Parents speak out as campaign to save Norwich City Girls’ Centre of Excellence grows with support

A training session for the Girls Centre of Excellence at Thorpe High School in 2011.

A training session for the Girls Centre of Excellence at Thorpe High School in 2011. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011

Almost 3,000 people have now joined a Facebook campaign to save the Norwich City Girls' Centre of Excellence – a centre which has been described as a fountain of sporting and social development by parents of devastated youngsters.

Ladies County Cup Final at Football Development Centre at Bowthorpe. Norwich City Ladies taking vict

Ladies County Cup Final at Football Development Centre at Bowthorpe. Norwich City Ladies taking victory and the cup against Acle. Photo: Steve Adams

The centre helps girls develop and progress up to the age of 16, allowing them to play high-quality football against other top teams in the region, but the FA licence will lapse at the end of the current season, after 17 years.

By last night 2,980 people had signed up to the Save Norwich City Girls Centre of Excellence Facebook page, which many worried parents hope might yet force a U-turn.

Neil Bird, whose 15-year-old daughter Ellie is currently midway through her second season at the centre, said he is 'massively disappointed' at the decision which has caused great upset among the girls.

Mr Bird, 52, from Ipswich, said: 'We're really sad. We all appreciate how much its done for them, not just in terms of football development but social development and development as a young adult particularly in the case of my daughter competing at U17 level.

Ladies County Cup Final at Football Development Centre at Bowthorpe. Norwich City Ladies taking vict

Ladies County Cup Final at Football Development Centre at Bowthorpe. Norwich City Ladies taking victory and the cup against Acle. Photo: Steve Adams

'She's incredibly disappointed – really, really upset about it. When the girls were told there were a lot of tears, a lot of very upset young ladies when they found out the news.

'We're now just trying to work out what she's going to do next season and what her future is.

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'Now it's just a question of looking to the future to find out what the options are going to be at Norwich.'

Mark Nicholls, a freelance journalist whose 14-year-old daughter Laura plays for the girls U15s team, is another parent who has been left shocked, upset and angry by the decision which he said came 'totally out of the blue'.

Ladies County Cup Final at Football Development Centre at Bowthorpe. Norwich City Ladies taking vict

Ladies County Cup Final at Football Development Centre at Bowthorpe. Norwich City Ladies taking victory and the cup against Acle. Photo: Steve Adams

He said: 'While parents were bemused the girls were left devastated. They are coached to a high standard and train hard.

'The FA has suggested not enough talent is coming through from this centre but that has left players and parents baffled because there are players involved in the England set-up and the Norwich teams are amongst the strongest in their region.

'Personally, I hope the FA has a rethink and has a change of heart.

'What also puts this into perspective is that here we have girls playing sport to a high standard – something they will take into adulthood – at a time when Sport England has pub-lished a report claiming that women in Norfolk are among the least active in the country. It doesn't add up.'

The changes being implemented by the FA include the current Centres of Excellence system replaced by the Regional Talent Programme (RTP) which aims to provide greater support to clubs that are working with talented youth players.

Kay Cossington, who has led the research into the changes and is also England Women U15 Head Coach, said: 'The changes we are introducing will address many of the issues and challenges that talented young female players in the East region can face. The new pathway will be more accessible – players in the East region will have access to a residential advanced coaching centre but will be able to play football locally, including mixed football, which will allow them more development and game time and require less travel.

'Player health and wellbeing is at the forefront of the programme and aims to support and ensure our elite players reach world class levels.

'We understand that some of the centres of excellence will be disappointed that their facilities will close but these changes have been made in consultation with coaches and stakeholders.

'These are changes that will benefit players across the region and will hopefully see more female footballers across the East playing for England youth and senior teams in the years to come.'

Dan Wynne, marketing and communications manager for the Community Sports Foundation, which will continue to operate its Player Development Centre (PDC) and Elite Player Development Centre (EPDC) programmes, said they hope to meet the FA in the coming days to discuss the decision and the options.

He said: 'It's a disappointment because we've been very proud of the centre of excellence, what it's achieved and what it's done, but whatever resolution we come to [with the FA] we're still committed to girls' football and it's something, through other platforms we run, that we will keep supporting and ensure the girls get the football that they need.'

A spokesman for Norfolk County FA said: 'Understandably, there has been a great deal of emotion with such an announcement.

'In the coming days it's hoped that we will be able to facilitate a meeting to allow the FA to present the facts behind their decision and bridge any gaps of understanding with regards to the future of elite female football and what that means for talent development in Norfolk moving forward.'

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