IT’S a touching scene in the cavernous main hall of a North-East sports centre, as little girls in a variety of football shirts stop trying to tackle each other and turn their attention to the bespectacled, middle-aged woman who’s just walked through the door.

“Julie! Julie!” they shout, gathering round her, giving her cuddles, and gushing with news of their latest exploits. It’s a display of affection José Mourinho could never hope to receive from his Premier League stars, but Julie Scurfield is clearly “The Special One” in this part of County Durham.

Mum-of-two Julie, 54, was in tears on stage at Durham’s Gala Theatre last week when she won the Contribution To Sport category at the Active Durham Sport and Physical Activity Awards, in recognition of the impact she’s had on women’s and girls’ football.

A few days later at Abbey Leisure Centre in Pity Me, watching her interact with the youngest members of her beloved Amazons Football Club is enough to show the award is richly deserved.

Indeed, it’s a remarkable story since she first kicked off her interest in football 13 years ago. She knew next to nothing about the game until she started watching her sons, Billy and Charlie, playing for St Cuthbert’s Boys’ team in Chester-le-Street.

She was immediately struck by the value of football in terms of building her sons’ confidence, self-esteem and fitness, but all she ever saw was “a sea of boys”.

“I started wondering where the opportunities for girls were,” she recalls.

Then, one morning, Billy turned up for a match and he and his team-mates were shocked to discover the opposition was a girls’ team.

“They assumed they’d win, of course, but they lost and, even though my own son was playing, I found myself rooting for the girls,” says Julie, who works as a strategic manager in children’s services for Durham County Council.

She decided there and then to form her own girls’ team and embarked on gaining her FA Level One coaching qualification.

“I’d never worn shin-pads or football boots or even kicked a ball and, suddenly, I found myself on a training course with 15 blokes,” she says. “Luckily, they were incredibly supportive and they got me through it.”

Armed with her new credentials, she went to the management team at St Cuthbert’s School in Chester-le-Street and declared that she wanted to launch the school’s first ever girls’ football team.

“There wasn’t a huge response,” she says. “There I was with a bag of balls and some cones, standing on St Cuthbert’s School field, and nine girls turned up.”

It may have been a slow start but word soon spread and interest snowballed. The name of the Amazons was adopted after Julie listened to Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 in her car one day and a feature came on about the female warriors of Greek legend.

The first Amazons team started playing in 2005 but they were far from an instant success. In their first game, they lost 20-0 and didn’t score a goal for three years. It was four years before they won their first game.

“At the start, we were losing so heavily that we celebrated like mad when we lost 9-0 because we’d kept the score to single figures.

“And when we scored that first goal – well, it was like we’d won the FA Cup,” she smiles.

It’s very different now. There are ten teams and 130 girls representing the Amazons. Four of the original nine who turned up on St Cuthbert’s school field are still playing for the senior team, which won The County Durham FA Women’s Development Division last season.

The under-18s are known as the Amazettes, the under-15s are the Amazines, the under-13s the Amazelles, the under-12s the Amazon Divas, the under-11s the Amazon Warriors, the under-10s the Amazon Bombers, the under-8s the Amazon Avengers, and the under-7s the Amazon Stompers. (The under-9s are only just being formed and haven’t got a name yet.)

It’s time-consuming, with Julie working on Amazons’ business most nights – attending coaching, sorting out matches, and keeping membership lists up to date – but the trophy cabinet is straining thanks to successes across the age range.

“I’ll never stop now – it’s my in life,” she says.

There are plans to hand the role of chairperson over to her “brilliant” number two Beth Ward but Julie will continue as vice-chairperson.

The next milestone in her mission is to establish a permanent home for the Amazons in Chester-le-Street. At present, they use a variety of venues and Julie is determined they’ll have somewhere to call home before too long.

“That’s the next dream and I know it’ll happen – I’ve discovered that it always does with the Amazons,” she says.

Helen Miller, one of the mums watching the coaching session, is quick to pay tribute to Julie. Her eight-year-old daughter Amy, who joined the Amazons in May, has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and being an Avenger has helped enormously.

“Right from the start, Julie made her feel part of it. Everyone is included and that’s why the girls love her,” says Helen.

Just then, Amy lines up to take a penalty. Julie’s in goal but Amy tucks it in the corner and her face lights up. Why wouldn’t it? She’s just stuck the ball past The Special One.

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