From the beautiful lagoon, dancing salsa at 3am, delicious local food from friendly faces and serving a meaningful cause - Bacalar is a place of dreams.
From the beautiful lagoon, dancing salsa at 3am, delicious local food from friendly faces and serving a meaningful cause - Bacalar is a place of dreams.
This summer was anticipated by many to be the turning point in women’s football history with the 2019 Women’s World Cup garnering more viewers and coverage than ever before. While the women’s football movement grew across the globe, we wanted our Girls United club players from the small town of Bacalar to be able to experience this phenomenon. Mari, Luiza, Melissa and Kim were sponsored by Adidas, Equal Playing Field, ADFP Global and our Crowdfunder supporters to travel to Lyon and London, leaving their home town for the first time in their lives.
Our U15s played their first match on May 23rd and did so brilliantly! A well deserved win, including 3 screamers from Rachel.
The Chicas Unidas Bacalar Club fought hard against vastly more experienced opposition in a competitive friendly against the Chicas Unidas Miguel Hidalgo Community Club, in a game that featured no less than nine goals.
Eventual winners Miguel Hidalgo started strongly with 3 goals in the first ten minutes from their powerful forward, but by half-time our Bacalar Club grew in confidence to make it a more competitive second half.
A great team move was finished with a fantastic left-footed strike from wide midfielder Luisa before central striker Melissa finished from a quick counter attack to bring the game back to a tight 3-2 scoreline. With the midday heat intensifying, Miguel Hidalgo took advantage of the option to rotate players, bringing more experienced players from their Liga Rapido squad, which ultimately made the difference, as they extended their lead further by 3 goals. Chicas Unidas scored a late consolation goal with the final kick of the game, concluding the match with a 6-3 win for the hosts.
Despite the final scoreline the Bacalar Club can be very proud of their performance against considerably older opponents, who in some cases were more than double their age. A rematch awaits in when Miguel Hidalgo travel to Bacalar in April.
The U12s made up of no less than 12 girls came together for their first match representing Girls United! The game kicked-off on a beautiful, sunny day. With face paint and great attitudes, the team battled for the whole match in spite of an early goal against. All of the players played some incredible football, getting out of their comfort zones in new positions and, most importantly, working together to the very end.
The match ended a 4-1 loss with our goal, a long-range screamer from Sylvia. Though the scoreboard wasn’t in our favour, the girls deserve a great round of applause for their performance. They had us on the edge of our seats, so much so that everyone forgot to take photos!
A special shout-out to the Girls United fans (parents and siblings) who never stopped cheering and putting all their support behind the players! I am sure we can expect to see the community just get better as the team progresses.
We are so excited for a rematch and for many more matches to come!
Picture this – it’s match day, a 7am start on a Saturday morning, we meet the girls at the pickup point ready for departure to an away fixture. The minibus is working on Mexican time arriving at 8am for the prearranged 7.30am pickup. A one-hour drive follows, along one of Quintana Roo’s remote jungle ‘roads’ slaloming between mild potholes and actual craters.
No radio signal, no phone signal – we might even have passed a town named: ‘Middle of Nowhere’ along the way. Arriving minutes before the agreed kick-off time at 9am, we are worried at the sight (or lack of sight) of the opposition. Precisely 3 girls, neatly dressed in their white Girls United league t-shirts, three-quarter length jeans and sandals, share a bottle of Coca-Cola for breakfast outside the only shop for miles. Opposite the shop the venue for today’s contest is located, and although not Wembley, the pitch is in good condition all things considered. I take a few minutes to mark out the perimeter line with cones and clear off the remaining clutch of baby chicks out of harm’s way.
With no sign of an opposition coach or even a responsible adult, I venture up to the shop to open extremely limited conversation with my extremely limited Spanish and enquire with the girls as to the whereabouts of the rest of their party. In response I receive directions to the coach’s house and what I understand to be a suggestion that more players will join us shortly. The crackling of the public announcer (a tall pole with a tannoy speaker attached, jutting out of the roof of the shop) interrupts conversation with the voice of little Maria Jose, whom the store is named after, broadcasting news of our arrival to the village. After a short while, having received the announcement, the remainder of the opposition players arrive at the pitch in small clusters from all directions - only one of which arrives with attire even remotely suitable for a football match. With still no sign of the opposing team’s coach, I call the girls from both teams together for a quick ‘warm-up’ under the 25°C morning sun.
