Lionesses paving way for young girls to pursue football career, says club player

The club president of a university football club said the “Lionesses are paving the way” for young girls to have a career in women’s football.

Layana Safieddine, a student at Imperial College London and club president of the women’s university football team in their upcoming season, said it is “inspiring” for any female footballer to see “there actually is a future” in the sport.

The bio-engineering student said the university society has grown from 60 to 100 members in the last year following the success of the Lionesses, saying there is a “spotlight” on the sport that was not there before.

Ms Safieddine, 21, who was born in Lebanon but relocated to London to attend university, said her home country does not have the “support or resources” for women to develop careers in football, but she feels the Lionesses are paving the way for young girls in the UK.

“These little girls right now that are watching the Lionesses, you can see all that passion in them going towards the players,” Ms Safieddine told the PA news agency.

Layana Safieddine holding an England flag during a football match in the Euros
Layana Safieddine (right) said it is inspiring for any female footballer to see there is a future in the sport (Layana Safieddine/PA)

“These girls are going to stick to football, play football and develop at such a young age – that’s something we didn’t have a few years ago.

“And that’s all due to the Lionesses winning and getting that exposure and really paving the way for all these little girls.”

Ms Safieddine said her society, which has three teams ranging from beginners to advanced players, has grown in membership following the success of the Lionesses.

“We’re hoping that it’s going to continue, and I really believe that if the Lionesses win, it’s going to have a major impact on the UK and little girls playing football.

“Being able to see this change and these accomplishments is very inspiring, because women’s football didn’t have that spotlight before.

Members of the football club grouped together in a huddle
Layana Safieddine said the team at her university has grown following the success of the Lionesses (Layana Safieddine/PA)

“It’s great for any female footballer to see that change and to see that there actually is a future in women’s football.”

Having grown up in Lebanon, Ms Safieddine said she missed the opportunity to pursue a career in the sport, saying she “didn’t know that women’s football clubs existed”.

“I did not get the opportunity to start (playing) at a younger age, I started when I was about 14.

“I wish I started when I was like five or six, because I really believe that I would have liked to go pro or have a career, but at a younger age that was never an option for me.

“I didn’t know that women’s football clubs existed.”

Ms Safieddine added that there was no female team at her school in Lebanon so she tried to start her own when she was in high school, but it ceased to exist after she left.

“It’s still tough, it took me a while to find female clubs – there were a few – but it wasn’t very accessible,” she said.

“It’s a bit odd for girls to play football still.

Players at Imperial College London women's football team standing together on the pitch
Layana said her club is ‘all behind’ the Lionesses ahead of Wednesday’s semi-final match against Australia (Layana Safieddine/PA)

“We do have the national team, but there’s not enough support and resources to develop players for them to reach this type of level.”

She said if she had decided to develop her skills in the UK, she “could have made a career”, adding: “Little girls in London would have way more opportunities to develop, reach that level and actually make a living.”

Ms Safieddine said that her university society has been trying to watch every World Cup game together, either in person or over the phone.

“I’m hoping that the Lionesses winning pushes more women to join a football society, or continue their career and journeys,” she said.

“The Lionesses reaching the semi-finals is a big deal.”

Of England’s semi-final match against Australia on Wednesday, she said: “Everyone’s behind the Lionesses.

“It would really mean a lot if they reached the final and win it – we’re all behind them.”