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Heading Forward: Sports reporter Hannah Dolman joins forces with Suffolk FA’s Women’s Leadership Academy and #WeAre to promote the trailblazing women in football while encouraging others to get involved




Women’s football has long been on the rise, with increasing focus on the Lionesses’ World Cup and European Championship exploits, but there has been a growing sense locally that the East of the country is getting left behind a snowballing local growth in the game.

So Suffolk FA have stepped in and created a steering group with the intention of shining a light on the hard work of those already involved, while also looking at ways to boost female participation further.

The Leadership Academy have linked up with Freya Louis’ #WeAre social media campaign, which similarly helps to ‘celebrate and aim to encourage more females into the game both on and off the pitch’.

(From left) Kirsty Smith (Suffolk FA), Freya Louis (Needham Market Women's manager), Izzy Chaplin (Suffolk FA youth council chair), Kayleigh Steed (Haverhill Rovers/Borough), Becca Bolton (Suffolk FA). All members of the Female Leadership Academy steering group and #WeAre (28518552)
(From left) Kirsty Smith (Suffolk FA), Freya Louis (Needham Market Women's manager), Izzy Chaplin (Suffolk FA youth council chair), Kayleigh Steed (Haverhill Rovers/Borough), Becca Bolton (Suffolk FA). All members of the Female Leadership Academy steering group and #WeAre (28518552)

Suffolk FA girls’ & women’s football development officer Becca Bolton is spearheading the new Female Leadership Academy and has been joined by female coaches, referees, a host of development roles and even a human rights advocate focused on diversity and inclusion.

Bolton said: “I guess there is a feeling that the area is starting to lag behind other parts of the country in terms of women in football and the thought behind the group is for Suffolk FA to help link those already doing fantastic work and help them continue that.

“It’s really exciting, we have so many women involved in the game that don’t really get the credit for the hard work they already do; they aren’t necessarily known about.

Needham Women, managed by Freya Louis who is behind the #WeAre campaign, made it to the Suffolk Women’s Cup final at Portman Road in their first season. Picture: Ben Pooley
Needham Women, managed by Freya Louis who is behind the #WeAre campaign, made it to the Suffolk Women’s Cup final at Portman Road in their first season. Picture: Ben Pooley

“So it is all about shining a light on women in football and showing others how you can get involved, it’s brilliant.”

Bolton is joined on the panel by Suffolk FA colleagues Mel Stickland, football services officer & referees appointment officer, Kirsty Smith, inclusive football development officer and Lily Chiang, social media and marketing apprentice. But she has been keen to emphasise it is not just about Suffolk but the whole area, and is happy to hear from anyone in the region – and even beyond.

Also involved is Abi Byrne, a FIFA international-level referee from Mildenhall, Shoomi Chowdhury, diversity and inclusion specialist at Amnesty International, Izzy Chaplin, Suffolk FA Youth Council chairman, Freya Louis, girls’ & women’s development manager at Needham Market Academy, Paige Shorten, Ipswich Town Women/U21 assistant coach & operations, Kayleigh Steed, football development officer at Haverhill Rovers, Amy Doyle, royal engineer with the British Army, Lucy Miles, head of girls & young leaders manager at Sporting87, as well as Aimee Tilley and Mandy Cutting.

Bolton said the vast array of experiences of the steering group will help to avoid a blinkered vision approach, with each participant bringing a different opinion on how and where improvement can be made.

Female Leadership Academy logo (28518550)
Female Leadership Academy logo (28518550)

She said: “We have such a diverse group of women involved who all have different experiences in the game to share, all with different reasons of why they love the game, how they got involved or what stopped them getting involved.

“I think most people will tell you it’s a pretty male-orientated game but that’s changing, and we want to be at the front of it all, helping to support and boost wherever is needed.”

The group have decided to hold a public vote each month to coincide with the #WeAre monthly themes, January was Referee of the Month while February will be the Manager of the Month.

Nominations will open later in the month – with links shared across @UK_WeAre and @SuffolkFA – with a final decision voted for by the Leadership Academy on February 29.

Referee of the Month award: Mel Burgin

Melissa Burgin (28334529)
Melissa Burgin (28334529)

Melissa Burgin has been named Referee of the Month by the recently established Female Leadership Academy (FLA) after she was nominated for the award.

The 27-year-old Level 4 referee is an experienced official with more than five years experience and last season sat top of the merit list.

It saw her appointed as an official at the FA Women’s Continental Cup Final as well as the FA Women’s Cup.

This season she has built on that further with consistently high standards gaining the attention of FIFA, who have selected her as an assistant referee – she has been on three European tournaments.

She is the first female Level 4 referee to achieve FIFA status, a feat the FLA were keen to take note of.

She was also recently successful in the interview panel and got the job as the the Nottingham FA’s Referee Development Officer.

She is currently near the top of the table in her county on the men’s league and therefore in a good position to achieving promotion.

She beat off nine other contenders to the FLA’s top prize, having been nominated by a fellow referee.