We eventually kick-off a mere 40 minutes later than planned with what I would suggest is at least close to a record attendance at this venue, with around 25-30 men, women and children watching on and supporting the girls - not bad in a village that has a total population of somewhere around 350 mark.
As well as taking on the role of coach for both teams, with duties of organising both line-ups and offering some of the few words of encouragement I could recall in Spanish, I also took on the job of refereeing the game, learning the words for throw-in and goal-kick in the process. The match was a competitive one, with our Bacalar Club ultimately running out 3-1 winners against the hosts.
Far removed from anything I’ve known in football before - the jeans and dresses, the bare feet, the chickens, the far corner of the pitch doubling up as part of a road and every other bizarre event of the day – the experience left me fascinated and grateful that I was able to provide the opportunity for these girls to play, which they otherwise simply would not have been granted without Girls United’s programmes.
This is the town of David Gustavo Gutiérrez Ruiz or as Google Maps labels it: ‘unnamed road’.
This was an experience that inspired me to put together the Club Mexico – Communities page for the newly updated Girls United website.
A town in such a beautiful setting, with such a unique way of life in comparison to what I know was something I was keen to explore further. Girls United works regularly across five local communities, including David Gustavo. Of these towns, most have no internet access and only one has an employment rate of above 30% for its total population. Alarmingly, when considering employment rates for the women of these communities - not one of the towns has an employment rate of over 5% for its female population specifically! This is further evidence of the importance the work Girls United does in engaging girls in sport along with the inclusion of life skills development within the community coaching programmes.
The towns may not all be recognised by Google yet – but each of Girls United’s communities now has a dedicated section and a team emblem on the website, each derived from Mayan Hieroglyphs. Below is an overview of each emblem’s creations and significance.
Want to find out more about the demographic and programme at each community, visit https://www.girlsunitedfa.org/mexicocommunities
Girls United are excited to announce our International Women’s Day celebration which will be an opportunity for people of all ages and gender to come together and promote females in sport!
The day will feature a range of activities, sessions, challenges, food, drink and prizes!
10-11am - Arsenal Women’s coach, Nancy Baker, will be coming down to train with Girls United players aged 7-14 - there is no charge for the session so please feel free to bring any daughters, younger sisters or anyone who is interested.
10:30am - Registration for teams - Teams from both the men’s and women’s competition will prepare to play!
11:00am - The first games will kick off - the 5-a-side tournament will be a friendly environment with, of course, some healthy competition.
11:00am to 3:00pm - Skills Stations - There will be skills stations around the venue for you to have a go at some challenges and learn a thing or two about women’s in sport.
3:30pm - Prizes and awards - The awards ceremonies, including prizes and trophies for tournament winners, most valuable players and raffle prizes from the Skills Stations.
We are very excited to bring the community together on this celebration that is raising the profile of women doing amazing things in all industries and around the world!
There is still time to sign up, please find more information here: https://www.girlsunitedfa.org/iwd
If you would like to find out what else IWD is about, click here.
Girls United is launching a session for young women of 15 to 17 years old with the support of London Sport.
Venue: Alleyn’s Sports Hall, Townley Road, SE22 8SU
Time: Thursdays at 6:30pm to 8pm
Dates: March 7th to May 16th
ONLY £1 PER SESSION
Get active, learn skills and have fun!
London Sport Satellite Sessions: Aimed at helping young people become active or build regular activity habits and/or targeting under-represented groups in physical activity and sport. Activity is designed to get young people active, create regular activity habits and develop into regular physical activity and/or sport appropriate safeguarding standards must be in place.
Ada Hegerberg recently became the winner of the first Women’s Ballon D’Or, take a read of her piece in the players tribune which details her rise from a little village in Norway to the winner of the biggest individual prize in football.
On a recent weekend, I had the pleasure of playing in my university’s alumni games, in which past members of the football club come together to challenge this year’s current team. As a recent graduate, this was my first alumni tournament, and I saw the event as an opportunity for loads of banter, some friendly competition and a potential post-match pint. The event was planned weeks in advance and all my favourite people were set to be in attendance. Genuinely, what a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Except on this fateful day, some divine power decided to produce a temperature of 7 degrees and non-stop rain, and my alumni match dreams were ruined.
