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The Bolton Team So Good Others Refuse To Play Them

Bolton Girls' Under 16s have had their best season ever and are full of hope for the future

England captain Steph Houghton and her teammates have been the catalyst for a surge in womens' and girls' football
England captain Steph Houghton and her teammates have been the catalyst for a surge in womens' and girls' football
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Fresh from reviewing Bolton Ladies' fantastic season we've got another positive story from the world of Bolton Wanderers. The current Under 16 girls side have also had their best season ever - and the best season of any Bolton girls' team in history.

In 16 league games the Bolton side has scored 128 goals, only conceding 16, and came a very close second to Blackburn Rovers who, as we mentioned in the ladies' article, have much more funding for their womens and girls sides. Indeed, the two sides went head-to-head in a penultimate game of the season title decider last Wednesday night with identical records, but Blackburn came away 2-1 victors.

Bolton's final game of this season is due to be against Allerdale, a side made up of the best players from Cumbria, who have already refused to play Bolton twice this season.

So to focus on the Blackburn result would be to miss the bigger picture of this story.

Rapid rise of youth

Bolton Under 16s are run by Andy Lingwood, who six years ago was just a dad that took his kids along to play football like thousands of other parents up and down the country. But Andy wanted more, so he went away and studied for his coaching badges and was soon in charge of the Bolton Under 10s side.

That team started up with the Bolton Wanderers Community Trust, but had to become part of Horwich St Mary's due to pitch sizes and funding. They returned to the Trust three years ago and are now part of a setup that includes an under 17s side and two under 16s teams, with plans for an under 10s side next season. Lingwood explains:

"We use the name and get used kit from Bolton Wanderers. The gap used to be miles in terms of the main club helping the girls, but some excellent work from the girls at the Community Trust has brought us closer to the club, in terms of being able to use the Academy when the boys aren't there.

"We're reaping the benefits and have begun to attract better players while retaining some of the original team."

The team haven't looked back since their return to the Trust.

Earlier this year they beat Manchester City Academy's under 17s, which included girls from the well funded Manchester City Academy and from Manchester FA, 4-0 in a friendly. That's the equivalent of Bolton's under 16 boys going and beating Manchester United's heavily invested Academy under 18s team - it's a pretty impressive achievement.

Best season on record

Bolton's under 16s have obliterated most of the competition put in front of them this season. As well as their impressive league campaign and the victory over Manchester City, they also made the semi-finals of the Lancashire County Cup semi-finals - only losing on penalties to Blackburn and beating a very strong Blackpool Academy side en route.

They've notched double figures in ten of their 16 league games and star striker Chloe Greenall has scored more than 40 goals, while midfield general Murron Aldred has scored more than 20.

But Lingwood says the whole team has been superb all season:

"I've got a squad of 13 and they have all played their part this season. They never complain, they do just as we ask and they are a pleasure to work with. Chloe's scored a load of goals, Murron has a tremendous engine and is a tough tackler in addition to her goals, and defender Megan Manton reads the game as well as any girl I've seen as well as being comfortable on the ball.

"We've had so many good performances, and reaching the County Cup semi-final was a fantastic achievement. It's been a great season and in every game the girls have performed."

The next step for this side will be to move up to an Under 17/18 league, and attract cast-off players from some of the bigger North West teams' academies.

Looking shorter term they hope to have another friendly against Manchester City later this month, and hope to represent Bolton at a national tournament, which excludes FA Academy teams, in Leicester in early July.

Bright future for womens' football

Of course it's not just at Bolton that womens' and girls' football is on the rise. England Women's third-placed finish at last year's World Cup put the sport on the national agenda, the Womens' Super League is growing in popularity and having matches televised, and the Womens' FA Cup Final was broadcast live on BBC on Saturday. Furthermore, The Guardian's website now has a section dedicated to womens' football.

Lingwood told us that there has certainly been an improvement, but more needs to be done to take the sport to the next level.

"It's always seemed hard work attracting girls to play football in the Bolton area. Obviously it doesn't get the promotion the girls' game deserves, as when you watch them play the girls can be just as talented as the lads.

"There seemed to be an increase in the younger kids wanting to play after the World Cup, but the country as a whole needs to get behind girls' football to help further that success. If schools took girls' football more seriously it would help."

Get Involved

The Trust runs training nights for new girls to get involved in football as well as helping them progress to the junior teams. But Lingwood says that parents shouldn't be worried about taking a five or six-year-old girl along to play for a boys' team, as getting girls involved in the sport early is crucial.

To find out more information and for contact details visit the Trust website.