Now that BAFA’s domestic season aka the Sapphire Finals are over we caught up with a few of the tournament teams’ protagonists to see what they made of the event, competition and how they fared against their own expectations.
Welcome Maria Peters - Portsmouth Destroyers’ Club President, Chester Romans’ GM Amanda Staples, Hertfordshire Tornadoes Offensive Coordinator Luke Plastow, Sandwell Steelers GM and Captain Lauren MillS, and Birmingham Lions Club Captain me, Jo Kilby.
Prior to Sapphire kick off what were your teams’ ambitions or goals?
MP: Not to finish last, to win more games than the previous series and to get more people into the sport.
AS: With only entering half the series we were looking at gaining experience, knowledge and team building so we could look to continue improving across our second, development year.
LP: Our aim initially was to enter Opal [BAFA’s equivalent flag competition] to try and bleed in our new players and those who had moved positions, we weren't ready for Opal 1 but improved quickly, finishing 7th overall. We kept training hard so our new offence could make an impact on Sapphire and it soon became apparent that the team had worked hard enough to be in with a chance of a National Championship. We had recruited outstanding rookies and the returners who had switched positions had adapted very well. Defensively we had some stability in the coaching and returners and this really helped with shoring up the team going into Sapphire.
LM: Our goal was to enter our team into a competitive league series for women for the first time, we wanted to be effective and constructive and build on the hard work we’d put in at training.
JK: We’d recruited well over the course of our October rookie camps, so the size of our squad dictated our objectives somewhat, this subsequently drove out a couple of key goals: compete with both teams; retain last year’s national championship; give players opportunity.
Do you think you achieved those ambitions?
MP: We recruited 17 members which was a record for the team so we were able to get more people into and involved with the sport, however we were unable to field a team for two rounds so as a result we ended up finishing the Series last which was a big disappointment considering the talent we had on the team.
AS: Very much so, nothing bonds a team more than stepping out on that field together and the experience/knowledge gained was invaluable, even analysing the footage afterwards makes great steps towards improvement.
LP: We caught a few teams napping who weren’t expecting the high paced physicality the Tornadoes brought and whilst we struggled to overcome the Warriors at Sapphire 3 this gave us the shot we needed. We lost to Birmingham in the final again, which to the casual observer may seem like we hadn't improved on last year, but with a new offence and a lot of freshers it was actually an outstanding achievement.
LM: We definitely met our goals and were very pleased with the experience that all our players obtained from taking part. Additionally winning two of our games was the icing on the cake for us.
JK: Yes. Our two teams finished 1st and 3rd in their conferences and 1st and 7th nationally, our rookies got a lot of game time, our returners continued to deliver and thankfully, we retained our British title – we also sent 22 girls to BAFA’s recent GB trials and 15 Lions were selected.
Did you find the standard of play across the competition higher, lower or about the same as expected?
MP: There was a higher standard of play with more talent across the competition.
AS: Similar but slightly higher.
LP: I wasn't involved in Sapphire last year but the standard varied from team to team. When it got down to the crunch matches the competition was fantastic.
LM: The standard of play across the competition was very high. It was great to see a number of new team competing at a very high standard.
JK: Overall standards definitely improved, better athletes are entering the game (and that showed) and coaches are coming in to the game with aspirations to make women’s’ teams better rather than just ‘helping out’ as temporary measures.
How do you think the competition could have been improved
and what would you like to see different about it next season?
MP: Officials need to make calls that help rookies, their team and the game progress. A bit more consistency is needed.
AS: It was very well organised, my only criticism would be the number of games on finals day - although they were shortened, we struggled mid-way through the second game with fatigue and injuries (including a serious one). If it could be possible all tournaments should only be two games for each team and maybe the larger squads could take on three.
LP: Next year I'd love to see even more teams competing at 5's and possibly even a 7-a-side competition for those with larger squads.
LM: It would have been good to have played all of the teams within your conference rather than just a selection (sometimes twice). It would also be great to see the introduction of different formats next year.
JK: All the events seemed to run smoothly, but as the competition grows venues will need to accommodate the increased logistical challenge; it was also a bit disappointing that game durations were reduced and running play-off finals all at the same time meant no one set of teams get the undivided attention they deserved for their final games; next season? we’d be keen to break in to a new 7s or 8s format, that would suit our squad size but it would quickly develop women’s football and keep the ever-important lineman properly and effectively in the game.
