Football-mad girl 'struggled' to find team in Cardiff

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Media caption,
"Girls are better at football than boys"

When football-mad Ayah Abduldaim moved to Cardiff from Libya aged 11, she spoke little English and struggled to find a team to play with.

But that love of the game helped her to settle in her new home and is still a major part of her life.

Now 19, she coaches girls in Grangetown in a similar position for the Football Association of Wales (FAW) Trust.

Wales has 370 girls' teams but 3,438 for boys - the FAW Trust wants 20,000 registered girls playing by 2024.

When Ayah arrived at Fitzalan High School, her educational background meant she had to study at a primary school-level until Year 9 - but with the help of the PE department she gained confidence and found friends.

"For them to be able to help me with my English, helping me be confident in what I'm doing, they're a huge part of my life," she said.

Now she is studying sports science and coaching at Cardiff Metropolitan University, but it is on the pitch she feels most at home.

She said: "I feel like, when I play football, all my worries just go away. I don't think about anything. Stress free, anxiety free, everything free."

Image caption,
Ayah Abduldaim's love of football helped her to settle in Wales when she moved from Libya

Ayah said the gap was even harder to close for girls from BAME backgrounds, adding: "If you come from an ethnic minority, playing football is looked down upon.

"You should be able to express yourself whether you're a Muslim, not a Muslim, from an ethnic minority or not."

She said her parents were instrumental in supporting her ambitions, but not everyone was so lucky.

"If parents are not supportive of football they will not take part, so I feel like me presenting that in my community is a huge step," she said.

The FAW Trust has introduced the initiative Huddle to get girls between five and 12 into football.

The trust's football development manager Katy Evans said: "We've had lots of interest in the game, lots of research show girls want to play and may be having a taste in school, but they're not necessarily transitioning into a club.

"The idea of Huddle is bridging that gap between having a taste and joining a club to play competitively."

Image caption,
Ayah Abduldaim is now one of the FAW Trust's community leaders

She added that more girls were inspired to play football now than ever before.

"All the barriers we faced previously - where girls have thought it's a boys' sport, or boys are telling them it's a boys' sport and they can't play - or parental influences perhaps thinking that girls should be doing other sports - we know now, girls are telling us themselves, 'we want to play football, we want that opportunity.'

"We know it's definitely more accessible now and I think if you speak to the girls themselves they'll soon tell you that they want to be playing football."

Laura O'Sullivan, Wales' goalkeeper, said: "If you just want to just watch, that's fine. If you just want to run around and play catch or something, it's just getting involved I think that is a massive step for young girls."

There will be more on this story on BBC Wales Live on BBC One Wales at 22:35 GMT on Wednesday 13 November

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