Prior to detailing out how miserable the weather made me feel, I really must mention that the King’s College London Women’s Football Club consists exclusively of the most wonderful people this world could offer. Off the pitch, these people reach a level of lovely that could rival Michelangelo’s cherubs. And on the pitch, their football skills are better than that of all of the Premier League’s players combined. However, given the current forecast, even the lovely company could not remedy the environmental situation. I’d really hate to sound dramatic, but I don’t do cold, I don’t do rain and I *definitely* don’t do wind.
So I have decided to expose how entirely pathetic I am when it comes to the weather and share 10 thoughts that came to my mind on this blustery afternoon. My hopes are that you can either whole-heartedly relate to my weakness or you can burst out with judgemental laughter.
1. Why are we doing this to ourselves?
Before even arriving at the grounds, I am looking for an explanation; I am eager to know why I have agreed to this and why I don’t have a greater level of self-respect from letting me make poor decisions like agreeing to play football in seven-degree weather.
2. How can I get out of this?
Before the ref even blows the whistle, I am brainstorming ways to get sent home. Perhaps I can injure myself now? Or even better, I can convince my teammates that the injury I had three years ago feels like it is coming back? Is that a migraine I feel coming on? What can I possibly do to get out of the next ninety minutes without losing the respect of all my teammates?
3. Will I be too hot after running around for the first ten minutes?
This thought usually dawns on me even before I leave the changing rooms, as I start to debate how many layers is appropriate for the match. In hindsight, this thought is so stupid that I almost embarrassed to write it down. Why do I even contemplate not wearing the maximum number of layers? I can’t believe I even considered leaving a warm garment in the changing rooms instead of bringing all possible options out to the pitch.
4. Why can I not think of a single word that isn’t a curse word?
About half-way through the second half of this match, I can vividly remember a moment in which I was trying to communicate to my three other defenders, and I genuinely could not make out a single word that was not a four-letter swear.
5. Note to self: tell my flatmate to never let me leave the flat again this winter.
No explanation needed. Hibernation is suddenly so appealing.
6. Halftime: Alright, lads, let’s move this chat to the changing room.
Maybe I can convince the team to move the rest of the match into the changing rooms. It will be cramped, and the keepers might have a tough time, but gosh, will it be warm or what.
7. Second half begins. This is worse than ever. I am warm with wet clothes on and they expect me to go outside again to face the wind in my damp wet clothes.
At this point, I have decided that we are half way through the match and positive thoughts are the only thing to get me through to the end. With my new positivity energy, I can vaguely feel a desire to smile.
8. I think I am just going to run around loads to warm up, and hopefully the team will just think I am really keen defender.
Here is why I choose whether I sympathise more with my personal lung capacity or my dire body temperatures. Considering that I can no longer feel my toes (and I am unsure if feeling will ever return), I am going to have to rely heavily on my rather weak lungs. However, my team will thank me and I’ll be a hero.
9. Goal is scored and the human pile is a little gross but warm.
Not typically a fan of physical affection, but this human-pile up really is toasty.
10. Note to self: Move to a hotter country ASAP.
This thought accompanies another mental note to self, which is that upon moving to a warmer climate I must continue to play football because today was fun and football is fun. Being back on the ball today has reminded me of the value of football and how sport can bring us together. #WholesomeContent
I have realised that after publishing this no football club will ever welcome my membership ever again. I would like to make it clear that I did survive the entirety of this match, and I even managed to smile at the end.
The power of football to provide hope and an escape from desperate situations is well documented and ought to supersede gender. Marbella “Mar” Ibarra recognised this power and saw no reason for women to lose out on its benefits simply because of their gender. Thus she devoted herself to the development and promotion of women’s football in Mexico, in doing so she became a revered pioneer of the sport. Given the scale of the change that Mar instigated it’s only right to celebrate all that she has accomplished in her life.
Football is a male-dominated environment the world over, especially so in Mexico, and so someone extremely passionate and driven was needed to lead the fight for women’s football; Mar encompassed these traits and so much more. Until fairly recently Mexico did not have a professional women’s football league and this was exactly what Mar set out to change. Mar’s first step towards that goal came in 2013 when she founded Isamar FC, an amateur women’s team based in Tijuana, Baja California. Tijuana, where Mar came to call home, suffers from high levels of violence and, for many, football provides the opportunity to escape from this violence on a daily basis. A year later and after much campaigning, Mar approached a professional men’s club to convert her amateur team into a professional squad as part of the club and was successful. Las Xolas de Tijuana was founded in 2014 as the first professional women’s team in Mexico with Mar as founder and Technical Director. The stage was set for the evolution of women’s football but there was still a lot of work to be done.
