Team GB's women's football team had a remarkable impact on young girls in the United Kingdom as football is named one of the top three sports they would like to try following London 2012, according to new research from Football League sponsors npower.
Although they narrowly missed out on a medal, the ladies team received unprecedented exposure during the games with nearly one in four girls aged 6-13 saying they watched the Team GB ladies compete. There were more encouraging signs for the future of the women's game revealed in the npower survey with key Team GB figures Hope Powell and Steph Houghton named as more recognisable role models than Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
The increased appetite for football is backed at an adult level too. In recent research from the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) it was revealed that over 90,000 women in the UK say they would like to play more football.
However, despite this fantastic exposure for women's football, the npower survey also highlights that a series of barriers to participation still exist.
55% of the girls surveyed highlighted that football's identity as a 'boy's sport' and negative connotations around being a 'tom boy' dissuaded girls from getting involved, with a further 16% worried about being ridiculed by peers. As well as social concerns, limited access in schools was also raised as a key issue. The lack of football in PE lessons was listed by 20% of the girls as the main problem in denying them a chance to play football.
The survey was conducted to support the launch of this year's npower Football League Girls Cup, fronted by Arsenal Ladies and Team GB star Steph Houghton, pundit and former FA Head of Elite Development Gareth Southgate and Sky Sports News Presenter Charlotte Jackson.
The npower Football League Girls Cup is a national six-a-side tournament for U13 girls. The competition sees schools represent their local Football League club side in the national contest that culminates in a grand final played prior to the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final at Wembley Stadium in April 2013.
The youth competition has grown from strength to strength in recent years. The 2011/12 competition saw eventual winners All Hallows Catholic School (representing Aldershot Town) triumph over 644 other competing girls' teams, meaning over 5,000 girls across the country played in the tournament. These figures represented a 10% increase on participation numbers for the 2010/11 competition that was won by King Ecgbert's School, representing Sheffield United.
Clare McDougall, npower's Head of Education and Community said: "These survey results are interesting in that they show an increased appetite for football amongst young girls, but that there are still some issues that need to be confronted.
"Through our sponsorship of the npower Football League Girls Cup, we feel we're tackling some of the off-putting factors that the girls highlighted. The tournament is for girls only so it's clearly identifying football as not 'just for boys' and by working with the Football League to activate the tournament via schools, we're offering a football programme to establishments that may otherwise not have the facilities."
England and Team GB international, Steph Houghton said: "From a very young age all I wanted to do was play football and was lucky enough to be given the opportunities to get right to the top of the game. This summer I've played in front of some of the best attended women's games of all time at a home Olympics, but couldn't have done that if there wasn't time invested in me at an early stage.
"This is why I'm so supportive of the npower Football League Girls Cup as it gives young girls the opportunity to play in a competitive but enjoyable atmosphere. If my experiences in the Olympics inspired even one girl to pick up a football and play, then that will match any other achievement in my career."
Visit the website via www.npower.com/football-league or follow npower football on twitter @npowerfootball.
To watch some action from the Girls Cup launch event at Wembley please click here
For more information about the Girls Cup please click here