Who were your team's stand out players?
MP: Laura Howarth, Tierney Harman, Marlene Otert-Enning and myself were all fortunate enough to receive MVP awards.
AS: Faye Griffiths #2, DB: racked up plenty of broken plays, provided great coverage and her tackling was super; Laura Dye #99, LB & RB: Laura is our hardest hitter both sides of the ball and she had both Defensive and Offensive touchdowns and Rhian McGraa #38, RB: "Superstar" has scored most of our touchdowns and is a raw talent, with more experience and training she will devastate teams in the future.
LP: Hard to answer because at every tournament someone stepped up. Offensively our rookie centre Alex Lily took on the best linemen in the country and did a great job. Angelina Diamanitidi switched to the O and put her body on the line blocking admirably for rookies like Amy Hunt-Brown who scored 9 TDs in her first ever contact tournament. Defensively, Fern Sahidjuan was all over the place taking down girls twice her size (literally) without fail. Vicci Rollinson joined us from Sandwell and just ruined offences.
LM: Many of our players really stood out to our coaching staff during the series however to name a few would be Chloe Jones and Sydney Green.
JK: Man, how do you answer this – shout outs must go to Elisha Huxtable on the A squad, an October rookie she was a Guard in France (when we played 9s) and only moved to Centre at the end of January, two weeks before Sapphire 1 - she never gave up a sack or one shot on her QB! For the B team, Chloe Spalding and Hannah Watson excelled on the D and a host of rookies, Laura Thompson-Stevens, Sophie Etheridge and Caz Goodman did very good things.
Where does your team go from here?
MP: Next season we need to recruit and we need to get back into training and show the talent that Portsmouth has. We can only improve.
AS: We’ll continue training and improving until June and then attend the 11-aside Diamond Series where we can. Next season we hope to recruit a bigger coaching staff and move from strength to strength with a view to entering the whole of 2016’s Sapphire Series.
LP: Our aim is to retain all our players. The Tornadoes didn't do that last year and we had to rebuild. If we can retain everyone and recruit as well next season as we did this we should be aiming to go one better.
LM: We would like to continue developing our players and continue with our recruitment.
JK: A great number of our squad haven’t had a break for 2yrs due to GB commitments so after August (“if” we’re involved in the European Championships) we’ll have a good off-season so both our players and coaches can rest and recharge. Moving forward we’ve grand plans for season three already and if IFAF’s European Club Championships gets off the ground we’d love to be involved…this would represent an enormous challenge to be competitive in this arena, but that’s what motivates us.
The Great Britain Lions squad for the European qualifying game against Russia has been announced and with our first camp of the international season scheduled this weekend things are starting to get both exciting and serious as we commence our build up to Sunday 3rd May’s all-important game.
Having been lucky enough to have been involved in both GB’s inaugural 5-aside and 11-aside games (both against Sweden, home and away respectively) it’s now time for the gloves to come off – this is a qualifier not a friendly; if we win, we progress to the European Championships in Spain in a few months’ time – this will no doubt act as a defining moment in the development of the women’s game in UK, saying nothing for the experiences those players and coaches fortunate enough to attend will gain, however, if we lose, well put it like this, the summer isn’t going to be half as much fun as it might have been!
So what are our chances? Good I hope. The squad assembled by GB Women’s Head Coach Jim Messenger and his coaching staff looks good and includes quite a few new faces which are going to be exciting to be around. Players like Herts’ WR Amy Hunt-Brown, Manchester QB Sian Perry and Teesside’s Becky Martin on the D-Line all look like strong and exciting prospects, combine those guys with some exceptional incumbents – my own team-mates Ruth Matta and Hannah Pye on the offense and Phoebe Schecter and Nancy Stone on the defense for example, alongside the likes of Solent’s Julia Robinson and Teesside’s talisman Bev Marwood and there’s a fantastic game-day squad vying for selection. As for Russia, I’ve no doubt they’re going to be a tall order - a country of strength and resilience I’ve every expectation their athletes will be both equipped to deliver in equal fashion.
