The mother of a 12-year-old girl who was denied a place at a mixed SFA-run football academy has said her daughter’s trial was nothing more than a “tick-box exercise”.
Lily McLaughlin’s powerful strikes earned her a place at Celtic Girls Academy but she was rejected for a national coaching scheme run by Holyrood Secondary in Glasgow.
Performance schools were launched in 2012 and allow boys and girls to train within an educational environment.
However, there is concern that it is not a level playing field, despite the scheme’s pledge to nurture the sporting talents of both boys and girls.
The Herald revealed last week that Holyrood offered all 24 of its places this year to boys. No girls have been accepted to any of the SFA’s seven performance schools this year with all 48 places given to boys.
Leanne Crichton, one of the most renowned figures in Scottish women’s football, said the mixed-trial selection process “isn’t really suitable for girls”.
The Herald understands that wide-ranging changes to the performance school system are now being discussed.
“They are selling it for girls and boys but they are not allowing any girls in,” said Lily’s mother, Ami.
“We applied and, because Lily is already playing professionally, she doesn’t have to do the first trial – she automatically gets through to the second one.
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“It was an extremely intense training session but Lily is used to that.”
The family, who live in Glasgow’s south side, were delighted when they were told Lily had made it through to the final stage.
“The day of the trial they texted me to make sure Lily was going to be there.
“At the time I was thinking, this is looking quite good. But after all it was just a tick-box exercise to show that they were letting girls trial for it.
“There were 82 pupils on the final day, four of them were girls and not one got through.
“I’m her mum and I don’t know the ins and outs of football but my husband [Denis McLaughlin) is an ex-professional footballer and
he knows a good footballer when he sees one.
“Boys are always going to be quicker and stronger and faster, but Lily is playing above her age.
READ MORE: Concern as no girls given places at SFA-run mixed football academy
“She was the only girl on the pitch most weeks against the other boys’ school teams.”
The women’s game is currently taking centre stage with the Uefa Women’s European Championships with England’s Lionesses the favourites to lift the trophy.
Those involved in the sport say performance schools are not the only route to professional football.
Mrs McLaughlin arranged a meeting with the SFA but says she “wasn’t there to fight for a place” for her daughter.
She said:”We wanted to fight for the next group of girls hoping to break the mould.”
She claimed that, of the hundreds of boys accepted to the scheme, two had made it into the Scotland squad while, out of only a few girls trialled, the same number had done on to play for the national team.
The SFA told Mrs McLaughlin that her concerns would be shared with Andrew Gould. chief football officer at the Scottish FA.
Scotland has seven performance schools in Glasgow, Aberdeen,
Dundee, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Kilmarnock and Motherwell..
Ms Crichton, who helped Scotland qualify for the 2017 Euros and 2019 World Cup, said girls were trialling for performance schools “on
the basis that the likelihood is they won’t get in”.
She said: “The reality is that when these programmes make their selection process it’s based on football ability and there’s no view of equality when they make those decisions.
“I think comparing a 13-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy [in a trial], it would be quite challenging for the girls to be quicker, or faster, stronger in their teenage years.
“So that sets them at a disadvantage.”
A spokesman for the SFA said: “The Scottish FA has delivered a bespoke player pathway for girls via our three regional performance hubs.
“This is in line with the development journey outlined in the five-year strategic plan for girls’ and women’s football, Accelerate Our Game, and includes six regional performance squads at Under-12, Under-14 and Under-16 level, in addition to extensive grassroots and international youth squad programmes.
“We are proud of Scottish FA JD Performance School graduates like Leah Eddie – who has gone on to achieve full international recognition – and we look forward to working in partnership with the new SWPL Board and clubs to evolve the elite domestic player pathway for girls and women.”