Infrastructure for teams to play competitively at a high level was lacking, with Mar forced to turn to the US for her team to play in tournaments and leagues. Then, in what can be described as one of Mar’s greatest legacies, the Liga MX Femenil was created in 2017. This was a huge achievement and the league continues to get bigger and better with every year but Mar didn’t stop there. Even though there now existed an environment for women to play professionally a lot of women still needed help and support in getting there. Institutions to bridge the gap between amateur and professional football were few and far between leaving many aspiring, talented players struggling to make their way to the top. As was the nature of Mar, she saw a problem and set out to fix it. It isn’t due to a lack of talent that thousands of women and girls are unable to play professionally but due to a lack of monetary resources or logistical support. She founded the organisation FutFem Sin Fronteras earlier this year to provide women and girls with resources and support to be able to play professionally. With the creation of this organisation Mar’s legacy will continue on for many generations and will touch the lives of numerous girls and women.
We may never know the reasons behind the killing of Marbella Ibarra but it’s safe to say that she lived to give hope and make the lives of other women better. Her fight was emblematic of global struggles for equality in sport and more widely for gender equality in Mexico. The mark she has made on women’s football is evident and the impact she will continue to have after her death will be felt for years to come. Women’s football owes a lot to Marbella Ibarra and the best way to honour her will be to never give up the fight and make sure she is never forgotten.
And just like that my time with Girls United is over.
I’m not really sure how best to summarise the entire monumental experience into just one post so I thought instead I’d tell you my answers to a little tradition my family has where at the end of every adventure we say our three favourite and once least favourite moments.
My least favourite moment is very easy to think of and has to be when I got sick with food poisoning. It happens to one person on every trip and on this one it just happened to be me. The healthcare system here is a little different to back home as you pay a doctor round the back of the pharmacy the equivalent of £2.48 for a consultation and to prescribe you drugs when you then by at his pharmacy out front. I won’t go into too much detail but if you check out my Instagram @little_big_jen you’ll find a picture of my treatment plan, you can also DM me any questions you may have! I was only out of coaching for three days and was back to my feet in no time so don’t let this put you off, people get ill at home or abroad isn’t unusual and is just another bump on the road to make it a more interesting journey.
Moving swiftly on, thinking of three top moments is a lot harder because there were so many things both big and small that made my time in Bacalar so entertaining, fulfilling, and fun. So in no particular order…
1.) The weekend trips. Whilst weekdays are more restricted by coaching every afternoon, the weekends are left mostly free to explore. We went on a number of trips to the impressive Mayan Ruins at Kohunlich, the tax-free zone between Mexico and Belize where I spent too much and yet not enough money on fake football shirts (can you actually have too many footy shirts!?), and the coastal town of Tulum. I actually went to Tulum twice: once with all the coaches for a full moon party and my first swim in the Caribbean sea; and the second time for the best scuba diving I have ever done in my life! This area in Mexico is the only place in the world where you find Cenotes (magic wells) which are deep pits sunken into the ground filled with crystal clear blue water that is amazing to scuba dive or swim in. There are so many dotted around the area and they are all so varied, but the cave diving in Los Dos Ojos Cenotes was simply breath-taking.
2.) The Bacalar Lagoon. The lagoon in Bacalar is known as “the lagoon of seven colours” and certainly lives up to its name. The lagoon is not only spectacular to look at but also to swim in. At least twice a week we would go down to a local restaurant on the lagoon called La Playita where we enjoyed freshly made smoothies, read out books in the sun, and swam in the lagoon. I also enjoyed the boat day trip around the sites of the lagoon, including Pirate Bay, and a (very very) early morning Paddle Boarding trip on the lagoon to watch the sunrise. There are also Cenotes within the lagoon that give it the amazing colours and make for peaceful swimming spots, my personal favourite was Cenote Negro.