Playing for a place in Augusts’ European Championships (to be held in Granada, Spain) will no doubt add a large dose of pressure and tension to proceedings – that the result may well come down to which team can handle such pressure accordingly will only be known on the day, either way, a week-Sunday’s clash promises to be an exciting affair:, who will own the yards on the offense? Who will shut-down who’s game? Who’s special teams will dictate possession and territory? It’s all to play for, it all counts, it all matters so where are you going to be on Sunday 3rd May, because hopefully, if we get things right, we’re going to be making history…first Great Britain women’s team to attend and represent at a European Championships? That sounds nice doesn’t it?
Great Britain vs. Russia is scheduled for a 2.30pm kick off, Sunday 3rd May at the University of Hertfordshire (De Havilland Campus, Mosquito Way, Hatfield, Herts., AL10 9UF).
Great Britain Practice Squad:
Pye, Hannah (TE/WR) - Birmingham
Cottingham, Aimee (DL) - Birmingham Lions
de Haven, Steph (RB) - Birmingham Lions
Etheridge, Sophie (WR) - Birmingham Lions
Gwynne, Michelle (OL) - Birmingham Lions
Harrison, Evie (WR) - Birmingham Lions
Kilby, Jo (QB) - Birmingham Lions
Killick, Nena (DB) - Birmingham
Law, Victoria (LB) - Birmingham Lions
Matta, Ruth (RB) - Birmingham Lions
Moore, Laura (LB) - Birmingham Lions
Morgan, Antoinette (RB) - Birmingham Lions
Schecter, Phoebe (LB) - Birmingham
Smith, Alice Mary (LB) - Birmingham Lions
Stone, Nancy (DB) - Birmingham Lions
Lewinska, Monica (DL) - Derby Braves
Raymont, Danielle (DL) - Derby Braves
Wong, Collette (DB) - Derby Braves
Snell, Verity (LB) - Derby Braves
Drew, Polly (OL) - Derby Braves
Fitzsimmons, Louise (OL) - Manchester Titans
Parkinson, Emily (LB) - Manchester
Perry, Sian (QB) - Manchester Titans
Goodliffe, Jayne (RB) - Unsigned
Mills, Lauren (OL) - Sandwell Steelers
Dela Cruz, Angelie (QB) - Iceni Spears
Mann, Joanne (DB) - Teesside
Martin, Rebecca (DL) - Teesside Steelers
Riggall, Emma (WR) - Teesside Steelers
Marwood, Beverley (DB) - Teesside Steelers
Robson, Lindsey (OL) - Teesside Steelers
Mott, Lucy (OL) - London Warriors
Anderson, Jessica (TE/WR) - Hertfordshire
Casey, Amanda (LB) - Hertfordshire Tornadoes
Davis, Clare (Oli) (WR) - Hertfordshire Tornadoes
Hunt-Brown, Amy (TE/WR) - Hertfordshire
Kersse, Sian (RB) - Hertfordshire Tornadoes
Rollinson, Vicci (DL) - Hertfordshire Tornadoes
Hand, Samantha (DB) - Hertfordshire Tornadoes
Seymour, Dawn (OL) - Solent Thrashers
Robinson, Julia (DB) - Solent Thrashers
So what is it like changing sides? Is the other side of the fence greener? After a season in the O as Running Back for Birmingham Lions and then Great Britain why did I switch to Defense.
Lions Coach Defensive Coordinator James Branagh spoke to me pre season and asked if I would run at D for the 2015 Season and I agreed as it helped the team out. I have always been able to pretty much turn my hand to any position in a team in most sports and thought it would be great to get exposure the other side of the ball. Plus on a personal note it would be great to be the “Hunter and not the Hunted” for a while. As a running back every carry, every yard made or lost is under scrutiny. You set off heart thumping with every snap, adrenaline pumping desperate to get the yards. Not only thinking about the hand off, the route, the lane the O Line are trying to create but thinking about where are those linebackers, the hunters, the players nightmares are made of looking to light you up so they can whoop and holler and high five each other. Now I would be one of them. The menaces, the self proclaimed team athletes.
Pre season practises under my belt and a fantastic opportunity to play outside linebacker in France earlier this year in Birmingham Lions friendly international game against Paris Sparkles cemented me in to the D. With the Lions defending the UK championship hitting the ground running was the call and being in a defense known for its hard hitting, no messing, power houses I had to find that Hunter in me and make running backs my prey. Lining them up, ready for that big hit, my time to deliver and BOOM! Impact, force, collision, high fives, whoops, cheers! Why did I ever think this might not be for me? Who wants to get hunted when you can be a hunter.
