Katee Hui: ‘There are a lot of barriers for women in sport – we hope we can remove them’
- Credit: Archant
“There’s more to football than winning,” reads the Hackney Laces manifesto. In the heat of the moment, when your team has just been soundly beaten, and it’s raining, and you have to trudge home with your opponent’s celebrations ringing in your ears – that can be hard to remember.
It's still true, though. And at a club like Hackney Laces, the only requirement is that you 'lace up and play your heart out'; win, lose or draw.
The club was founded on Stoke Newington Common in 2011, when keen player and FA-qualified coach Katee Hui realised there weren't enough opportunities for girls and women to express themselves on a football pitch. Last month, England Women's World Cup semi-final with the USA drew a captivated audience of 11.7 million, and Hui has noticed its impact at Laces.
"Over the past three months we've seen a massive increase in participation across our three clubs: South London Laces, Limehouse Laces and Hackney Laces," she says, "with 137 queries and 89 unique participants coming along."
"What was most encouraging is we've started to see new demographics emerge; women aged 40 plus who didn't have the chance to play football when they were in school, and more teenage girls than ever before."
Hui will be discussing this surge of interest in women's football this weekend at Jumpers for Goalposts; a two-day festival celebrating the sport's positive impact on our culture at Printworks.
She'll be joined by a panel of experts for a feature called Watching Grassroots Grow, where attendees will no doubt also learn more about Hackney Laces, its weekly training sessions and its 'off-the-pitch' programme; which has supported over 200 local girls with job applications and mentoring.
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Although based in Lambeth now, Hui lived in Hackney for 10 years and is back in the borough every Thursday evening, when Laces gather to train at Dalston's Petchey Academy.
"I think the inclusive nature of Hackney Laces is well-suited to this part of London, (people want) to be a part of something, but they're not sure what it is they want to be doing," she adds.
"We get a lot of people saying 'I was rejected from this team' or 'I played when I was 15 but don't think I'm good enough anymore.' We say 'yeah of course you can come!' There are a lot of barriers for women in sport, but we hope we can remove them.
"When people get in touch, the first thing they ask is 'how much is it?' We don't charge fees; that's a barrier we want to remove."
Hui will be speaking on the opening day of Jumpers for Goalposts, which is going to offer a programme of workshops, a marketplace, book signings, family activities and street food - as well as screenings of both Bend It Like Beckham and live coverage of Liverpool vs Manchester City in the FA Community Shield.
So with a record-breaking 28 million people watching the BBC's coverage of this summer's World Cup, how do we continue the development of women's football?
"Provision of space is a huge one," says Hui. "It's really, really hard to get access to a space, as there are so many leagues that book out for years!
"We have all female coaches bar two, there is a really big need to get more talented coaches. If you're trying to grow the game, you need inspiring coaches who are role models.
"The other thing is that with football there's this expectation that your goal is to be in the Super League; you start from humble beginnings then aim to progress, but that's never been our goal.
"Laces is more about belonging and being a part of something, as opposed to the actual competitive nature of football, which can get really political with issues like squad selection and who's paid their subs. We like it how it is!"