3.) Coaching. Before you ask, no I was not coerced into writing this! The joy on the girls faces when they achieve something on the pitch is heart-warming. Being able to pass on my passion for football to others was a huge privilege and something that gave me immense joy. Whether it be having a ‘secret’ handshake with each of the regular girls, a drill that you spent time planning (and in my case translating), or just watching as the younger girls giggle as they chase the ball around the field; there were so many tiny moments that made coaching so worthwhile.
As the domestic club seasons come to a close across the world, players are turning their focus towards representing their country in international matches. The World Cups for 3 different categories are soon approaching and so there have been a string of matches in the build-up to these tournaments.
The U-17 World Cup starts on 13th November in Uruguay and some teams are still battling it out to qualify. The U-17 CONCACAF Championship, which will decide which 3 teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean qualify for the World Cup, is just coming to an end. The 3rd palce play-off is between Canada and Haiti, whilst the final is between Mexico and the USA. The current holders of the U-17 World Cup title are the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), will they be able to hold on to the title this year?
The U-20 World Cup will take place in France on 5th August and the holders of this title are also the DPRK. The tournament boasts a number of strong teams including the USA, Germany, England and France who will all be trying to knock the DPRK off the top spot. Notably Canada is missing from the competition after failing to qualify through the CONCACAF Championship.
Women's World Cup
Then in 2019 comes the Women's World Cup to be held in France. The race is on across the world to qualify for the pinnacle of international football. Asia, Europe and South America all already have a number of teams that have qualified including Brazil, Italy, Spain, Japan, China and Australia. Tournaments in Africa, North, Central America and the Caribbean and Oceania will take place towards the end of 2018. All eyes will be on 2015 winners the USA as they start their qualifying campaign in October. It's going to be an exciting few months for women's international football!
Two of Europe's best teams battled it out in Kyiv this week to be crowned Champions of Europe. You might think I'm talking about Liverpool and Real Madrid but no - there are 2 Champions League Finals this week and each one is a showcase of exceptional footballing talent.
Lyon faced Wolfsburg on Thursday in the Final of the Women's Champions League and it certainly wasn't lacking in quality as some might suggest. The match was a great display of athleticism and perseverance as the 2 teams fought over 120 minutes to try and clinch the title for their team. It was Lyon who came out on top with an unexpected scoreline of 4-1 to become 2018 champions.
During the first 90 minutes of the match, neither team managed to create anything special to put their team in front thus after regular time it ended goalless. So an extra 30 minutes was necessary to settle the tie. Just 3 minutes into extra time, Pernille Harder's shot was deflected past the keeper to put Wolfsburg 1-0 up, which gave us the sense that extra time would be more eventful than the first 90 minutes. Eventful it was! Barely minutes after their goal Wolfsburg suffered a big setback as Alexandra Popp was shown a second yellow card meaning they were down to 10 players. Lyon must've felt it was now or never as they threw everything they had at Wolfsburg and scored 3 goals in the space of 6 minutes. To top it all off Lyon player Camille Abily scored in the last minutes of the game in what was her last performance for the club. With a 4-1 scoreline Lyon comfortably won a record 5th Champions League title, can they make it 6 titles in 2019?
The Mexican Women’s league came to a close on 4th May with the UANL Tigres holding off the fierce competition from the Rayados of Monterrey to become 2018 champions. The 2nd leg was destined to be a close match given that the 1st leg ended in a 2-2 draw, and close it was. It seemed like Tigres would win the game 2-1 as the game moved into added time but Norali Armenta of Monterrey had other ideas as she bagged a last minute header to bring the game to 2-2 at full time.
Extra time came and went with no more goals and so to penalties it was. Monterrey missed their first penalty and in doing so set up Tigres for a win. Tigres then took full advantage of this by scoring all of their kicks and so won the game 4-2 on penalties. This makes Tigres only the second team to win the Liga MX Femenil after Chivas won the inaugural competition last year. Women’s football in Mexico just keeps getting bigger and better!
See here for a video of the highlights - http://deportes.televisa.com/futbol/videos-tigres-campeon-la-liga-mx-femenil/
The teams that will compete in the final of the Women’s Champions League have been decided. Over the 2 legs in their respective semi-finals Lyon Fémenines came out on top against Manchester City and Wolfsburg Ladies beat Chelsea. This means once again no English team has made it to the final - with the last time being in 2007 when Arsenal won the trophy. The final of Lyon v Wolfsburg will be played in Kyiv on 24th May.
For more information: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/43898909