Mixing it, and matching the boys

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The Independent Online

Football's sexual revolution scored another goal yesterday with the launch of a tournament for English schools in which one in four participants will be girls.

A record 20,000 schoolchildren are expected to take part in the indoor five-a-side competition organised by the English Schools' Football Association and 5,000 of them will be girls. No football tournament in the UK has ever attracted so many female players.

Of the 159 different schools' associations which have confirmed they will participate, 66 - including Newcastle, Sheffield, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Southampton - have also signed up.

The National Cup, sponsored by Wagon Wheels for the next three years, begins in November and culminates in a national finals at Aston Villa Leisure Centre next April.

Channelle Hutchinson, 11, plays in goal for North Westminister Community School's under-12s, and she joined Arsenal and England goalkeeper, David Seaman, and England Ladies striker, Marieanne Spacey, at Stamford Bridge to kick off the launch yesterday.

"Around 10 girls at school play football but I think this tournament will encourage more to play," said Channelle, an Arsenal supporter. "It's good that they have separate sections for boys and girls. I prefer to play against girls because boys are sexist and think: 'She must be weak, she's a girl'. We have more talent anyway."

Dean Stockwell, 11, from Channelle's, told a different story and was confident that boys would always be better. "I know girls who want to play all the time. They get on my nerves," he said. "I am not worried that girls will get better than us. I know they won't."

Ms Spacey, 29, welcomed the tournament: "We have had to put up with so many chauvinists over the years who say women shouldn't be playing because it's a man's game. I think it's going to be totally acceptable for girls to take part in this tournament because it is prestigious."