Laura McGinn interview on Women’s Soccer United
McGinn: “We want Gibraltarian girls to know that football is a valid option”
These are exciting times for football in Gibraltar, with the men’s senior side recording back-to-back wins in UEFA Nations League action in October – the first ever competitive victories for a Football Association only affiliated with UEFA since 2013.
Tasked with helping carry that impetus over to the women’s game is British-born Laura McGinn, appointed Women’s Football Manager by the Gibraltar FA (GFA) in July this year.
In an exclusive interview with Women’s Soccer United, McGinn touched on her early impressions of the role, the benefits of mixed football, boosting the numbers of female players and coaches, and her desire to get on board with UEFA’s Together #WePlayStrong campaign.
Women’s Soccer United: Laura, can you tell us a little about the current situation in Gibraltarian women’s football?
Laura McGinn: Well we’ve got three women’s teams at the moment, they all compete in a league, while two of those teams are going to compete in an U16 boys’ league as well, to give them some different games. There are a few girls who play in boys’ teams at younger age levels and we’ve got one all-girls team that plays in a boys’ league too, so we’re getting there [in terms of increasing participation].
WSU: What are you looking to gain from having them play in boys’ leagues? Are there any downsides to this?
LM: I think it’s something that’s a bit different for them: it gives them more matches and the boys have slightly different qualities in terms of speed and strength, so playing against them challenges the girls and gives them something extra to push for.
I think, ideally, we’d want there to be enough teams and for the standard to be high enough for our female players to happily just play in the women’s league, but unfortunately, at the moment, we simply don’t have enough teams.
WSU: Can you tell us about your background, particularly how you came to be involved in women’s football and the path that has led you here?
LM: I’ve always been a football fan and I started playing when I was around 12. Though I never reached a really high level, it was something I always enjoyed – especially the ‘making friends’ part. I played all through my teenage years and later, when I reached University, I got heavily involved in the women’s football club there – mainly on the development side and doing a bit of coaching as well.
After I left Uni I got a job as Football Development Officer at the Worcestershire FA, with the main part of my job there being women’s and girls’ football.
We put a lot of emphasis on showing girls that football is just as valid an option for them as any other sport, creating opportunities for them to play and then helping them seize those opportunities – in the process increasing player numbers and widening the talent pool.
This was the area of the role which I was most passionate about, the area where I wanted to continue to grow and the reason I applied for this job.
WSU: In July you were appointed as Women’s Football Manager at the GFA, so how have the first few months in the job been and what’s next on your agenda?
LM: At the moment the focus is mainly on gathering information about the current situation, in terms of player numbers and opportunities, as well as creating a coherent strategy and plan for moving forward.
An important part of our medium- to long-term plan is running more coaching courses – those are in conjunction with the Welsh FA, who come over and run them for us – so first of all we want to get more women on those courses.
We don’t want them to stop there, however, we want them to use those coaching skills, so we’ll be looking at ways to get those female coaches involved with teams. In terms of the women’s national set-up, we’re aiming to have at least one female coach working with every age group, to both offer support to their fellow coaching staff and also to give the girls that are playing a role model they can look up to.
For these coaching courses we’re looking to bring in women who’ve played the game and also those who haven’t – perhaps mums whose daughters have started playing. There tends to be an assumption that when a coach is needed that one of the dads will step in, but we want to show the mums there’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t give it a go because, even if they don’t have playing experience, they can learn on the course.
We’ll be running more courses after Christmas, including the Level 1 coaching course, plus safeguarding and first-aid qualifications.
WSU: Given Gibraltar’s relatively small population, with approximately 34,500 inhabitants, what steps can you take to widen your talent pool? Are you also on the lookout in Spain and England for potential players with Gibraltarian heritage?
LM: We’re focusing on doing a lot of work in schools, including mixed coaching sessions, but we’re also setting up all-girl lunchtime and after-school clubs to try and get girls playing in a comfortable environment and from there hopefully make the step to a team and keep moving up the ladder. With this being a relatively small territory we’re able to keep a record of all the girls who come and play, so we can continue to follow up with them and offer them different footballing opportunities.
With regards to reaching out in Spain and England, if there are players out there that are eligible to play for us via their parents or grandparents then we’re open to that possibility of course, but for the time being our focus is on building the talent pool here in Gibraltar and subsequently giving those Gibraltarian players the opportunity to represent their country.
WSU: One final question: have you been involved in any recent UEFA initiatives, such as the Together #WePlayStrong campaign?
LM: We think that Together #WePlayStrong is a great campaign for girls’ football and one that we want to use to help us promote girls’ football here in Gibraltar. We’re currently making plans to use the campaign in our projects moving forward.
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UK-born but currently based in Spain, I’ve been covering men’s and women’s football for UEFA.com for several years, including trips to two Women’s U-19 European Championships