After securing promotion to the West Midlands Regional League last season, Port Vale Ladies are going from strength to strength as they look to develop as a club on and off the field. Despite only forming via the Port Vale Foundation back in 2017, they have big plans for the future as female football continues to grow.
The 2017/18 season saw the senior team and an under-14s team form with the help of ‘Grow the Game’, a scheme delivered by the Football Foundation. An under-8s team and an under-10s side were then added this season, whilst the under-14s moved up an age group together.
Following the success of the first team, the Port Vale Foundation Trust are in the process of forming more age groups so that the club has a clear pathway from under-8s level through to the senior setup. A five-year strategy is now in place to create those links and ensure there is a direct progression between the age groups, ultimately ending with players representing the club at first team level.
The current junior teams play in the Staffordshire Girls and Ladies Football League, and the club now has a beneficial partnership with Milton United Girls. As a result, all of the age groups play their home fixtures at the Hardman Centre in Milton, and the aim is to provide opportunities for females from the local area to get involved with the sport.
Whilst the club wants to be successful on the pitch, the priority at junior level is to make sure the girls are enjoying playing football, and that is something that is certainly happening at the moment. All of the voluntary coaches are encouraging the girls to learn, and they are thriving as a result, developing their skills as well as their overall character.
Both the under-8s and the under-10s have shown vast improvements so far during 2018/19, whilst the under-15s have recorded a fantastic win rate. They currently sit third in their division, but they have several games in hand on their opponents, and they are also into a cup quarter-final.
The first team have struggled to pick up results this season after gaining promotion last time around, but they have been hampered by injuries and some bad luck in the final third. However, they have more than held their own in most of their games in the tougher league, and Kerri Welsh is encouraged by the progress.
Having played for the likes of Aston Villa Ladies, Welsh is now the Female Football Development Officer at the Port Vale Foundation, and she has enjoyed watching the club grow as an entity over the last 18 months. Now looking to build on the foundations they have managed to put in place, she is determined to ensure the club can develop a sustainable system to drive forward.
She said: “I’m delighted that we now have four teams playing competitive football for the Foundation. We have a longer-term vision to create a team in every age group, and we are well on track to achieve this.
“It has been a really successful couple of years so far with the ladies gaining promotion through an application process in their first season, and the under-15s building on their first season to be challenging for the league this year.
“We are in no immediate rush to grow the pathway too quickly, but we want to create a sustainable and competitive route whereby we have an age group from under-8s right through to our first team. We will be running trials and open training sessions in the summer for two more fresh age groups, and this will expand the club even more.”
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