The BAFA Women’s Sapphire Series comes to an exciting conclusion today as the teams battle it out to be crowned champions.
The event started early at the University of Derby, home of the Derby Braves who will be looking to finish high in the rankings after an impressive season so far.
Overall 13 teams are in action as they look to finish as high up in the rankings as possible. The team to beat are the formidable Birmingham Lions as they are currently unbeaten in their 6 games to date and have outscored opponents 319-6.
They are only one game ahead of Leeds Beckett who has had an impressive season, and then the Teesside Steelers and Braves come in with a 4-2 record. Manchester Titans are currently 2-4, with Edinburgh Wolves yet to pick up a win. The Northern Conference is held up by two teams that will not complete a full slate of games; they are the Sandwell Steelers at 1-3 and Chester Romans at 0-2.
In the South it’s the Hertfordshire Tornadoes who are leading the way, also with a 6-0 record and the main threat to the Lions dominance. London Warriors follow at 5-1, and the Lions B side hold a 3-3 mark. The Royal Holloway Bears are 2-4, and Solent Iceni have just a single win coming into this weekend. Portsmouth Destroyers are 1-3.
It will be another action packed day and we aim to bring you all the results and a summary of the day very soon. Good luck to all involved as the Women’s game goes from strength to strength.
With the Women’s game gaining momentum up and down the country, and of course it’s successful foray into Europe late last year with the Great Britain team defeating Sweden in Stockholm, it was perhaps only a matter of time before a club game was organised on the continent.
The Birmingham Lions, arguably the best team currently in the UK, have been a driving force in both promoting and supporting the growth of the game here. Only fitting then that they are the team to cross the channel in another first for the British women’s game.
On January 31st the Lions will travel 20km south of Paris to Villeneuve St.Georges to take on Les Sparkles in a 9v9 fully kited game. The French side will be taking a step down from their usual 11-a-side format, but this is also beneficial as they prepare for their federations first national championship in a couple of months.
“It’s going to be a significant challenge, we were only established in January 2014 and the only experience we’ve had (greater than 5-a-side) is with our Great Britain representatives last summer.” said Club Captain and quarterback Jo Kilby, “we want to keep raising the bar for the Lions and the sport as a whole”
A squad of 40 will travel the day before the game in preparation for the next day’s kickoff at 2pm. The game will be played at Stade Gerard Roussel.
Image courtesy of Whizzyfingers Photography; Graphics - Jean-Paul J Neveu
If you weren’t already aware more and more women are picking up the pads and putting on a lid in this country, it is one of the fastest growing participation sports and has several ways to start playing. From organised flag football through to full 11v11 kitted, if you want to play there’s a way.
We have been lucky enough in the past year to have two of Great Britain team players write for the site, and we’ve been quite active in following the women’s game.
There is development days each month and the popular Sapphire Series will once again be upon us. If you would like to know more you can follow them on twitter @BAFAWomen or contact Jim Messenger who is the Head of Women’s football directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
2015 is looking bigger and brighter than ever before. Confirmation that Great Britain will be playing a European Championship Qualifier against Russia, this has come off the back of a successful first ever 11v11 full kitted game against Sweden in Stockholm.
This trip was documented and put onto a video which put together by Luke Plastow who also is the Defensive Line coach for the team. Hopefully this film will give you great insight, and give you the incentive to start playing.
Taking on Sweden will be a team assignment
All the practice we can do has now been done, we know our play-books, and we’ve got our
schedule, our travel documents and our uniforms: it now feels like we’re one team, on one mission. It’s no longer about our club sides, in fact it hasn’t been for some time, which thankfully is as it
should be as I’ve always thought the biggest challenge facing us was in regards to our ability to gel and bond as a group, coaches and staff included. More so than getting everything absolutely right
on the day, our greatest strength now will lie in our unity - we get that right and everything else will look after itself, whatever the final result.
And surely that’s what it’s all about no? Performing to the best of your ability so as to ensure your
team performs to the best of its ability. For 90% of the team, the first game of 11 aside football we’ve had was against each other, and that took place at the end of June, this year! A couple of
months practice for the newly formed Great Britain team doesn’t match-up to the experience the Swedish team already has under their belt, so we must accept the challenge we face and embrace it…
and personally, I can’t wait.
