There isn’t much accessorizing when it comes to playing soccer. Everyone wears the same jersey, shorts and socks. Players are limited to displaying their unique personalities through their cleats. Yet, girls who play in the UV League through the Stoke City Community Trust at Staffordshire University are given much more freedom — they can paint their faces, wear luminous headbands or wristbands and don glow-in-the-dark pinnies to stand out, especially when the lights go out.
The league began in April 2015 as a way to make soccer more appealing and fun to girls ages 14 and older, who might be dealing with confidence issues or unnecessary pressures during their teenage years.
“The UV aspect adds a ‘wow’ factor that typically 6-aside football doesn’t offer,” said Adrian Hurst, Head of Community at Stoke City FC. “To inspire girls who perhaps were lacking confidence to take up an activity because of something innovative we have tried is really rewarding because we know that without our intervention girls may have not gone onto get into the sport.”
The UV League, which is funded by the Premier League and backed by the Football Association (FA), features eight teams that play two games each week over a 12-week period. Over the last two-plus years of its existence, the league has engaged approximately 150 girls between 12-16 years old.
The league and UV football came about as a way to encourage more girls to play sports, specifically soccer, in conjunction with FA Girls’ Football Week, a nation-wide campaign aimed to increase the number of girls playing the sport in England. More than 130,000 girls took part in sessions at schools, universities, colleges, clubs, community groups, and other organizations during FA Girls’ Football Week 2016.
“Female role models are so important because if girls can see living examples of people who have been in their shoes go on to achieve in their chosen sport, it gives girls that injection of confidence that pushes them in the right direction,” Hurst said.
UV sports have been utilized more and more in order to get girls and boys excited about sports. It’s seen success in the United Kingdom with table tennis, squash and badminton, so turning off the lights and turning up the music for indoor soccer seemed like the next logical step.
There are some players, like Bonnie, who wouldn’t have gotten into soccer if it wasn’t for the UV League.
“It’s in the dark and you can’t really see in that, so if you’re embarrassed or anything, there’s no point because no one can really see you,” she told the BBC.