Ladies hunt higher profile

WOMEN'S football is set to make a bigger impact in the next few years, and Ipswich Town WFC plan to be in the forefront.

WOMEN'S football is set to make a bigger impact in the next few years, and Ipswich Town WFC plan to be in the forefront.

They currently play in the AXA Premier League Southern Division, which is just one step away from the top women's league in the country – the AXA Premier Division.

Huge crowds are attracted to women's matches in Europe and the USA, and a big increase in interest is predicted in England.

At the moment, Ipswich Town WFC play their games in front of a handful of spectators. With improved links with Ipswich Town – including the use of their Academy facilities in Rushmere for home matches – the ladies want to raise their profile and make a bigger impact in the town.

England reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA European Championships in Germany last week, and the national team is being tipped to make progress on the world stage.

Sean Thacker, a full-time coach with Ipswich Town, is to coach the Town women's side next season with fellow coaches Greg Cooper and Keith Howlett involved in youth

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development plus the reserves and Under-16's respectively.

Ipswich Town WFC currently run two adult sides plus three youth teams at under-12, under-14 and under-16 levels.

The production of young players will be a high priority for the new coaching team. Cooper, who like Howlett is taking his UEFA B

coaching course this summer, said: "The plan is to set up a centre of

excellence at Ipswich which will feed into the West Suffolk women's

full-time football academy for 16 to 19 year-olds at Bury St Edmunds.

"We already have youngsters who have been picked for England trials, and we now want to go a stage further.

"Television is to take a bigger

interest in the women's game and there is talk of a professional league in England within the next three years. We would like to be part of that if


"Ipswich Town have reached the top of the tree and we want to have the same profile in ladies' football."

Next season Ipswich will play other sides linked with top clubs like Fulham, Chelsea and Millwall, and to improve their chances they have brought in professional fitness trainer Ricardo Carballo.

He began work this week when the club started pre-season training.

Thacker works full time for the Ipswich Town Football in the Community and development office as well as being head coach at the West Suffolk girls' academy.

He would like to hear from

youngsters who would like to join the club, and he can be contacted at Ipswich Town FC on 01473 400589 or 07931 510366.

Three girls, Helen Bass, Leanne Parker and Sarah Dooley, have already come through from youth football to represent the Ipswich first team.

Stephanie Lloyd is another who came through the system. Lloyd joined Ipswich Town WFC when she was 11 and 13 years later is now an

established first-team regular.

The midfielder – voted player of the year in 1998/99 and most improved player last season – says that any

prejudices about women playing

football have long since disappeared.

"It was not always acceptable, but those days are far gone," she said. "Most boys are passionate about

football, and now many girls are as well.

"Football is a great sport and we enjoy playing as much as the men. Fitness is very important and we plan to get as fit as possible this season to make it a successful 2001/02."

Angela Locke has been involved with the club for many years and coaches the Under-12s and Under-14s while Lloyd is the club's press officer.

On the international front, England's women fottballers may not have qualified for the last four in the UEFA Women's Championship but they can be quietly satisfied with their overall performance during the last ten days.

With seven of the squad of 20 aged 21 or younger there is much to be

positive about, and although they failed to record a win in the group phase, the results do not truly reflect just how well England have acquitted

themselves on the larger stage.

Realistically they were never expected to make it into the second week, but their participation has been a vital source of education for both the coaching staff and players.

Katie Chapman has been England's player of the tournament and aged only 19 this central defender has shown a quality and maturity way beyond her tender years.

She was very impressive against Germany and the fact England went into the break 0-0 with the tournament favourites – before losing 3-0 – was in no small part down to her.

It is on the likes of Chapman, Danielle Murphy, Rachel Unitt, Sue Smith and Kelly Smith that the future of England's success rests, and coach Hope Powell has stressed from the very beginning that being involved in this tournament was just part of a steep learning curve her players must travel if they are to realise their full potential and catch up with the likes of Germany, Norway and Sweden.

It is a sentiment echoed by veteran striker Marieanne Spacey.

"I think this squad is potentially the best I have played in or been around simply because there are a lot of young players who are learning," she said.

"Being here is part of that learning and they have adapted well to the

modifications made for games and they have adapted quite well to the amount of time they have been away.

"For many of them it's their first time away in a competition and I understand the need for the more

experienced players, like myself, to help and be consistent with the younger players and help them along and, in a way, be a voice for them and an ear for them."

England saved their best

performance for Saturday's final group game against Germany and the host nation were made to work a great deal harder than they had anticipated to maintain their 100 per cent record against the English.

For almost an hour Powell's side kept a strong, well-disciplined and

talented outfit at bay but ultimately the German's class and experience showed when they broke the deadlock with three goals in 10 minutes.

Against Sweden, England were always playing catch-up after giving the opposition an early second-minute lead.

In stifling conditions the players were unaccustomed to, England

eventually lost 4-0 as they began to tire.

But for Angela Banks it will be the opening game against Russia that brings the fondest memories as she scored her side's solitary goal of the competition – her first in a major


"I could have screamed my head off," she admitted. "It was a wonderful feeling being in the European Championships and scoring a goal."