As Norwich City Women's season comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting on my own experience of sports as a teenager.

When Year 7 and high school arrived it bought with it single sex, setted classes. I was at the bottom of bottom set.

Along our PE corridor there was a schedule outlining the sports we’d be taught throughout the year. The only sports taught to boys and girls were gym and athletics. We started with dance. Going outside, playing contact sports, was treated as a punishment rather than an essential part of the curriculum. We had netball and hockey timetabled, but instead we were kept inside to do MORE DANCE. I begged and begged for them to just let us try it, to just see what it was like.

“You don’t want to go outside, do you, girls?” They did not.

Imagine that happening in maths. “You don’t want to learn trigonometry, do you, girls?”

It doesn’t, of course. It doesn’t happen in any other subject. When we were allowed outside I would hope the other set (or worse, the boys) wouldn’t be sharing the field with us, as we didn’t play sports like the other three classes. We weren’t allowed to use bats for rounders, outfitted instead with the largest tennis rackets available. We weren’t trusted with a discus, or to run 100 metres. It was twisted, butchered versions of sports, as we could aspire to no better than that.

When it got to Year 10, outdoor lessons ended entirely. Our teachers begged us to see PE as a ‘real’ subject, not just as a distraction from our GCSEs, but it was too late. We’d been taught that PE was something to be endured. There was no team building, no sense of competition, no feeling of achievement, just exercise bikes and static stretches. How could it be a ‘real’ subject when so much of it was closed off to us?

This is where it all starts. Of course women can’t play football! As girls they’re shut inside, told that sport is not for them, told they must practice their flexibility, their grace, their poise instead.

Girls and boys start out just as interested in sports as one another: one visit to a primary school sports day will tell you as much. It is the systematic deconstruction of their self-esteem and sense of achievement that steers girls away from sports, that teaches them it is a world they cannot and should not wish to join.

We did away with the notion that only girls can learn cooking, that only boys can learn construction, decades ago. Why are such outdated attitudes still prevalent and accepted in PE?

Girls want to play sports. Girls are just as capable of falling in love with football as any boy – if they are given the chance. If the resources and encouragement are there, if they are not made to feel less than or out of place, girls will flock to sport. The rise in popularity of women’s football is a shining beacon of what can happen when a girl is told, ‘yes, you belong here’, instead of being hidden away in a school gym.

It seems that the Norwich women will not win promotion. This may feel like a disappointment for a team who have reached this stage in the season unbeaten in the league, but their final league position ignores the wider context of the team. They have played twice at Carrow Road this season, have improved attendances at The Nest, and have repeatedly produced stunning comebacks to keep that unbeaten streak alive.

Next season brings with it another chance for promotion along with the arrival of a new head coach and the promise of more investment from NCFC.

Whatever the league position this time next year, the 2024/25 season will be further proof of what girls and women can achieve if given the chance.