Inspiring women in Northern Ireland

Women's football development is set to be given a significant boost in Northern Ireland, which is hosting the current European WU19 finals.

WU19 finals mascot Sweet Caroline and Eadie Fallis
WU19 finals mascot Sweet Caroline and Eadie Fallis ©IFA

This year’s European Women’s Under-19 Championship finals, which kicked off on Tuesday, will provide a great opportunity to drive women’s football forward in host association Northern Ireland, according to the tournament director, Sara Booth.

The National Football Stadium at Windsor Park in Belfast, the Ballymena Showgrounds, Mourneview Park in Lurgan and Portadown FC’s Shamrock Park will all be hosting matches.

“At the Irish Football Association we believe in football for all – for men and women, young and old, across the community,” says Booth.

“This is the single biggest opportunity for the Irish FA to grow women’s football. By putting our country on the world stage and hosting this event, we hope to inspire a new generation of girls – and boys – to dream of wearing the Northern Ireland jersey.”

“Not only do we want more young people to take up the sport; we also want to encourage more administrators, coaches, referees, officials and volunteers to get involved at their local girls’ and boys’ clubs as a consequence of this tournament.”

A local organising committee has been set up to deliver the event – and over 30 members of the Irish FA have already got involved in some capacity or another.

“This is the first time in the history of the association that we have mobilised so much support for a women’s football event,” Booth continues.

For the first time in women’s football, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will compete together in a major tournament. England and Scotland won their respective elite round qualifying groups – as did Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, while France claimed the last remaining place as best runners-up.

The draw for the finals was held at Belfast City Hall on 22 June. The eight teams will compete in two groups of four to decide who makes it through to the semi-finals and, ultimately, the final.

Comprehensive marketing and digital media plans are in place to promote the tournament, while a legacy and participation plan has also been developed to draw maximum benefits for the country as a whole.

The official mascot for this summer’s event, Sweet Caroline, has just completed a tour of schools around Northern Ireland to encourage families to support the tournament. Sweet Caroline was designed by Fermanagh schoolgirl Eadie Fallis, who won the social media mascot design contest entered by 3,500 children from primary schools across Northern Ireland.

“We believe that by hosting this tournament,” Sara Booth concludes, “we will showcase Northern Ireland at its best, including our football, our facilities, our culture, our history, our fans, our tradition of hosting major tournaments and our unconditional love of the game.”

This edited and abridged article originally appeared in UEFA Direct No169