The 2013/14 UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship broke new ground on several levels. It was the first finals to be staged outside Nyon, instead culminating the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Football Association (FA), who acted as hosts at the state-of-the-art national centre at St George's Park in Burton. The tournament also involved eight teams – an expansion which allowed Austria, Italy, Portugal and Scotland to make debuts in an event where Nordic countries were conspicuous by their absence.
Furthermore, the tournament took place during a November/December time slot – an innovation attributable to the FIFA international calendar, which required UEFA to determine Europe's three contenders at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, scheduled for March/April in 2014. This preempted the use of the traditional June slot for the adjudication of the European crown. It also entailed the injection of a third-place play-off to complete a 16-game match schedule, in order to allow the defeated semi-finalists a chance to qualify for the World Cup.
The eight teams were accommodated within St George's Park, where the training facilities were second to none – to the extent that one coach commented that the playing surfaces at the four stadiums were hard-pressed to match the quality of the training pitches. The sixteen matches were distributed among four venues in Burton, Chesterfield, Hinckley and Telford, all within an hour's drive of the tournament headquarters.
Matches kicked off at lunchtime or in the evening with a view to maximising attendance by school pupils. The total attendance for the tournament was 12,853 peaking at 2,185 for the hosts' opening fixture with Italy. The crowds created atmospheres which many of the players had not previously experienced and therefore contributed to their education at a highly successful development tournament.
In terms of learning, school work was also an issue which needed to be addressed during an event in term time. The German delegation, for example, included two teachers and squads built at least one hour of 'classroom time' into their daily schedules. It was also an educational event from a coaching perspective with Scotland, for example, taking a large group of youth development coaches to observe matches at a final tournament which set benchmarks for technical and physical requirements in the U17 age group.
Béatrice von Siebenthal
Barry Cregg (Sportsfile)