By Alec McQuarrie
Very few can match the impact Elaine Junk has had on women’s football in Northern Ireland, and that is why she has handpicked for a major award.
Despite never playing the game herself, the 51-year-old has played a significant leadership role in developing the sport locally over the past two decades.
Simone Magill and Jacqueline Burns, Northern Ireland’s first professional women’s footballers, hailed from Mid-Ulster FC, the club where Junk is currently chair and helped found in 2000. She has encouraged females at the club to undergo volunteering and first aid training, while in March 2022 ever-growing numbers allowed Mid-Ulster to field a reserve team for the first time.
The first - and only - woman to sit on the Mid-Ulster Football Association board and a former chair of the Northern Ireland Women’s Football Association, Junk’s commitment to the women’s game has now seen her become part of a campaign championing the individuals and projects who have achieved incredible things for women in sport in their communities, with the help of National Lottery players, who raise £30 million for good causes every week.
To celebrate her incredible achievements, artist Yoniest Chun, known for his cartoon-inspired work, has created a digital piece of art that immortalises her story.
She said: “It’s excellent to be recognised as a champion for girls and women in football and have that opportunity, both on the field and on a committee level, to let girls and women see that.
“If you can see it, you can believe. We can see now that it’s possible for someone to become an international footballer and an elite footballer, but there’s also plenty of opportunities on the government side as well to become a leader off the field.
“I quickly realised that I was never going to be a footballer, so a lot of what I do is off-the-pitch roles within the club.
“Mid-Ulster Ladies is a rural club predominantly based in Cookstown. I was one of the founding members and we started off with no team at all, and every year you just try to make the club a little bit more successful.”
One of Junk’s main passions is giving more girls the possibility to pick up football from a young age, something she has pushed during her time at Mid-Ulster.
3rd 📸: Elaine Junk is the first - and only - woman to sit on the Mid-Ulster Football Association board and a former chair of the Northern Ireland Women’s Football Association.  @NIWFA_, @official_mufl & @SportNINet #ThanksToYou pic.twitter.com/QltBxMnalu
— National Lottery Good Causes (@LottoGoodCauses) November 17, 2022
In recent years there has seen a 438 percent increase in the number of girls taking part in the club’s ‘Little Dribblers’ campaign, which targets young girls up to Year 3 of primary school.
Junk added: “We’re very much trying to build partnerships with the wider community. Last year we did a project with The National Lottery, and it was very much multifaceted. There were different programmes with different parts of the clubs for different reasons.
“The success of any club will depend on the people, the projects that you’re running, the partnerships that you have and the plans that you have in place. In terms of Mid-Ulster, we are currently looking at having around 200 girls and they’re playing football from the age of four.
“The ‘Little Dribblers’ project was a project that we deliberately targeted in terms of girls and sport, that we needed to try and get young kids when they started out at school, actually having that belief that football can be their sport."
Three additional digital portraits have been created and unveiled by digital artist, Yoniest Chun, which immortalise the stories of other individuals and projects who have achieved incredible things for women in sport in their communities. These include Helen Hardy from Manchester Laces in Manchester, Tirion Thomas from Bala Rugby Club in Swansea and Fiona McIntyre head of girls’ and women’s football at the Scottish Football Association in Scotland.
National Lottery players raise more than £30million a week for good causes. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk