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University experts study girl, 13, playing footy with the boys
7:10am Sunday 27th January 2013 in News
Tia Flett is not what you might expect from a typical 13-year-old girl.
Well, not unless you are expecting a tough-tackling centre half anyway, because that is exactly what this youngster from Sholing is.
Of course, you may cry, that is not necessarily unusual. After all, there are plenty of impressive female footballers around.
However, Tia is – to co-opt the lyrics of Kenny Loggins – playing with the boys.
The teenager is one of just a small number of girls across the country blazing a trail by competing in mixedgender football at under-14 level, as a member of Pirelli Pirates Crusaders in the Southampton & District Tyro League.
This is the first season that the Football Association have allowed girls to play with boys in that age group and Tia is one of just two in Hampshire registered to do so.
“I signed her on because of her ability,” said her manager, Andy Prince. “She’s a very good player.
“She has played every game this season and she has not put a foot wrong.”
Tia joined the Southampton Saints girls’ team aged eight, but stopped playing when she hurt her knee two years later.
However, last summer, she asked if she could join Prince’s team after watching one of her friends at training.
“I thought it would be a lot different,”
she confessed. “But I got into it, because the boys were treating me the same as they would any other person.
“I don’t want to be treated differently. If I’m on a boys’ football team I want to be treated the same.”
Prince, who took over the division six promotion chasers last s u m - m e r, admits he is proud at how Tia’s teammates have responded to her arrival.
“The lads have just treated her as normal,” he revealed.
“I said to them at the beginning of the season ‘Tia’s a footballer, regardless of her gender, so you treat her as one’ – and they have. They’ve been a credit.
“She earns everything on merit. I don’t treat her any differently to what I do the rest of the boys, because I told myself at the start of the season if I did that I would be doing her a disservice.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tia is often singled out by her opponents as a soft target.
But, as both she and her manager suggest, that assessment is often quickly rethought.
“The first match I played they would go straight over to my side, then they realised I would tackle them and so they stayed well away from me and started going to the opposite side,” said Tia.
Prince added: “I think a lot of the opposition, when they see that Tia’s a girl, they sort of step back and don’t think she’s going to play like a boy, but she does.
“Tia is a very strong tackler.
When she goes for a tackle it’s quite funny, because it’s like a train crash. When Tia goes in, she doesn’t stop.
The phrase “you tackle like a girl” would certainly come as no insult in the Pirelli Pirates Crusaders circle.
But Prince is not just impressed by Tia’s physical approach to the game.
“When she’s on the ball she’s composed,” he said.
“She doesn’t rush. She’ll look up and she’ll find a pass.”
Tia admits that, generally, her performances on the pitch are enough to earn her the respect of her opponents.
“Some of them after the match have said ‘You’re a really good player’,” she said, before adding that she has only received one “odd comment”. “The rest were all good, though.”
Prince added: “The other teams, the other players, I’ve heard a few snide remarks.
“When they see Tia they do tend to giggle, but the thing is with Tia I’ve taught her to get the first tackle in and that then goes out of the window.
“There’s been an element of respect for Tia, which to be honest has surprised me with those sort of aged boys.”
Tia was allowed to play this year after the FA passed a resolution last summer, extending mixed football from under-13 to under-14 level, in order to allow further research into it at that level.
Observers from Brunel University were commissioned to visit a number of matches across the country, including one of Tia’s fixtures, to conduct a report and risk assessment for the FA.
Their findings were due to be handed to the governing body this week.
Tia and her club are hoping her performance may even help persuade the organisation to extend mixed football to under-15 level next season, which would allow her to continue playing for Pirelli Pirates Crusaders beyond this campaign.
Whatever the case, though, Prince wants to see more managers open their minds to the possibility of integrating girls into their teams.
“I know a lot of girls do like football, but I don’t think they’ve really been given the opportunity,” he said.
“I think there’s a lot of chauvinism in football.
“It’s whether the club, or more importantly the manager, is brave enough to do it.
“I would imagine there’s a lot of managers who wouldn’t be seen with a girl, and that’s the problem.
“But maybe this might open it up for other girls to come into football, because it should be based on their ability, not their gender.”
Saints fan Tia says she would eventually like to play women’s football professionally.
The desire has always been there. According to her mum, even as a very young child, she would always change the television channel so that there was football on.
Tia hopes that her experience with Pirelli Pirates Crusaders might encourage other girls to try mixed football.
Her message to those considering it is much like her approach to tackling: “Go straight in for it.”