A former Lioness has told how gratifying it is to see ‘unbridled joy’ on the faces of underprivileged children after launching a project to provide young football fans with England shirts.
England beat Germany to win the Euro 2022 title as they were cheered on by a crowd of 87,000 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.
Defender-turned-coach Anita Asante, who has 71 caps for her national team, has set up a GoFundMe and partnered with organizations Football Beyond Borders and Goals4Girls, donating shirts to 55 girls across the country so far.
“It’s gratifying to see young people happy and to see this unbridled joy on their faces,” Ms Asante, 37, told the PA news agency.
“That’s what kids should be able to experience – connecting to something they love and are passionate about.
“Football is also about tribalism – people like to feel that their club represents them and that they are part of a bigger community that is bigger than themselves… And I think that’s sometimes what a jersey can do for you.”
Ms Asante and her partner of three years, Beth Fisher, 39, first set up the GoFundMe on May 26 after finding that a shirt could cost between £50 and £100.
The fundraiser now has donations totaling over £8,500 from members of the public and a £1,000 contribution from the GoFundMe team.
The two have worked to provide shirts for aspiring footballers from local teams and clubs who “may not have been able to afford” the kit otherwise.
A tweet from Football Beyond Borders, a charity that works with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, shows a video of a young girl, Oninye, screaming while opening her new England shirt.
Ms Asante, who is now a first-team coach at Bristol City Women’s Football Club, said her own experience as a hopeful footballer was part of the inspiration behind the fundraiser.
“For me, it made me think of my childhood and the first time I put on a football kit,” Ms Asante said.
“I got to play club football and then play for England youth, and it was the first time I had to put on an England shirt because I had never bought a shirt before.
“I just know what it’s like to put those shirts on and represent at club level, and also as an international player.
“The feeling it gives you is incredible, to be able to play but also to support a team that you are passionate about.”
So far most of the shirts have gone to young girls, but Ms Asante and Ms Fisher hope to start offering them to boys as well.
“The tournament has really created this powerful cultural shift, where young boys see female athletes at the highest level and that becomes their norm,” Ms Asante said.
“They engage with it in a really positive way.
“And, of course, there will be young boys who might also be from disadvantaged backgrounds who would also like to have a shirt.”
Ms Asante described being “shocked” by the donations from the public.
“Seeing the power of collective action from the public is such a positive thing,” she said.
“I was almost shocked by it.”
Ms Fisher added: “It is really important that sport is not just for people who can afford it.
“That’s the good thing about sport – it’s accessible to everyone… I cried a lot.”
The project has garnered support online from a myriad of famous faces, including retweets from Line of Duty’s Vicky McClure and former England goalkeeper David Seaman.
Ms Asante said she was “overwhelmed with emotion” watching England win on Sunday.
“I had tears in my eyes, I was crying, I was jumping up and down,” she said.
“It’s a historic moment for women’s football and the level of support and visibility has been incredible – through the media, through the podcasts, but also the nation has really supported the England team as well.
“And for me as a player who was in the final and lost, to see them achieve this momentous thing was just amazing and something that I didn’t necessarily imagine I would see at this stage in the development of women’s football.
“I think it inspires a lot of young people and also empowers them to be ambitious and believe that they can, maybe one day, work hard to get to the top level of the professional game if that’s there. they want to be.”
To find out more about Ms Asante and Ms Fisher’s GoFundMe, visit: www.gofundme.com/my-england-shirt-raffle