Ascot United are immensely pleased to confirm the appointment of Donna Graham as our brand new Director of Women & Girls’ Football at the club. The girl’s section is our fastest growing area of the club and the decision to dedicate a role to the development as such needed no hesitation.
We caught up with Donna to talk through her new role as well why she joined Ascot, the growth of women & girl’s football at Ascot and beyond and how the club have supported the development of female football.
The start of the journey at Ascot United
Donna’s journey at Ascot United began in 2018 after a meeting about her daughter’s team where it was suggested they move across to Ascot. It was at this meeting that she met fellow coach Rachel and she volunteered herself as assistant. This was where her real love of being on the side-lines was sparked, especially during the summer tournaments they went on to play in that summer.
“It is a wonderful club to be a part of and I knew my daughter was playing in the right place.”
Donna’s team were U11’s at the time and she loved seeing the girl’s enthusiasm and their enjoyment from playing football. That enthusiasm spurred her on and she knew she wanted to expand her knowledge to be able to coach more effectively so went about getting her FA Coaching Level 1 qualification. Donna still manages the team alongside Rachel today and the Sapphires are now at U15’s level and competing in Division One of the Berkshire County Girls Football League.
“It has been great watching the Sapphires develop and grow together as a team, I also feel immensely proud being able to watch my daughter and give her the opportunities to play football compared to the limited options I had at her age.”
The development of the women & girl’s football space at Ascot & beyond
Donna explains that the development of the women & girls’ section has been nothing but positive since she joined when there was just two youth teams and two women’s team. It’s since grown to nine youth teams from under 11’s to under 18’s and three women’s team.
This season the club introduced a Girl’s Development Centre for girls who might be at the start of their football journey or would just like to learn some more skills. The sessions are available for age five to eighteen and is split over various times across a Wednesday training day.
“The interest we have had from girls wanting to play football has grown rapidly over the past of couple of years and I am sure it’s been helped by the exposure that women’s professional football is starting to get now.”
Donna notes that as a child, women’s football wasn’t as accessible to watch as it is now and she feels so fortunate that both her and her daughter have been able to attend many games, from cheering our own Ascot Women’s First Team to heading to Kingsmeadow and Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea Women. As well as being at Wembley to proudly watch on as our Lionesses won the Euro’s. Donna is already looking forward to watching the Women’s World Cup in Australia & New Zealand this summer, albeit from the comfort of the sofa.
The provisions on offer to girls & women at Ascot
Donna is categorical about the level of support she received from day one at Ascot and how her and the girls’ team were welcome with open arms when other clubs weren’t always as supportive of investing in the future of female football.
“The support and backing we have received and continue to receive is fantastic. I believe we have something to offer every girl who wants to play football and even opportunities for women who want to play.”
The club are set to hold it’s first girls tournament this summer and girls only soccer camps are on offer in the school holidays. Our Women’s First Team captain, Sarah Davern, will run one of her Fran Kirby camps this February.
“We are also very lucky to be at a club with fantastic facilities and I love looking across the 3G pitch on a Wednesday evening to see lots of girls enjoying their training sessions.”
What Donna hopes to achieve in this new role
I feel very privileged to be offered this role and my hope is to keep growing the female section and eventually being able to offer at least 2 teams at every age group. I am passionate about giving every girl that wants to play football the opportunity to come and do so. It is also crucial to make sure that we have a clear and efficient pathway for girls to progress through the club to senior football. Another aspect I believe is important in this role is being supportive to all the managers and coaches in the female section, I want them to know they have someone they can approach with any issues, ideas and questions.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Ascot family! Yellafamily! I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of it. Since the announcement of my role I have had a lot of messages of support and feel very humbled, I will endeavour to carry out the role to the best of my ability. Lastly, a big thank you to all volunteers that give up a lot of their time and help to make the club the success that it is.
Thoughts from Alix Todd, Head Coach of Ascot United Women
I’m extremely excited to hear the news about Donna and the structural change. It will be a massive support to the whole development of female football at the club, having worked/coached with Donna within the Girl’s Development Centre, witnessed her passion and commitment to the development of her youth team, and received heaps of support from her for the ladies side.
I am extremely excited that Donna is going to be directing the female section of the club. I can’t wait to work with Donna, we both have discussed numerous ideas in the past about how we can establish a much stronger connection between the youth section and senior, we both want to create an environment where the ladies team can inspire the youth section but also to send that support both ways and show their faces at youth training and games, really try to build a strong relationship not just with the players but everyone involved.
Thoughts from Simon Negus, Chairman of Ascot United
Donna has been on the Board for a while, but we see this as an important step to providing the right support and structure for the fastest growing section of the club. I know Donna will be working closely with Neil Richards to build on the existing success, and ensuring we have a clear, transparent and effective pathway for girls into senior football.
Up the Yellas!