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Meeting Wycombe Wanderers Ladies FC: The rise of women’s football

PUBLISHED: 14:43 29 January 2018

The squad: the team ranges from teenagers to veterans in their thirties

The squad: the team ranges from teenagers to veterans in their thirties

Archant

We meet Wycombe Wanderers Ladies FC and find plenty to cheer about beyond the final score

In case you hadn’t noticed, the popularity of the nation’s most enduring, if not iconic, sport is on the rise. What with televised matches, interviews and headlines, the regularity of current media coverage reflects as well as nurtures our growing public interest. No wonder more and more players are attracted to this game which boasts a worldwide reputation.

I’m talking, of course, about football. Specifically, women’s football. Times, you see, are a-changing. Traditionally male dominated from the terraces to the field of play, these days increasing numbers of females are drawn to the skills and camaraderie of this team sport. At the top level England Lionesses are leading the way. But there are plenty of local clubs such as Wycombe Wanderers Ladies FC eager to follow their example.

“This is an excellent platform for girls,” enthuses Assistant Coach, Sam Hayward. “We have a good team with lots of potential as well as backing from Wycombe Wanderers. Watching the women play changes the way you talk and think, it’s a different culture.”

Our conversation takes place outside the changing room at Oxford City Nomads’ ground, Court Farm Place. It’s Sunday lunchtime and, while waiting for the rest of the squad, I take the opportunity to ask Coach Andy McIntosh about his role.

“There’s a more emotional response from ladies, but I’m not a screamer or a shouter. I choose the team 24 hours before a match and tell them on the day. It’s not just about results, the important thing is to get the team dynamic right.”

The rest of the players join us. Their away kit, sponsored by Beechdean Ice Cream, is a leftover from last year’s male team, though the laughter revolving around baggy shorts doesn’t detract from a sense of focus and purpose. Some of these players are relatively new to the sport. For others, such as midfielder and Club Secretary Emma Newberry, football has been a part of her life since childhood.

“I’ve played since I was five, my brother got me into it. All my mates were boys and I played in the school team up to the age of 11. Then I went to Hazlemere Ladies and, when that folded, came to Wycombe. I want to be professional but it’s hard to make it. The team is lovely.”

Combining a career as a PE Teacher at Highcrest Academy with Club commitment, Emma explains that fitness, set play and analysis encompasses weekly training sessions along with strategies for future matches.

As players are ushered outside, I walk beside Charlotte Bagshaw who exudes an aura of unwavering confidence, making her the perfect choice for Captain. “I like leadership,” she reveals. “People can come to me if others aren’t available. It’s about playing well and how you conduct yourself.”

Such personable traits are no stranger to determination, however. Last year Wycombe lost twice to today’s opponents. Surely revenge is on her agenda.

In the winter sunshine everyone is taken through a warm up routine followed by ball control exercises, sprints and shooting practice before the players group for a final pep talk from Coach Andy then head to the pitch. The 3G turf, a synthetic surface which makes muddy patches a thing of the past, replicates the surface with which Wycombe Ladies are familiar. Andy, Sam and a handful of substitutes position themselves on the sideline where I’m joined by Wycombe Wanderers Chairman, Trevor Stroud. A regular supporter, he is enthusiastic about the future.

“The ladies were separate for a number of years, but last summer became affiliated to the Club. Our long term aim is to bring is to bring them up to the level of the men.”

Currently Wycombe Ladies play on a public park at Lane End but making Adams Park, which has hosted ladies’ internationals, their home ground could well be a long term ambition. Meanwhile play begins. Accurate passing and clean tackles are matched by several goal scoring chances until, just before half time, Wycombe go into the lead.

“You’re 100% better than last week,” Andy calmly encourages during the break. “Now stick to the plan. Be patient with the ball; have fun around the 18 yard box.”

His inspiration is effective and, as this Buckinghamshire side continues to dominate the opposition, the Chairman posts updates on social media.

“One director attends every ladies’ game,” he shares between Tweets. “Today is a definite improvement from early games in the season. Charlotte is a good advocate for the team and performs well on the pitch – a rare combination.”

During the match we discuss this predominantly alpha male sport and the progress in evolving attitudes. The BBC, we agree, is a good media outlet for women’s football and at Club level it is hoped the women will eventually benefit from the physiotherapy facilities available to their male counterparts.

But other support is increasingly available. Andrew Howard, Sporting Director, is responsible for the operation of the women’s team and looks forward to their development: “Women’s football has been on my agenda since I became Chairman three years ago. We’re a supporter owned Club; inclusivity is key. The women’s team has done extremely well to sustain itself over many years with little input or support from the Club. Now the time has come for us to take them with us on our path forward.”

More backing in the form of the ladies’ home strip has come from Mark Burrell, Trust Director of Wycombe Wanderers and founder of www.transformationdelivery.com.

“We are delighted to be part of a further period of development with this support of Wycombe Wanderers Ladies as they are more closely integrated as part of the Club.”

There’s no better confidence boost than winning and this talented team notches up a well-deserved 0-3 victory, delighting themselves, supporters and coaching staff.

From 16-year-old Kitty Jones to Natalie Barrett, for whom this afternoon’s Southern Region First Northern Division success makes a perfect 34th birthday present, these amateur player are a credit to both their gender and our national sport.

If you’re tempted to get involved, or fancy tapping into skills you already have, why not join them or find a ladies team near you. It could be an opportunity to make your mark on the beautiful game.

www.wycombewanderers.co.uk

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