The EFL’s Community Education Football Alliance (CEFA) has given young people the opportunity to get their hands on silverware but now, Peterborough United's double-winning team have their sights set on more.
The Posh claimed both the League and Cup titles last season, topping the South Division Women’s rankings and winning the CEFA Cup Final at the Eco-Power Stadium, home to Doncaster Rovers.
“We were against League rivals West Brom, so were both basically up against each other in the Cup and the League,” recalled Manager Georgia Clarke. “The Cup game was a 1-1 draw and went to penalties which the girls won 8-7 in the end.
“We got to the Cup Final last year as well, but we lost out to Derby on penalties. For those second-year girls to then go and win it on penalties which was how they lost it last year felt really good.
“The League very much came down to our two games against West Brom, who we beat 3-0 at home then drew 2-2 away from home. We beat them by one point in the League which I think shows how competitive the League is, so it’s a great standard. It’s a really good level for the girls to play at.”
The programme paves a direct pathway into the women’s first team at the Club, should they opt to go down that route, but Clarke believes playing at EFL Clubs provides the girls with invaluable experience.
A trip to Wembley Stadium, where the CEFA Awards were held for the first time ahead of the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final, also made memories to last a lifetime for the team.
She explained: “Being part of CEFA, it’s not only if you get to a Final or win a trophy, but some of the Clubs that we get to go and visit have incredible facilities. Hasnain [Mohammed] who runs the League is brilliant at arranging games at big stadiums or the awards ceremony at Wembley.
“They get a taster of what it’s like to make it as a professional. Most people that play football dream of picking up a trophy at Wembley and walking out onto the pitch at half-time in such a big game which, for our girls to experience that, is something they’re going to be able to talk about for the rest of their lives. To experience that behind-the-scenes hospitality bit as well, it was amazing that the League were able to put that on. We never expected anything like that.
“It allows them to play at a really good level which for a lot of them, compliments the senior football that they play away from the education programme. They probably get to experience in the CEFA a lot of the time than what they do with their senior teams.”
Through the tournament, players such as Renai Bennett, who is on the books at Milton Keynes Dons’ whilst completing her studies at Peterborough through CEFA, have the opportunity to travel around the country to compete for trophies.
And Bennett kept her cool in the Final to slot home her spot-kick and help the Posh to the lift the Cup.
“The feeling we got stepping out onto the pitch at Doncaster was very special, let alone stepping into Wembley to lift the trophies we won,” she added. “The team were buzzing for it. To get that experience at a young age, going to a Final and being at Wembley, we stepped up and managed to get the double.
“During the season we’ve progressed not just as individuals but as a team together, and it’s been shown by winning both the Cup and the League. We showed the mentality to keep our cool when it went to penalties in the Cup and push us through to the very last game in the League.”
This year, the UEFA Women’s EURO is being hosted by England, with three EFL stadiums being used as venues for the flagship competition, and Clarke affirmed that a number of her players have high hopes to follow in the Three Lionesses’ footsteps.
“One of the host stadiums is where Renai plays away from the scholarship programme and she gets to play there with the senior team,” she continued. “For the girls to have walked on the same pitch that potentially the England players will walk out into in the Final, it’s something for them to aspire to get to.
“It was through the EFL that we managed to get a couple of tickets for some staff members to go to the opening game and the crowd there was massive.”
Bennett added: “International level is the standard to aim for and I think we’re all hoping we can reach that goal when we see how the England team are doing now and breaking records and winning 8-0 and hopefully making it to Wembley in the Final. It’s very inspiring and gives the girls something to watch to set their own goals.”