In the latest episode of our podcast series, I get to sit down and catch up with Bloomsbury Football‘s Maria Hasler, Emma Thackwray and Marcus Carter. Bloomsbury Football is a registered charity delivering the best football experience to children in central London, as a charity they offer all parents financial assistance to ensure that all children can access quality football coaching.
Their core programmes consist of Bears Football which is an introduction to Football for kids of the age 1.5-6 years old. They are a school sports supplier for year 1 to 6. As well as running mixed ability and development teams for the ages 6 to 14 years old. For those looking to push to a higher level they run an Academy Professional Football Experience for talented young players. As stated, our main interest is the launch of their most recent programme focusing on female participation in the sport.
The trio are all involved in the girl’s programme and all have a strong background in coaching or within the girls and women’s game.
Due to the lack of girls football in Maria’s home country she explained to me that she played in a mixed team until the age of 15-years-old, where she was required to play in an adult team if she wanted to continue playing the game. While this might have seemed daunting this led to Maria receiving the opportunity to represent Austria at youth international level and landed her a scholarship to study in America with Florida Atlantic University, along with Everton’s Claire Emslie.
After hanging up her boots due to injury, Maria joined Bloomsbury to focus on the marketing side of the business and working as the Partnerships Lead.
The longest-serving member of the team is Marcus Carter. He told me, “I’ve been around sport all my life. I’ve worked a tennis and cricket clubs, and obviously football.” Coaching football and leading teams took him over to the United States to run football holiday courses. He described to me that once he’d graduated from University he took a job working in the city but after five months decided to leave that role and return to the sports industry, helping launch Bloomsbury when there were only three staff. Nowadays that team has increased to fifteen.
Emma is one of the newest members of the team and speaks an impressive five languages, including French, German, Spanish and Mandarin. Like many females in football, Emma began by participating in the game in a mixed team. She said, “I played from the age of six, in a boys team in the Philippines. A lot of my friends were on the national team but not being Filipino I was unable to play with them there.”
After spending time in Germany in her teens Emma came to the United Kingdom to study at the School of Oriental and African Studies where she also captained her University team.
As well as finishing her degree Emma is helping co-ordinate the girl’s programme and hoping to take over management of it later this summer when her University course is completed.
In September 2020 they launched their girl’s programme but it was sadly cut short and had to be paused due to the COVID lockdown.
They provide football for a wide age range of children. Marcus explains, “We have five main programmes; Our ‘Bears’ which is from 1.5 to 5-years-old. Then we have a foundation level which is participation football with the aim of keeping children active.”
Then they have their academy programme which Marcus describes as, “A bit more intense.” Adding “Those teams will train two to three times a week as well as playing matches at the weekend.”
Completing the list of programmes are the mixed ability holiday courses and the aforementioned girl’s programme. Currently, the girl’s programme is mixed ability and open to everyone but as it grows they aim to mirror the boy’s programme by offering foundation and academy options to players depending on their ability and personal goals.
Lockdown presented a number of challenges to the Bloomsbury team, including how to keep the players engaged while they were unable to kick a ball around. The coaching team devised special online football sessions 6 days a week, two hours of which was dedicated solely to girls teams to keep them active through football from home. As well as Q&A’s with Arsenal and Austria international goalkeeper, Manuela Zinsberger, as well as Charlton Athletic’s Lois Heuchan.
Maria added that “Hopefully the new WSL television deal will should help improve the girl’s connection with the women’s game and female athletes.”
Maria explained to me that they struggled to arrange competitive fixtures for the girls so decided to use their initiative and launch the Girls Super League – I should add that Bloomsbury Football got their first.
The full league doesn’t start until September but in the meantime, the team are hosting a number of tournaments around London to keep players active and engage with teams that have signed up for the Super League or are considering signing up. In the most recent event they welcome special guest Lia Lewis, the freestyler is ranked number four in the world. Maria said, “Lia’s performance was insane! The girls got autographs after and took photos with her. Seeing someone who was so good at football was really inspiring.”
Bloomsbury Football pride themselves on the quality of their people within the management, admin and coaching team. All coaches are to be qualified to UEFA B level, however, Marcus explained to me that while coaching qualifications are important someone motivation, communications skills and willingness to develop themselves are important.
He explained, “Maria has played in the States and is now doing a Masters at UCFB. The same with Emma, she speaks multiple languages and somewhere like London this is crucial and we have a lot of French families whose daughter’s play within Bloomsbury. In London especially, having that diverse group is crucial to our parents.”
I have been massively impressed with the work that Bloomsbury have been doing to build their girl’s programme. Much was made about the lack of diversity within the recent England squads, with many in the women’s game citing that BAME groups in cities and built-up areas were often being failed as the RTC structure is not always accessible to them. Organisations like Bloomsbury can help bring girls from all ethnic and economic backgrounds into football.
To find out more about Bloomsbury and to listen to our discussion on other grassroots coaching topics then check out the latest episode of the Since 71 podcast which is linked below and available on all leading podcast providers. We encourage you to subscribe to automatically receive future episodes. If you like what you hear then be sure to share this episode and leave a review as it raises our presence within podcast lists.