The largest growing sport worldwide is women’s football, and even in Swindon, over the past year, the increase in participation is evident.

Twelve months ago Swindon Town FC set up the girls’ development programme in order to provide opportunity and encourage interest in the sport. This has been more than successful.

With over 100 female footballers (aged 5-14) engaging in the coaching sessions last year and with huge interest shown for the up and coming season, the programme can only get better.

Shane Hewlett, girls’ development programme co-ordinator, said: “When the programme began we only had about 20 girls a week attending the sessions.

“This season we are now hoping for a showing of about 200.”

This can only support that the programme is quite unique and its set up is not matched by any other in the south west.

This type of development programme has given superb opportunities not otherwise presented to young girls.

It offers a foundation which helps the girls advance on to bigger and better things in the future.

One of these girls is Abby Picton, who is now 16, and still the community trust is providing opportunities for her to advance and continue her involvement in the game.

Abby is part of an under 17 team representing STFIC in The Gothia cup in Sweden.

She said: “It is a once in a life time opportunity and it is because of Swindon Town football in the community that we are able to go to such a huge event.”

Even after this event Abby will still have the chance to continue working with the programme, as she is able to offer some of her coaching skills to the younger children in the sessions. Many others have the opportunity to join local clubs, complete coaching badges and even reach county level.

Only last week, two girls from the programme signed for Wiltshire Centre Of Excellence, where they will play other centres throughout the country and have regular chances to impress at a higher level, and possibly even attract attention from a national scout.

At this moment in time only approximately 15 per cent of the girls are continuing playing football when they have completed their time with Shane, but with the increasing interest and possibilities to go further in the sport this figure is shore to grow in size significantly over the next few years.

Shane has recently got the girls to bring out their competitive spirits in a development league amongst the current centres, which are located at Haydon Wick, Stratton Community Centre, Commonweal School and St Catherine’s school.

In the future they are reaching for the stars as all involved are hoping to make it the best soccer centre available and to match development centres like Falkirk where they have a hugely successful programme.

However, the ultimate aim for the programme is to produce players which manage to go on and achieve great things at national and international level and to ensure that each player who is part of the programme competes at the highest level they can reach as an individual.

With the high expectations set and STFIC looking to set up further centres, the emerging talent is likely to match the high hopes of those involved in the not so distant future.

Swindon Advertiser: Blob By Niamh Rawlins, 5, Wootton Bassett School