Hundreds of girls dreaming of emulating the achievements of The Lionesses have been given new footballs thanks to a North East building society.

FC Darlington Locomotives were given a grant of £1,800 by Darlington Building Society and it has been used to buy 300 balls so young players can practise their skills.

Nathan Beadle, chair of the thriving club, works as an education and sports co-ordinator for County Durham Sport, and he was shocked to see research showing that only one in five children in the UK own a ball of any kind.

“When I saw that statistic, I was horrified and I wanted to make sure that when any girl joins our club, they get a ball, so they get the best start in their football journey,” Nathan explained.

“Darlington Building Society’s fantastic donation has enabled us to do that – and also just give out balls in the community when we see kids playing without one.”

Nathan’s dad, Paul, is the club’s “kit man” and his mum, Linda, is club secretary, so it’s a real family affair. Both Paul and Linda are long-standing members of Darlington Building Society, and the grant is part of Society’s commitment to donate 5% of its profits to local good causes.

The Society’s Chief Executive, Andrew Craddock, said: “We are seeing a boom in girls’ football, inspired by The Lionesses, and it’s great to see the impact being made at the grass roots by FC Darlington Locomotives. It’s wonderful to think that hundreds of girls now have a Darlington Building Society ball to play with – and who knows where it might lead!”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Goalies Maisey Lythe, left, and Eva BedfordGoalies Maisey Lythe, left, and Eva Bedford (Image: Peter Barron)

As well as a shiny new ball, new club members receive a home kit, training kit, and a water bottle when they join.

The club was launched in July 2021 and caters for girls from three-years-old up to adulthood. It now has 220 players and will have ten teams playing in the Russell Foster League next season, as well as three development centres. The Under-12s are the reigning undefeated champions.

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“On average, we are attracting between five and eight new members every week, so we’re growing all the time, and Darlington Building Society has made a big difference in helping that development,” added Nathan.

“The aim is to give every girl the chance to play football regardless of age, ability, and background.”