, the opposition of boys is much stronger than that of young girls. “But I like to play against boys. Just because the level is higher, matches against them are a great challenge,” says Engel.

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† RWDM girls on the training grounds at Seipelberg Stadium.

As the girls walk into the changing rooms, we chat with coach Jezem (24), who emphasizes the club’s social mission. She also works as a social worker herself. “It’s about more than just football,” she says. “We want to offer the girls extensive guidance with the club. Because we build a relationship of trust, we can help, for example, if the girls are in a difficult home situation. We also provide practical help if needed, such as homework support and Dutch lessons.” RWDM Girls even have a separate social coach, which girls can turn to with all kinds of concerns, such as psychological, social or financial problems. Membership fees are kept deliberately low and parents are given the option to pay in different installments.

Women’s Football Manager

Inquiries with BX Brussels Femina and Fémina White Star Woluwe confirm the upward trend, with an increase especially among younger girls, between 8 and 14 years old. In BX, the total number of women has grown from about 35 to 80 in three years, in the White Star about 35 girls were added last year, bringing the total to 220. In all, there will now be about twenty teams in Brussels with women’s operations and about 5,000 Lady on the grass.

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These approximate figures on the development in Brussels correspond to the growth of the national women’s football. The Belgian Football Association (RBFA) today has around 47,200 members, an increase of more than 22 percent compared to 2019. Growth is mainly concentrated among girls between the ages of 8 and 12.

2019 is also the year in which Catherine Ganz was appointed as the first female director of women’s football at KBVB, and a business plan for women’s football was drawn up: ‘The World At Our Feet’. The original ambition to have 80,000 women and girls playing soccer in Belgium by 2024 has been revised to 2026 due to the coronavirus, says Jans, who still plays for the Whites. “The biggest problem in Belgium was that we had older players from younger players. Our aim is to broaden the base, including by going to schools.” For example, through the “Love Football” project, the association organizes low-threshold soccer tournaments for girls in primary school.

An important project on a Brussels scale is the “Football Academy for Girls”, created by the non-profit organization Brussels Football. As part of this project, many Brussels clubs organize free kick-off moments to introduce young girls to football in an accessible way. “Once a week there is comfortable training as part of the academy. We also pay attention to the parents, to get them involved. In the meantime, thirteen clubs in different regions are already participating”, says Audrey Demoustier, women’s football coordinator at FC Brussels.

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Allez l’Union

White Star and Anderlecht, among others, are big names and important players in women’s football in Brussels. The new lady on the block is Union, whose women’s team the RUSG Girls debuted last season and became the third-division champion by a large majority. The Federation also established a youth team under 16 years old.

One of the driving forces behind the project at Sint-Gillis is Aline Deneumoustier (28), who previously started the women’s team Maccabi Brussels in Vorst and will now coach U16 at Union. “The success story of the men’s team is definitely an advantage in our startup,” Deneumoustier smiles. “We are ambitious, but we also want to be true to the identity of the club, in a very accessible and family atmosphere.” Deneumoustier is quick to point out a problem that has surfaced in many conversations: the lack of football stadiums in Brussels. “At a certain moment you reach a ceiling. Often we have to be creative to find a solution.”

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Deneumoustier is not only a coach, she also plays for Union itself, as a right-back, and combines all her sporting activities with the human resource function of the Uccle municipality. She hopes to be active in football full time in the future. “Working as a team manager on a professional structure, for example. I want to give today’s girls opportunities that I did not have when I was young, to receive a high-quality education at a young age, without fear of being discriminated against. My generation had to struggle hard for the status of women On the football field.

Audrey Demoustier explains that you can take it literally. She has played at the highest level for a long time, won forty matches with the Red Flames, and is currently coaching the Flames – as U17 coach and assistant head coach. Her path to the top was tough both physically and mentally. Sometimes the opponents of the male youth squads even dared to pluck my hair, and on one occasion the boys threw stones. Parents on the sidelines threw insults at me. It boosted my character, I got a lot of support from my teammates, and over time I took penalty kicks for my team.”

Charlotte Tyson (24), a key figure in Anderlecht and Brussels, had to be strong as a young player. “As a girl in this sport you have to deal with prejudices anyway and you have to prove yourself more. In a team where I was the only girl who played with the boys when I was young, I also had a feeling they wanted to push me out over time. Then I managed to convince them In my capacity and eventually I became the captain of my team.”

Tyson was strongly inspired by the Belgian number one Alain Zeller, who worked for the same company as her father. “It was a huge motivation to play with her one day, and we did that at Standard.” Until recently, Tyson was also in the same club as her great childhood star Vincent Kompany (who left the position of Anderlecht coach, editor). “I have always looked at him deeply, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. When this icon gives you a compliment after a match, it is of course very motivating.”

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Study, work and play football

Last season, former Red Devils coached Johann Willem Tesson, but he also left Anderlecht. When he left, Woolm noted that he had to work in difficult conditions. “Maybe it was just a luxury in men’s football, but we’re not yet at the level of women’s football,” Tyson says. “Last season we only had two players with a professional contract, most of them are studying or working. One day a week we have morning training, and the rest of the week we only train at eight in the evening. Then, of course, you have less time to adjust tactical instructions, for example.” At the beginning of this year, Tison completed his master’s degree in economics from VUB. After the summer, in which you hope to play the European Championship with the red torch, you will look for a job in the banking sector, for example.

Besides Walem’s comments, there were rumors last season that Anderlecht wanted to save their women’s team. This is not the first time, a few years ago there were strong indications that the women’s team would be closed due to budgetary reasons.

Those storm clouds seem to have dissipated for now, president Wouter Vandenhaute said after winning the national title that the club will keep the women’s team out of the austerity process. Meanwhile, Walem was replaced by Dave Mattheus, a coach who has been involved in women’s soccer for many years. His appointment is part of the broader RSCA Women’s Project, which Matthews will form. “The aim is to focus more on youth work, talent development and progression for the first team,” said spokesman Matthias De Klerk. The Belgian Football Association (RBFA) today has around 47,200 members, an increase of more than 22 percent compared to 2019.

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