James Perch Foundation

Newcastle United defender James Perch made an appearance at St. Catherine's Catholic Primary School, in Jesmond,  on Thursday to back an initiative to get more girls playing football.

Perch was attending the launch of a new girls football project delivered by Newcastle United Foundation in partnership with Northumberland FA and funded by Lottery grants scheme Awards for All.

Keen to give the girls a football masterclass, Perch joined the Foundation coaching staff on the sports field and was impressed by the talent on display.

He said: "It is great to see Newcastle United taking a lead in providing opportunities for girls to play football. Projects like this are a fantastic way to get players involved in playing football from a young age and a good way to keep children fit and healthy."

Over the next 12 months, Newcastle United Foundation will be running six-week Girls Only Football Fun Clubs in 40 different primary schools across Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside and Northumberland, reaching more than 1,000 girls.

The Foundation's project co-ordinator and former captain of Newcastle United Ladies, Lisa Bell, explained: "The idea behind the project is to link with local schools to encourage girls to play football regularly in a safe and friendly environment.

"We plan to work closely with Northumberland FA and local junior football clubs close to the schools before and after each six-week course to ensure there is a pathway for the girls to continue playing football after our fun club is finished."

St. Catherine's headteacher Michael Ewing was delighted to welcome Perch to the school, and said: "This girls football initiative is another great example of Newcastle United active in the local community.

"It is the power of the Newcastle United brand which hooks children into football and sport in the first place and the standard of coaching from the Foundation is first class."

Girls and women's football is growing in popularity season after season. With the start of a new FA Women's Super League across the UK, 2011 is proving to be a crucial year for women's football.

As part of its Girls Football programme, Newcastle United Foundation will also launch a new Player Development Centre in partnership with Northumberland FA this month. The centre will offer advanced coaching and regular fixtures for talented girls from aged between seven and 17.