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Aileen Williams from Tenterden wins US football scholarship to McKendree Univeristy, Illionis

By Rachael Woods

A teenage girl is set to travel to America to pursue her dream of becoming a professional footballer in Bend in Like Beckham-style.

Aileen Williams, 18, from Tenterden, received scholarship offers from more than 30 universities Stateside, before accepting a place at McKendree University in Illinois.

The ex-Gillingham Ladies FC first team player first took an interest in football as a pupil at Tenterden Juniors where she was encouraged in the sport by her teacher Nick Leggatt, who is deputy head at the school in Recreation Ground Road.

Footballer Aileen Williams (14188241)
Footballer Aileen Williams (14188241)

She continued to play as a pupil at Highworth Grammar School in Ashford.

Her Dad, IT consultant Peter Williams, 61, said: "It's a great opportunity for Aileen to go to America and when she completes her scholarship she will have no student loan to pay back."

He added: "Aileen was supported by Tenterden Leisure Centre Trust who awarded her a bursary of around £800 per year, which went towards the cost of travel expenses to all the matches that she played.

Aileen Williams played for Gillingham Ladies first team (14188243) (14228399)
Aileen Williams played for Gillingham Ladies first team (14188243) (14228399)

"I would like to thank the Trust for its support and I hope that what Aileen has done might inspire other girls to take up football."

Aileen will leave for the US next week, ahead of beginning three weeks of pre-season training at the university.

She said: "McKendree University offered everything I was looking for and it's been a long process getting there but it's an amazing opportunity for me."

The talented teen began to receive scholarship offers after signing up with sports scholarship consultants, United Sports USA.

Midfielder Aileen said it was her dream to be offered a professional contract and added: "Women's football is the fastest growing sport in the UK but the money and facilities behind football in the USA are beyond compare."

Last month a record 28.1m people tuned into the BBC's coverage of the Women's World Cup, in which England came fourth.

Recalling her time at Tenterden Juniors, Aileen said: "Mr Leggatt help to give me confidence in the sport and the self belief to do well."

She added that there were lots of opportunities for female players: "I started playing football just kicking around a ball in a primary school playground and now I'm going to America on a football scholarship."

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