Heart and passion, guts and glory, we’re going to Sweden to compete, to the very last whistle, but
we’re also going to learn, to absorb, to soak up the pressure, the hits, the completions, the tackles, the touchdowns(?!) and everything in between. All of it, this opportunity kindly afforded us by
Sweden's hospitality, will hopefully act as a spring-board for women’s football in this country, so that in the months and years to come, we don’t just turn up on foreign shores expecting to simply
gain experience, but instead, to contend, to battle and to win.
Who knows what will happen on Saturday. I hope we raise a few eyebrows, maybe create a few waves across Europe, but one thing I do know for sure is that after taking the field together, come the game’s final play, we’ll be walking off of it proud of what we’ve achieved in representing Great Britain Women’s American Football
Diamond 3 has been and gone, a strong showing from the Red Diamonds helping them to the inaugural BAFA Diamond Series title, with two wins out of three. With only a handful of days’ 11 a-side experience underneath the majority of players’ belts a good display of run, pass and defensive scores evidenced a successful game - from Great Britain Head Coach Jim Messenger’s point of view: “These women came together from a variety of clubs and backgrounds, some with no football experience at all, to play the full version of the game for the first time. This is a remarkable achievement and our players, coaches and all involved behind the scenes should be very proud of what has been achieved so far.”
Proud indeed, but a broad smile and pats on backs don’t stop there as Coach Messenger, from this small group of pioneers, has now assembled a first ever fully sanctioned Great Britain Women’s team - who will be travelling to Stockholm for a September 20th fixture against the well-established Swedish national side. We caught up with a few of the newly assembled team to see how they felt about the challenge that lies ahead and about what making BAFA-history feels like:
“It’s all starting to sink in now” observed Lions’ QB Jo Kilby “We’ve had a couple of training sessions and whilst we’re making progress, we’re under no illusions as to the size of the task that lies ahead – to take on an experienced and well-organised outfit like Sweden, in Stockholm, with limited experience of the full version of the game is going to be a fixture of David and Goliath proportions, but you have to love the challenge, right?”
Indeed you have, in fact being under-dogs is surely a cherished tag for these Brits, “…well it certainly manages expectations doesn’t it!” commented Kilby with a wry grin, but don’t be too deceived, amongst the 40-woman squad due to travel to Stockholm, Great Britain have assembled a core of keen athletes, including those with previous international sports’ experience: “It just adds to our dynamic” offers Teesside Steeler, Bev Marwood, "The fundamentals of most sports are transferrable so what we gain from these personnel is not just their physical prowess but their vital experience within these sorts of high-pressured, high-intensity environments.”
BAFA’s first ever Great Britain Women’s American Football team to face Sweden in Stockholm on Saturday 20th Saturday, has followed National Championship form, and as such is dominated by the Birmingham Lions, but a number of rookies, pleasingly unearthed through the Diamond Series this summer, also feature:
Nena Killick (DB)
Jo Kilby (QB)
Nancy Stone (DB)
Aimee Cottingham (DL)
Michelle Gwynne (OL)
Alice-Mary Smith (LB)
Polly Danks (OL)
Laura Moore (RB)
Phoebe Schecter (LB)
Steph De-Haven (RB)
Ruth Matta (RB)
Antoinette Morgan (RB)
Jemma Nixon (LB)
Michelle Ruddock (DL)
Becky Williams (DL)
Amanda Casey (LB)
Sarah Glassborrow (WR)
Charlotte Lewis (DL)
Joanne Mann (DB)
Beverley Marwood (WR)
Emma Riggall (WR)
Lindsey Robson (OL)
Samantha Hand (DB)
Danielle Raymont (DL)
Verity Snell (LB)
Laura Hill (OL)
Victoria Law (LB)
Lauren Mills (OL)
Vicci Rollinson (DL)
Hannah Pye (WR)
Cornish Tiger Sharks
Haley Gillians (OL)
Angelie Dela Cruz (QB)
Julia Robinson (DB)
Lucy Mott (OL)
Jenna Alnajar (QB)
Sian Kersse (RB)
Clare Davies (WR)
Hollie Roach (DL
Dawn Seymour (LB)
Collette Wong (DB)
“We will try to build on the abilities we have in compensating for our players legitimate lack of football knowledge” added Coach Messenger, “there's no short-cut to obtaining experience in sport, you have to play to gain that and this a great learning opportunity for us as we look to build a team that can genuinely challenge internationally in the future. Equally, this event is about elevating the profile and awareness of American Football for women in the UK so we can grow the sport and look to having a bigger pool of players for future GB selections."
