While most New Zealanders were enjoying their traditional barbeques at the beach during one of the hottest summers on record, New Zealand’s football community was served a feast of legacy initiatives in preparation for the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in October and November 2008.
The array of delights started at the end of January with the Future Stars four-nation tournament in Auckland, the “City of Sails”. Featuring U-17 national girls’ teams from perennial rivals the USA and Germany and trans-Tasman adversaries Australia and New Zealand, the four-team competition gave those who stayed in town for the summer break a real taste of what is to come.
Both the USA and Germany had easy wins over their opponents from Down Under, which meant that the final matchday of USA v. Germany and New Zealand v. Australia was a thrilling showdown for top place and the wooden spoon. In a showcase of talent for the future, the USA pipped Germany 3-2 to take top place while Australia converted a penalty to win 1-0 and edge out New Zealand for third place. As expected, the USA and Germany were certainly a class or two above their counterparts from the southern hemisphere but all four teams showed that the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup will be worth taking time out to watch despite its early stage of development.
Alongside the thrill of seeing two of the world’s top women’s football nations grace the pitch, the New Zealand public was also fortunate to be first on the list of official duties for the newly crowned president of the local organising committee (LOC) for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011, Steffi Jones. Capped 111 times by Germany, Jones’ presence at the tournament was a huge source of motivation for the participants – not only the Germans. Jones was able to pass on insightful tips and advice to New Zealand’s top senior and U-20 female players as well as to members of the country’s women’s football advisory group. She also had high-level meetings with LOC and association representatives and was kept busy with increasing media interest during her eight-day visit.
As always, however, her heart lay close to the football and she was certainly impressed with what she saw at Future Stars. “I am so jealous of these girls’ skills. They can do tricks I never could have done. The tournament had a perfect title because these players will be the future stars of the game.”
Someone else who knows how important it is to identify and nurture the talent of the future is England women’s coach Hope Powell, who visited New Zealand shortly afterwards for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup coach and referee roadshow as part of the legacy programme around the event. Along with FIFA head of women’s refereeing Sonia Denoncourt, Powell conducted two seminars and a practical session in each of the four FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup host cities (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton) as well as in New Zealand’s top city for referees, Palmerston North. All within a five-day period!
The 450 male and female participants from all levels of New Zealand’s coaching and refereeing community were spellbound by the talented pair – to the point where sessions ran up to 90 minutes over time.
“At each venue we could have gone on for ten hours because there were so many questions but we eventually had to stop,” reported Denoncourt. “In all of the venues, they were hungry for technical information but also very much enjoyed the storytelling.”
Denoncourt subsequently delighted the audiences with her stories of refereeing FIFA Women’s World Cup, Olympic and professional men’s games.
In particular, participants’ mouths dropped open as she described sending Cafu off in a cauldron-like atmosphere in Brazil. Such experiences will help to inspire participants to reach the top of their game, regardless of what level of refereeing they are currently at.
The seminars were split into grassroots and elite levels but in both, there was similar banter between Denoncourt and Powell as to who had the best job after the players.
“I am sure Sonia said that refereeing is the next best thing after playing but you shouldn’t listen to her,” Powell told participants with a cheeky smile, “because coaching is for sure the next best thing after playing. Seriously though, people should find out what they are good at and if that is refereeing or coaching, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that they get involved or stay in the game.”
GOOD ROLE MODELS
Powell also made a strong and pertinent point to participants about the involvement of women in women’s football. “Fifteen years ago, I would have said that it doesn’t matter if a women’s team is coached by a man or a woman — I would have said that it is all about who is best for the job. Today, I still say you’ve got to have the right person with the necessary skills but now I really endorse females being appointed. That’s because they provide good role models and can inspire young girls to become coaches themselves. The fact that I am the head coach in England has helped bring other female coaches into the game. Women will also stay in women’s football whereas men will sometimes use women’s football as a stepping stone or a stopgap until they get a better offer. Women coaches are therefore necessary for the survival of our game.”
The impact that Powell, Denoncourt and Jones made in New Zealand will hopefully be evidenced when Denoncourt returns for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in October this year, potentially accompanied by Powell and Jones if England and Germany make it through the tough UEFA U-17 women’s qualification process. Whatever happens, the legacy of their visit in February will continue to thrive in New Zealand’s grateful football community.