Super 5 League: Mabley Green's first women's five-a-side football league crowns its 2017 champions
PUBLISHED: 17:36 09 August 2017 | UPDATED: 09:12 10 August 2017
A small group having a kickabout one February evening led to the creation of Mabley Green's first women's football league. As the league champions prepare to lift the cup, the Gazette finds out why it's such a big step for Hackney's female players.
Just six months ago, women’s football matches on Mabley Green were a rare sight.
But times are finally changing: Monday will see the final match of the Super 5 League at the park off the A12, where 10 five-a-side women’s teams have fought it out to be crowned champions.
The turning point came when league manager Shahid Malji, better known as Shazza, spotted a group of women playing in a corner of the pitch one evening back in February.
“I spoke to these women playing on the pitch and realised there was a demand for women’s football on Mabley Green,” he said.
“I want them to know that I’m here to deliver and make sure it continues.
“I’m absolutely convinced such progress on a local level could improve the situation for women in the UK as a whole.”
In an era when there is still no major investment in women’s football, such a project really tries to challenge the stigma.
The new five-a-side league sees floodlit matches every Monday from 7pm. “It generated a big interest,” Shazza told the Gazette. “It’s now the end of the league but we’ll keep on working on another season – we really want to be the hub for women in football.”
"I want to see more community projects like this one. It really boosts our self-esteem. It’s been such a blessing to play with these amazing girls!"
It was Petr Cech Yourself (PCY) who lifted the cup as inaugural champions on Monday night. Team captain Yasmin Bonsu said: “I want to see more community projects like this one. It really boosts our self-esteem.
“This league allows a good friendship to be built.
“It’s been such a blessing to play with these amazing girls!”
Players get together off the pitch, too, and enjoy weekends together.
“Many girls on the team are Christians,” added Yasmin. “A few of us even go to church together or have visited each other’s churches.”
The Gazette caught up with PCY’s Charlotte Lynch, the league’s top goal scorer, after a match last week.
“The Super 5 League brought a fun place and a safe environment for women to play football,” she said. “It really made me step up and take the lead in football which I didn’ think I could do.”
Charlotte is candid about the hurdles faced by women pursuing careers in football.
“I believe there are many talented sportswomen out there who just need an opportunity like this league to bring out their sporting potential,” she said.
“I encourage other London boroughs to implement this initiative.”
And PCY have been working really hard to put the message across. Charlotte was delighted five months ago when UEFA launched a series of TV adverts under the hashtag #weplaystrong, and invited the team to participate and promote ladies’ football in the run-up to the Women’s Euro.
It’s a competition, but the league’s various teams respect each other.
Anna Brooks, captain of PCY’s rival Leon FC, was one of the women who asked Shazza to set up the league back in February.
“Until a year ago I hadn’t played football at all,” she said.
“But I’ve personally improved so much. I’m so happy Shazza’s given us this opportunity to start from complete scratch.
“I was brave to ask him to do something similar [to the men’s league] with women. It was such a fast learning experience!”
The five-month competition may be over, but Shazza is already planning the league’s next competition – and hopes his project will carry on challenging stereotypes and attracting more interest.
“Women in Hackney now know there is a facility here and they can improve themselves and can get the title of champions, as PCY showed,” he said. “They were absolutely undefeated!”
It doesn’t end with the Super 5 League, either. Last month he organised a one-off tournament for teams from south and west London that saw mayor of Hackney Phil Glanville handing out medals.
“Ladies have now a voice in Hackney,” Charlotte said proudly.
If you want to join the new league in September, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.