Very few can match the impact that Elaine Junk has had on Northern Ireland women’s football, and for that she has chosen a major award.
Although she never played herself, the 51-year-old has played a significant leadership role in the development of the sport locally over the past two decades.
Simone Magill and Jacqueline Burns, Northern Ireland’s first female professional footballers, come from Mid-Ulster FC, the club Junk currently chairs and helped found in 2000. She has encouraged women at the club to volunteer and first aid training, while the ever-increasing numbers in March 2022 enabled Mid-Ulster to field a reserve team for the first time.
The first – and only – woman to sit on the board of the Ulster Football Association and former president of the Northern Ireland Women’s Football Association, Junk’s commitment to the women’s game has seen becoming part of a campaign championing the people and projects that have achieved incredible things for sportswomen in their communities, with the help of National Lottery players, raising £30m for to good causes every week.
To celebrate his incredible achievements, artist Yoniest Chun, known for his cartoon-inspired work, has created a piece of digital art immortalizing his story.
She said: “It’s great to be recognized as a champion for girls and women in football and to have that opportunity, both on the pitch and at committee level, to let girls and women see that.
“If you can see it, you can believe it. Now we can see that it is possible for someone to become an international footballer and an elite footballer, but there are also many opportunities in government to become a leader off the pitch as well.
“I quickly realized I was never going to be a footballer, so a lot of what I do is off-field duties within the club.
“Mid-Ulster Ladies is a country club based mainly in Cookstown. I was one of the founder members and we started without a team, and every year you try to make the club a little bit more successful.”
One of Junk’s main passions is giving more girls the chance to play football from a young age, something she has driven forward during her time at Mid-Ulster.
In recent years there has been a 438 per cent increase in the number of girls taking part in the club’s ‘Little Dribblers’ campaign, aimed at girls up to Year 3.
3rd ????: Elaine Junk is the first and only woman to sit on the board of the Mid-Ulster Football Association and former president of the Northern Ireland Women’s Football Association.  @NIWFA_, @official_mufl and @SportNINet #ThanksToYou pic.twitter.com/QltBxMnalu
— National Lottery Good Causes (@LottoGoodCauses) November 17, 2022
Junk added: “We’re trying really hard to build partnerships with the wider community. We did a project with The National Lottery last year, and it was very multi-faceted. There were different programs with different parts of the clubs for different reasons.
“The success of any club will depend on the people, the projects you bring, the collaborations you have and the plans you have in place. In terms of Mid-Ulster, we are currently looking to have around 200 girls playing football from the age of four.
“The ‘Little Dribblers’ project was a project that we deliberately aimed at girls and sport, that we had to try to get young children when they start school, to have the belief that football can be theirs sport”.
Digital artist Yoniest Chun has created and presented three additional digital portraits immortalizing the stories of other individuals and projects that have achieved incredible things for women in sport in their communities. These include Helen Hardy of Manchester Laces in Manchester, Tirion Thomas of Bala Rugby Club in Swansea and Fiona McIntyre, Head of Women’s and Women’s Football at the Scottish Football Association in Scotland.
National Lottery players raise more than £30 million a week for good causes. Find out how your numbers make the amazing happen at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk
Source: Elaine Junk recognised for huge impact on women’s football in NI