International star is encouraging game to flourish at grass-roots
GIRLS’ and women’s football is the fastest growing sport in the world — a fact former Scotland women’s captain Finella Annand is keen to shout about.
As the Scottish Football Association’s development officer for girls’ and women’s football in the north region, a role she took up in October last year, Miss Annand is determined to create pathways for future stars in the Highlands.
"I’m passionate about everything to do with football it’s always been part of my life and probably always will be," she said.
"My main responsibility is to increase the number of girls’ and women players with club football," explained the 27-year-old midfielder who lives in Anne Crescent, Nairn.
"So I’m going along and making the football clubs stronger and more sustainable or if there are not clubs, I will help create clubs from the under-nine age group through to senior level."
From as far back as she can remember, Miss Annand had a ball at her feet and was always taking on the boys on the football pitch.
"My brothers played football so, to be honest, I’ve played from when I can remember, from when I could walk as my whole family is keen on football," she said.
Moving to Inverness from Aberdeen, Miss Annand joined the P7 class at Ardersier Primary before moving on to Culloden Academy.
But, at the time, there was no clear path to show where Miss Annand could take her football skills and she fell away from the sport for a year or so.
As luck would have it however, Inverness Caley Thistle set up an Under-16 girl’s team and, aged 14, Miss Annand signed up immediately.
"We had a really strong team and we won the Scottish cup and won everything," she recalled.
The biggest moment in her career came, however, when she was asked to play for Scotland at under-16 level and gained her first cap against England before moving on to the under-18 squad.
"It was just amazing, I couldn’t believe it, everything happened so quickly, it was such an honour to play, especially at under-18 level and to travel all over Europe," she said.
One international game in particular is a proud moment for Miss Annand. "We played against the American national team, they were the best players in the world," she said.
"I played against Mia Hamm, the best player in the world at that time. It was amazing but we were beaten 8-2!"
Playing in America, Miss Annand saw how seriously people in the U.S. treat women’s football, something she hopes to replicate over here.
"There were thousands in the crowd, it’s just a different world, they take it very seriously," she said. "We’re trying to build towards that."
While playing at international level, Miss Annand also fitted in a training course at Ross County football club where she learned about football scholarships to America.
In 2003, aged 18, Miss Annand was accepted into Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania, where she spent five years studying for a degree in English and creative writing as well as playing top class football.
"At the time there were not as many opportunities than there are now in our own country to study and play sport," she said.
"It was a huge culture shock out there and the first three months were really hard, I was only aged 18-19 so I found it difficult but I got used to it and loved it," she said.
"While I was there I won awards including making the All-Regional Team and my proudest moment came in my final year when I was selected for the All-American team which meant I was chosen as one of the best players in my division in the whole country."
In 2008, Miss Annand returned to Scotland and after working in sports development in Moray she secured her role as SFA development officer for girls’ and women’s football in the north after funding for the post was made available thanks to the Cashback for Communities programme which uses money recovered from the proceeds of crime to invest in sport and other activities.
"I was really chuffed, I’m really honoured to get it, it’s great to get paid to do a job you love and develop it," she said.
"My main role is to develop and support club activity in the Highlands so that there is a sustainable model for girls to continue playing football.
"The age groups I will initially be targeting in the area will be under-nines, under-11s and under-13s."
The Inverness Courier reported last week that the Merkinch Partnership, which provides support and advice to community groups, received £1100 of funding from the Big Lottery to set up girls’ teams for P5 to P7 pupils at Merkinch Primary and two at Inverness High School including one for S1 and S2 and another for S3 and S4 pupils.
"I think what David Paulin, the sports co-ordinator, is doing in Merkinch is brilliant. It’s great to have a positive activity for the girls," said Miss Annand who has been coaching the teams.
"My responsibility is to create pathways because as soon as there is a gap they drop out. I want to let girls know there are opportunities in girls football and there are things they can do within girls and women’s football."
Asked if she thinks women’s football will ever be as big as men’s football, Miss Annand is unsure but is determined to try and change that.
"I don’t know if women’s football will ever get as big as men’s, but definitely what we are trying to do is to increase its popularity," she said.
"It’s a good product and the level is really high. Unfortunately, it seems to be one of those sports that is always compared to the men’s game whereas with tennis you don’t compare the women to the men.
"I would just encourage people to check it out."
If anyone would like to find out more, contact Miss Annand on 07506461762 or e-mail her on Finella.Annand@scottishfa.co.uk