Embracing the game: in conversation with Bath City Community Director, Jane Jones
The Lionesses gained international attention in August this year, their Euro win over Germany signifying the top tier pinnacle of the game of women’s football. Things needed to change, they said afterwards, so that future generations of female players would have the support and opportunities that had not been open to them. Emma Clegg talks to Jane Jones, Community Director at Bath City FC who has recently launched the Bath City Women’s team.
After England’s Lionesses Euro 2022 2–1 win over Germany at Wembley in August – the country’s first major trophy since the men’s side won the World Cup in 1966 – the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “Football has come home! A stunning victory by the Lionesses. Football pitches across the country will be filled as never before by girls and women inspired by your triumph.”
Prime ministers have departed and arrived since then, but Boris’s words still ring true. The Lionesses’ thrilling win has given a new dynamic to women’s football and the sporting aspirations of girls all over the country. It has been described as a ‘legacy win’ that will inspire present and future generations to invest more in women’s football.
This was the luminous highlight of decades of campaigning, promotion, training and competition by those advocating the development of women’s football and those taking part. It had started way back in 1972 when UEFA recommended that national football associations incorporate the women’s game, with the ban on women playing on English Football League Grounds also overturned that year.
After their win at the Euros, the England players wrote an open letter to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, the candidates in the Conservative Party leadership election, in which they declared their “legacy and goal was to inspire a nation”. The letter pointed out that only 63% of British girls could play football in school PE lessons and concluded: “We – the 23 members of the England Senior Women’s EURO Squad – ask you to make it a priority to invest in girls’ football in schools, so that every girl has the choice.”
In tune with the rising prominence of the women’s game just before the Euro win – and with the help of founding sponsor, local financial services firm Novia Financial – Jane Jones was in June appointed as Community Director to Bath City FC with a brief to set up a Bath City Women’s team.
Jane, who works for the team in a voluntary capacity, has the perfect pedigree. Always a massive football fan, she was the Communications Director for the British Paralympic Association (BPA) between 2007 and 2015.
“That was an amazing role,” says Jane. “My first Paralympic games was in 1996 in Atlanta when there were no spectators and very limited TV coverage. When I joined the BPA in 2007, the movement had grown but it took our home games in London for the country to really take Paralympic sport to its heart. I think the success of the women’s team at the Euros has had a similar effect on women’s football.
“An awful lot of women have been playing the game for years,” says Jane, “but what has been transformative for women’s football is that it is now far easier to watch on TV, the Premier League clubs are embracing it more, and we’re seeing larger crowds going to the games.”
The women’s game is absolutely no different to the men’s game … and when you have a thrilling competition it doesn’t really matter who is on the pitch
Jane is passionate about the allure of women’s football. “When you have a thrilling competition it doesn’t really matter who is on the pitch. It’s 11 versus 11. What you want to see is a hotly contested game – that’s what keeps you gripped. I’m hoping I can bring some of what I’ve learned about promoting sport that is sometimes overlooked to the women’s game.
“When I was asked to do this I had support from the FSA (Football Supporters’ Association), who put me in contact with clubs up and down the country who have successful women’s teams. What I found was that not all women’s clubs are part of the main club. They use the name, but aren’t embraced fully by the club. As a community owned club since 2017, our ethos is to be inclusive, therefore we wanted our women to be treated as equally as possible at this level; so everything we do for the club is no longer just for the men, it’s for the men and the women.”
Players were recruited shortly after the funding from Novia Financial was confirmed in May. The first priority was to find a head coach – and Matt Abreu was taken on at the beginning of July. Jane says, “I was keen to get a very good coach because for some women’s teams the standard of coaching hasn’t been the same as in the men’s game. And if you are going to develop, progress and get promoted then it starts with good coaching.
“Matt is local and he’s been coaching football since he was 18. He told us that he didn’t have much interest in the women’s game until he had a daughter, and then he became aware of the fact there were not the same opportunities for girls as there were for his son, in terms of learning the game and playing competitively at a young age.
“We had a recruitment day and from that we got a nucleus of a team. We attracted some experienced players, who had played at a higher level than we are currently playing, but were excited about the opportunity to play in a proper stadium and for a club with the reputation of Bath City. We also got some of the most promising younger girls who were over 16, and a few people in their 20s, looking for a new challenge, and we have carried on slowly adding to the team where we’ve needed to, and we’re still getting enquiries from people.”
The ultimate plan is to have a first team, a reserve team and a development team for Bath City Women.
Jane explains the league system: “The women’s football pyramid has seven tiers and the top tier, the Women’s Super League, is where the likes of Liverpool Women and Manchester City Women play. As a new team we have to start at the bottom in Tier 7, which is the Somerset County Women’s League. We will need to win the league to progress into Tier 6. We are ambitious, though, and want to move up the pyramid as quickly as possible.”
Before the establishment of the new women’s football club at Bath City, the only choice for a girl of 16 wanting to carry on playing locally after school was at Larkhall Athletic, who play in Tier 4 which is a big step up from age-group football, so Bath City Women hope to plug this gap and therefore to keep more girls actively playing.
What has been notable at the matches that have been played since September is the level of support from the younger generation. Jane describes how, “In one recent Sunday morning match the Bath City Youth under 10s team came along as mascots, and afterwards they met the players and asked for autographs, even getting their football boots signed by the players, who are really pleased that they are inspiring the next generation of Bath City Women.”
I ask Jane if she has had any experience of encountering old-school views about football not being a woman’s game. She says, “It is not something I’ve witnessed – I’ve only ever heard supportive comments. I can’t speak for all of the 1200 regulars that go on the terraces, but what I do know is that recently one of our young players, Ceris Evans, scored at Twerton Park. Her mum and dad never miss a men’s home game, and now a women’s game either. Ceris has been volunteering since she was young, has risen up the ranks of Bath City Youth, and now she plays for the women’s team. There was a clip of her goal on social media and that went down really well, because people can see that she is one of our own.
“Obviously we are playing at a different level to the men, but if you have a closely contested game it can be just as gripping as anything that people might be used to seeing at Twerton Park. Entry to our games is free and we want as many people as possible to come along and cheer us on.”
If you are interested in playing for Bath City Women FC, email the club on email@example.com with your name, date of birth, phone number and playing experience, or email with any other queries about playing women’s football locally. Games kick off at 2pm on Sundays; bathcityfc.com