Women footballers at crossroads and needing help to go forward

Shetland Women’s Football Club has come on leaps and bounds since being formed five years ago, but those who take part are looking for a new injection of interest in order to take the sport forward still more.

In particular the club is seeking a new chairman or chairwoman at this year’s annual general meeting, due to take place on 22nd Novem­ber. The post has not been filled permanently for a couple of years and the footballers feel they have missed out on important oppor­tunities because of the uncertainty.

Experienced player Karen Mac­Kelvie said: “The island games was a prime example – we were unpre­pared to pay the first deposit and got freaked out about the fund-raising effort it would take to get us there. It was difficult enough getting people to meetings.

“Then the league fell through. Burra and Thistle said they couldn’t field teams and we decided to run a seven-a-side league. The fixtures were made up but it never went ahead. Something was missing. Confidence? Leadership? Optim­ism? Women’s football should keep going and flourish. It’s a great game and there are plenty of women who enjoy playing it. We have up to 100 players in Shetland and I’m hearing of more young lasses coming through all the time.”

The young players who have broken through in the past few years include Zoe Irvine, Debbie Sneddon and Lynda Flaws, while others such as Rhea Watt are on the verge of breaking through. Allied to talent which appeared five years ago, such as Kristan Robertson, Josie Jamieson and Sarah Grogan, there is no reason why the future should not be optimistic.

Karen said they had an “awe­some” coach in Derrick Bradley who now had his eye on the island games at the Isle of Wight in 2011, while development coach John Ward was always looking for new ways to grow as a club.

“He has made an amazing web­site for us, got us to Gramsbergen [in Holland] for a fun tournament, is putting together a bid from Awards for All for junior kit and equipment and he is always calmly optimistic.”

There are also thoughts of introducing a junior inter-county match, which would give girls an opportunity to develop their game without the pressure of trying to compete with established adult players, and make the transition to senior football that bit easier.

The Scottish Cup has been a regular feature on the calendar, as has the inter-county clash with Ork­ney. Among the memorable results over the years was the 2-2 draw with Guernsey at the 2005 island games, the 3-1 Scottish Cup victory over Strathclyde in 2006, wins over Aberdeen University, Dunfermline and Dons Ladies and an unbeaten record against Ork­ney.

Karen said: “When you look at the bigger picture some of the problems we carry are the same as women’s football faces in the UK as a whole. Since women’s football began in 1895, it has had to cope with more than its fair share of harsh criticism. Even now in 2009 the tendrils of intolerance still touch the game, although less is said out loud these days.

“At grass roots things still look good though. There are more players, clubs and leagues than ever before. Boundaries are being broken down all the time, thereby making access to the game and acceptability in playing it far more widespread for girls.

“Ultimately, however, if the game is going to progress and really thrive then it needs to truly establish itself on a secure footing higher up the structure and this is where the signs are ominous.

“Crucially there is absolutely no interest from television regarding the run-of-the-mill league season. It is actually hard to comprehend the continued absence of regular coverage somewhere on the myriad channels in operation. After all, everything else seems to get covered. No matter how stupid, pointless or complete a minority the sport it may be.

“Denied money from these sources the game at the top level is basically a reflection of which of the men’s clubs give most support to the women’s teams affiliated to them.

(Continued on page 42) (Continued from back page) “This is, to a certain extent, the same picture that we can see in Shetland. The clubs that are willing to help women’s teams by sharing facilities and including them in fund-raising ventures, prizegiving events, etc, fare better.

“Being part of an established club set-up helps give a team an identity and encourages young girls to keep playing because there are opportunities to play and train after the age of 14. The teams that don’t receive the support of their local men’s team tend to flounder.”

Karen said making sure clubs were evenly matched while allowing for team loyalty and identity had always been the biggest bone of contention for the Shetland club.

“The range of abilities among the Shetland players was vast in the beginning, the same as it would be for any new sport, with some women never having kicked a competitive ball before and some coming from school where they were playing alongside boys of the same age.

“There was also the odd one or two that had experience playing for university women’s teams or teams in the Scottish leagues. This imbalance showed itself in the first year of running the local league. When players were given a free rein to choose what team they wanted to play for, there was a perceived tipping of talent into one or two of the teams, leaving others feeling impoverished and hopeless.

“Already, the range of experiences that people have and the coaching efforts around, are starting to balance this out. Delting have a strong squad of female players and are doing well under the guidance of Josie Jamieson. Unst are always strong, managing all the competitions they can, from their remote position.

“There was talk of a Ness team, talk of junior squads and more development fixtures, not to mention hosting a tournament in the isles, another Gramsbergen trip, joining the Scottish league, the Umbro tournament, island games campaigns, going to Faroe to learn from their success, and lots, lots more. The opportunities are endless.

“It would be such a shame to lose it all now, but with the committee constantly battling against a tide of apathy it is no wonder there has been talk of folding the club.

“What we need is someone to come on the committee who has some enthusiasm and can commit a little time to affirming the club’s direction.”

The post of chairman or chairwoman offers an honorarium and anyone interested is asked to contact Karen MacKelvie on 07833 126381, attend the meeting at the Clickimin shooting gallery on 22nd November at 6pm or express their interest on the website at www.shetlandwomensfc.com Meanwhile two games have been organised for early next year, against Dundee United on 16th January and Inverness Ladies the following day. Both will be played on the Garthdee Astroturf pitch in Aberdeen with noon kick-offs.

There will also be winter training every Sunday from 7pm to 9pm at the Clickimin North pitch, open to all with new players especially welcome. The cost will be £15 for all sessions or £2 per session, which will run until Christmas.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.