Women’s football at all levels needs our support once gates re-open - Sue Smith

If it had not been for “non-elite” football clubs, my whole life would have turned out very differently.

I must have been about three or four when I went to watch my older brother at Rainhill United and the manager there, Albert Fellows, saw me playing on the sidelines and asked if I wanted to join in.

My mum was not sure at first but let me and every single Saturday morning, rain, hail or shine, Albert knew even if some of the boys did not fancy it, I would always turn up for training.

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He is no longer with us now but I owe him so much, which is why I told him if I ever played for England, I would give him my first shirt.

Leeds United Women, where Sue Smith used to play, celebrate a goal against Durham Cestria (Picture: Steve Riding)

He could easily have said it was a boys team and I should find a girls side to play for but there were not any in the area at the time, so without him I would never have achieved what I did as a player, or go on to have a career in the media on the back of it.

When I got older, I played for my first girls team at St Helens Town, another club whose season has been voided by Covid-19 for the second year running. From there, I got picked up by Tranmere Rovers.

Who knows how my life would have turned out if Rainhill had not trained five minutes from my house, or if Albert had not let me join in? I am sure I would have gone into some sport, but if there had been a tennis court or a cricket pitch there, it might have been that.

I am not the only one with a story like that to tell. My former England team-mate Rachel Yankey started at Mill Hill before being picked up by Arsenal.

From grassroots to international: Holland's Dyanne Bito tries to tackle England's Sue Smith. Picture: Getty Images

If clubs like this do no survive the pandemic, so many opportunities for young girls and boys will be lost.

It is not just the top end of sport that it matter to.

Sport is so important for our mental health, and that is why it really strikes a chord about the women’s footballers unable to play since the latest lockdown started. I know the feeling – I am desperate to get back playing five-a-side football again.

Grassroots football provides a release, whether you are playing, watching, or being part of a community. And it is so good for the health of young girls too.

DOncaster Rovers Belles' Sophie Scargill in action (Picture: Heather King/Club Doncaster)

The characeristics you develop playing sport are so important in life. It gives you self-esteem, teaches you about team work and gives you skills you can use in everyday life.

Grassroots clubs always need volunteers to help in so many ways and they give people a purpose, a feeling of being part of something.

These are all things young people especially are missing out on at the moment and things you do not associate so much with elite sport, where some are just doing their job.

Everyone involved in “non-elite” clubs does it because they love it and want to help.

I played for Leeds United when they were going through some real financial problems and unfortunately, the women’s team was one of the things they decided had to go.

It was a really sad time for me because I had to leave a club I would have loved to keep playing for.

Fortunately, Leeds have a much better attitude to women’s football now and are in a far healthier position to get through this pandemic but I hope those clubs who are not do not go down the route of cutting their women’s team adrift.

Of course self-sufficient teams is the ideal, but we are not there yet.

We can argue about how much governing bodies or Government should be doing to support these clubs and there are so many important things money has to be found for at the moment, but there are things we as football lovers, or even just people who care about the welfare and life-chances of young girls, can do.

When the turnstiles finally reopen there will be a lot of clubs desperately in need of support, whether from fans at the gate, volunteers or local business helping out with sponsorship. There will be clubs near you who need help. Please do what you can.

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