IN starting to type Burnley FC Ladies into a well-known search engine it is impossible to escape noticing that one of the suggestions on offer for what you might be looking for is ‘Burnley Ladies Day’.

The event has grown in popularity over the six years or so since its launch.

Once a season, Turf Moor opens its hospitality doors in the Jimmy McIlroy Stand to hundreds of women dressed to the nines ready to wine and dine and watch football.

The latter is not top of the agenda for everyone, but the Clarets tapped into a demographic successfully, given that demand has begun to outstrip supply for this particular event.

There is an alternative asset for the club though; one that, instead of annually, is accessible throughout the year.

Burnley FC Girls and Ladies has been established since 1995 under the umbrella of the men’s team, and with teams ranging from under nines to under 16, and for open ages a senior development squad and first team, it is capable of reaching out to a sizeable chunk of the town’s population.

They were founded too late for Rachel Brown-Finnis to join as a child. The Burnley-born goalkeeper had played in her boys’ primary school team, St Stephen’s, and for Bank Hall United, but mixed teams were not allowed when she went to secondary school.

It was at St Christopher’s CE High School, Accrington, that she was introduced to Accrington Girls and Ladies, before forging a career in the game through Everton and England.

There was no alternative on her doorstep in the early 1990s.

Burnley Girls and Ladies was set up about a year later and has gone from strength to strength.

But Brown-Finnis feels there could be more to come.

Having experienced a growth in women’s football in recent years, spiked significantly by the London 2012 Olympics, she hopes Burnley Girls and Ladies can benefit from the Premier League effect, with more exposure of the men’s team proving positive for the girls and ladies.

“If you look now in 2014 at how many women and girls attend Burnley’s matches the landscape of attendees at football matches has changed dramatically in the last 20 years,” she said.

“More women and girls are attending football matches, are definitely engaged in football, so it’s only natural that there will be a knock-on effect for more of them wanting to play football.

“For the club they go and support to actually run affiliated teams is nothing but making sense because it means they have more of a belonging and a love for their local football club by number one supporting them but number two being given the opportunity to play for that team as well.”

Playing in the North West Women’s Regional Football League Premier Division, against the likes of Preston North End Ladies, Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers, they are six tiers below Brown-Finnis’ Everton in Women’s Super League 1 (WSL1).

She describes any attempt to bridge the gap as “very much a long-term plan”.

But with a greater focus on women’s football she feels it would be worth the effort for the team, and any individual who was looking to follow in her international footsteps.

“I think being integrated with a club is such a massive step,” she said.

“It’s well documented that going up to the Premier League equals a lot more money, and yes of course that money has to go towards consolidating Burnley’s position in the Premier League, that’s totally understandable. But the financial support that a girls or ladies team would need is a tiny drop in the ocean as far as the money that Burnley FC get from going into the Premier League to sustain them for the year.

“I don’t know the exact figures but I do know it is such a tiny fraction compared to the costs of the men’s side of football that you would like to think it would make a massive difference to girls’ and women’s football and would make virtually no difference as a financial deficit to the actual football club.”

Brown-Finnis recognises the difficulties though, with semi-professional side Everton struggling to compete against the increasing number of professional teams in WSL1.

“It’s not like in men’s football where a player would leave a club for a pay increase. Currently a player would leave Everton, for instance, to go to Manchester City because it’s a whole change in lifestyle.

“They’re going from earning enough to be a semi-professional footballer and just having to have another job alongside it to only having to concentrate on being a footballer,” said the 34-year-old, who works three days a week at Burnley’s UCFB (University College of Football Business).

“It’s going from earning, say, £10,000 a year in football, which is progress, to earning £30,000 a year in football, which means you don’t have to do anything else. So I do understand why a lot of players have left clubs who are only able to offer semi-professional status fulfil their dreams of being fully professional footballers.

“I understand how difficult it is to commit pretty much every day a week to football as well as having a job.

“At the moment clubs like Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, who are offering pro contracts to everyone, are going to be attracting the best players.

“That’s just reality. It’s either keep up with that or move on.”

But rather than worry about it distorting women’s football, she welcomes it.

“It’s showing real potential for women’s football from the perspective of individuals and of clubs. I hope it then leads to a fully professional league so that all clubs buy into that way of thinking and keep up with clubs like City, Liverpool and Chelsea where everyone is fully professional,” she said.

“It will hopefully put pressure on other clubs to allow that to happen, so the likes of Everton will hopefully become fully professional.

“I’ve seen it from when we had a few hundred or maybe 1,000 people came to watch us play for England. There were no youth teams or centres of excellence across the country, very few girls teams. I started playing for a women’s team when I was 12/13because there weren’t any girls teams in my area, to where it is now, which is a professional sport in many cases.

“I’ve been a part of and seen the development and growth of women and girls’ football, so I feel very proud to have really seen women’s football when it’s just started to kick off.”

Brown-Finnis speaks with such passion and enthusiasm for the game it is no surprise she intends to stay in it, in some capacity, once she hangs up her gloves.

“Short-term I’ve been taking some of my coaching badges so I at least have that as an option. Long term I would love to stay in women’s football,” she continued.

“I think because I’ve seen it grow from being a real minority sport to now being pretty mainstream I’ve seen and felt the hard work that it’s take to stay at the top level as a player. I’ve been through tough times with injury, I’ve been through great times when we’ve qualified and played in World Cups and Olympics so I do think I’ve got quite a rounded view of what women’s football is about, where it’s been and where it’s going and what it requires.

“It’s been my life for the last 20 years. So when I do finish football I would like to remain in football, be that as a coach or a manager, as a goalkeeper coach, or whether it’s on the development side, I’m not quite sure yet.

“But at the moment I’m still playing and that still takes up all my time so I’ll think about that when I’m finished.”

For now, though, she is planning for next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, and the next big event on England’s calendar – a landmark game against Germany.

“Playing at Wembley in the Olympics against Brazil, in front of 80,000 people live on television, with pretty much everyone supporting us was the highlight of my footballing career,” she said.

“We’ve got another game planned at Wembley for November 23 against Germany, and that will be the first time solely and England women’s team has ever played at the new Wembley.

“It’s an exciting time for women’s football.”

And Brown-Finnis is determined to keep doing her bit to promote it in Burnley and beyond.

“Working at UCFB I’m kind of back home,” she smiled.

“I’ve been at UCFB for a year. Before that I hadn’t regularly been to Burnley since I left for university when I was 18.

“My parents still live in the same house I grew up in just up the road from Turf Moor, so I get to see my family more often, I get to be back in the town more often.

“I’ve already met with quite a lot of people to see how I can give back to Burnley really, because they’ve always supported me through the papers and through web stories when I’ve been at World Cups and Euros etc.

“To give back to the town of Burnley, whether it’s going and speaking at schools, which I’ve already done quite a bit of, to hopefully inspire the next generation, I’m loving being back in the town.

“Whether it’s telling my story of starting out as an eight-year-old girl playing football in a local school and where that journey has taken me, I’d love to hopefully give somebody the chance and maybe light the spark of a young footballer, or any sort of career really, just to let them know that if you want something bad enough that you can do it.”