The first Women's Day at the UEFA Champions Festival proved a triumph for all involved – from the grassroots to the game's elite.
Part of the build-up to Thursday's UEFA Women's Champions League final, Tuesday marked a celebration of women's football at every level. While Olympique Lyonnais and 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam will take the spotlight at Craven Cottage, it was Hyde Park that welcomed two of English football's most notable female figures – national team captain Faye White and manager Hope Powell.
Although White's hamstring injury left her unable to join in with the youngsters as much as she would have liked, the Arsenal Ladies FC defender was in no doubt about the benefits of the day. "It's good that the girls and women's game has its own section [at the UEFA Champions Festival] because it shows the rise of the game," she told UEFA.com.
"It allows girls to enjoy the national game, to play it and to be a part of it. There's a good standard as well. It's improved a lot since I've been involved. It's healthy – there are a lot more opportunities for girls and so many more girls playing than when I started."
Powell was equally positive about the work being done to promote women's football at the base of the game. "It's fantastic," she said. "Putting on events that are specifically for the women's game embraces it and gives us a platform. It gives us an opportunity to promote the final on Thursday. It will hopefully give the girls something to aspire to. We all know they love football and want to be part of it.
"You need that base of players and the opportunity for all those players to play. A lot of girls play the game for social reasons, for fun, and it's a great sport for that. Football is the number one female participation sport in this country and that's fantastic. Firstly, it just gives us more players to choose from, and secondly with things like the government agenda on obesity, it encourages activity."
Besides getting the opportunity to meet White and Powell, around 200 primary and secondary school girls participated in a series of five-a-side tournaments earlier in the day – with around 700 involved during the course of the week. With the emphasis on fair play, Carol Isherwood, the Football Association's (FA) regional manager for London, hailed the Women's Day event a success at every level.
"It's just brilliant for the young players to meet Hope, to meet Faye and have the chance to get autographs," she said. "They've just enjoyed being here. You can see from their faces that it's a fantastic occasion to be involved in. Some of the girls can go to the game on Thursday and have the chance to see some of the best female players in Europe. They can aspire to that level or just keep on playing. That's the most important thing – to get involved and stay involved."
There was an extra treat for many of the girls, who came from schools in the London boroughs of Camden, Islington and Lambeth. With the UEFA Women's Champions League Trophy residing on a plinth, a number of youngsters posed alongside it just 48 hours before Europe's elite vie to lift it in west London.
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