Crusaders hope bold plans can revolutionise women's game

Chris Gibson Ely City Crusaders youth development coordinator

Chris Gibson, youth development coordinator at Ely City Crusaders, will help lead the new girls' development programme. - Credit: Ely City Crusaders

A leading junior football club hopes new development plans on and off the pitch can help revolutionise the women’s grassroots game in Ely for years to come. 

Ely City Crusaders will introduce a new girls' development pathway, which includes a Wildcats and Girls Elite programme for its 55 female players between the under 6 and under 13 age groups. 

The new structure, to be led by ex-Soham Town Rangers youth coach Chris Gibson, is due to be introduced from the 2021-22 season and bids to provide a clear route to women’s senior football. 

A club statement said: “Ely City and Ely City Crusaders’ intent is to develop from the grassroots from mini league to seniors.  

“With the classification and increased participation of girl’s football in the world, it’s important that we look to accommodate those participating females within our club and offer a pathway.” 

Crusaders’ existing Wildcats programme for players between under 6-10 will continue, and will offer a path for league sides for under 10, 12 and 14 teams for next season’s Cambridgeshire Women's and Girl’s County League. 

The club also want to give female coaches and officials to join as part of their plans. 

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An Ely City Crusaders spokesperson said: “This was always an idea a couple of years ago to try, but by introducing a youth development role, we have the experience and the process management there to assist Crusaders going forward. 

“The girls’ development is the major introduction with the Wildcats to the Girls Elite that will hopefully configure into a ladies’ side in the next four to five years.” 

Girls pathway at Ely City Crusaders

Ely City Crusaders hope to provide a pathway for girls from under 6s into senior football. - Credit: Ely City Crusaders

Chris Gibson, who has been youth development coordinator at the club for eight months, believes this is just another route towards developing senior players of the future. 

He said: “The opportunity to strengthen the girls/ladies’ participation in sport and football is something we are keen to progress with as the national game has emerged over the last four, five years.

“We have to develop in the club to allow other areas like more female coaching staff, managers and officials, to develop too and push everyone forward.” 

Ely City Crusaders, which boasts around 300 children and 40 coaches, were just one club still holding adapted training sessions in between Covid-19 lockdowns, which proved to be a success. 

It’s hoped that their latest plans can continue to provide both mental and physical benefits, too. 

The spokesperson added: “We are coordinating the colts now to build the potential in each age group and look to push where the ability levels can take them further into under 16-18s football as part of the pathway into Ely City’s senior sides.

“We have worked successfully in the youth development setup since creation and the fruition of the structure will take the club forward and support the Ely City senior sides for years to come.”