by Jonathan Day

Mention the word ‘football’ — or ‘soccer’, for that matter — (for those Americans among us) and certain stereotypes spring to mind. On the one hand, there’s your typical old-school, unshaven Neanderthal-type-footballer who has tree trunk-like thighs and a blank expression — except when berating referees. On the other hand, there’s your new breed of player who shops in Prada, wears silver football boots, has a half-carat diamond in each ear, and regularly visits the equivalent of the Tokyo Beauty Clinic for sea-mineral exfoliations.

Neither type may immediately inspire women to consider trying this sport as a way to stay healthy, de­spite the fact that regular professional football coaching sessions, according to leading physicians, are amongst the best ways to achieve total physical conditioning — for men and women.

Leigh Manson, a qualified coach certified by the Scottish Football Association (SFA) and UEFA, is the head coach at the British Football Academy Tokyo (BFAT), and regularly hosts ‘Academy Ladies’ training sessions for women in Tokyo. “We’re actively trying to dispel the myth that football is only a sport for men,” he says. “The elements of the training sessions myself and my coaching staff deliver to our women suit a wide range of physical and mental needs. We focus heavily on stretching; incorporating themes from yoga and Pilates, as good, rather than big, muscle tone and enhanced flexibility are essential components of a well-balanced footballer. We also look to develop speed, stamina, and coordination through fun, cardiovascular exercises that are tailored to individual, not group, abilities. Each session allows the ladies to vent their weekly frustrations by kicking the hell out of loads of balls, otherwise known as shooting. The girls have so much fun,” he concludes.

There’s your new breed of footballer who shops in Prada,
wears silver football boots [and] has a half-carat
diamond in each ear.

Whereas going to the gym, jogging, and swimming may have their merits in terms of health and fitness (although jogging will wreck your knees and second-hand sweat on gym machines and goggle-eyed salary men wearing leotards may dampen the appeal), they are, by and large, solitary pursuits. Football, on the other hand, is a social activity that can be played by anyone who is willing to give it a go, as football novice Kate Randolph (26) explains. “I’d never played  football before, but when I heard about the Academy Ladies football training sessions in Tokyo, I thought it sounded like fun. I’m always looking for opportuni­ties to do something social that’s also good for your health — so many social activities are focused around eating or drinking. So regular football training sessions with the opportunity to make good friends sounded perfect,” she says.

27-year old Barbara Whooley, an accomplished amateur female football player, is equally encouraging to new players who decide to take up the challenge. “I honestly think that any­one who wants to play can play.  I have seen people start to play here in Japan who honestly couldn’t kick a ball for love nor money, but with a little practice they pulled it off and now enjoy playing regularly. There are of course some girls who have played for years, but they are always really positive and enthusi­astic about introducing the sport to newbies!”

“They know their stuff,” says Helen Daly (30) of her British Football Academy coaches. “They do a great job and head coach Leigh is fantastic. He’s particularly good at making the sessions suitable for all abilities, so no matter what your level, you gain from the training. And he always makes sure that it’s fun,” she explains.

Barbara Whooley, says “They take the time to help everyone who turns up to the training sessions, regard­less of whether they have played before or not. They will always offer you that bit of advice to help you improve your game and take you to the next level,” she says.

For more information on the British Football Academy, visit