Such ambition is shared by many as the team look to themselves and each other to also help progress the sport; “…this feels like an opportunity to do something important for women in sport” offered rookie, Collete Wong, “I feel immensely proud to be representing my country and I can’t say enough good things about how challenging, rewarding and exciting this sport is. I’ve now got 39 new team-mates who I want to work hard for so we can all do ourselves proud come September 20th.”
Opportunity. Excitement. Pride. These aren’t a bad set of motifs coming out of the women’s game at the moment, so should this be the only thing that BAFA judges the success of its latest endeavour on, we’d say things are looking pretty good for the women’s football right about now. We’ll bring you more news of our Great Britain Women in the build up to their departure to Sweden, but for now good luck to all the team and staff with their preparations.
The BAFA Women’s Diamond Series was played out to great acclaim and huge participation. As well as a platform for getting the Women’s game in tune for 11v11, it was also acted as trials for the upcoming Team GB visit to Sweden in late September.
After evaluating the talent on hand during the three Diamond games it was time to select a provisional practice squad for this month’s scrimmages.
Below is a list of those that were lucky enough to have their names called.
Dela Cruz, Angelie
The University of Hertfordshire and their superb facilities again playing host to BAFA’s fast-progressing women’s development programme saw some superb displays on show as players with more confidence and familiarity started to come to the fore.
Things couldn’t have started any better for the Red Diamonds than they did courtesy of Teesside Steelers’ Bev Marwood’s 45 yard opening kick-off return. With field position and the bit firmly between their teeth the Red’s would not be stopped this far out and crashed over on play three for the opening score, Lions’ Ruth Matta cutting against the grain to scythe through the coverage (6-0).
Blue team linebacker Phoebe Schecter cameoing on the kick off made good yards on the ensuing return to set her team up 33 yards out and with unsigned Sian Kersse starting off where she left things in game one it wasn’t long before she crashed into the end zone to level things up (6-6).
With the next phase of Red play proving less than progressive Hertfordshire’s Tornado Sarah Glassborrow moved from Receiver to Punter to ease the pressure and that she did with a fine 40 yard kick. The Blues started their drive effectively enough but some loose handling from go-to Running Back Kersse allowed the Red’s to pounce and the first turnover of the day was announced.
Some great down field blocking by unsigned Oli Davies and Northants’ Titans flag specialist Hannah Pye, made the room for a big carry from Lions’ running back Laura Moore but the drive stalled there after a series of back-field mis-fires required the punt team to return to the field.
As per last week both defences then stepped up to dictate play, red zone encounters from the Red Diamonds on two occasions proved fruitless as the D-line, on both sides of the ball, worked tirelessly to harry and hustle.
The teams were split apart shortly before half-time courtesy of a compromised punt snap - Marwood’s pressure paying dividends as she charged and recovered the Blue’s kick in the end zone for the score that would see the Red Diamonds break clear and never look back (12-6).
A well-constructed touchdown by the Red team, orchestrated by Quarterback Jo Kilby, delivered by her O-line and finished off by Matta’s silky lines was suitable reward for a great team drive that travelled from third to fourth quarter and helped to control the clock (18-6).
The Blue team had their chances to respond and whilst it wasn’t endeavour they lacked, it was application - ball control proving their Achilles heel - and with Laura Hill and Julia Robinson becoming ever more dominant for the Red team’s defence fumbles and turnovers ensued, simply handing possession back to growing-in-confidence Red’s – who again delivered, Marwood grabbing the honours, but with more than a pat on the back for Pye who in sealing her Corner gave the Steeler the outside and the final score of the day (24-6).
The Red and Blue Diamonds next take to the field on Saturday 26th July at Bedford International Stadium for a winner takes all decider. Kick-off is 2.30pm, Supporters very welcome.
For the first ever BAFA Diamond Series game of women’s 11 a-side football in the UK you’d think the game would have been a fractured affair – the overwhelming majority of girls having never played the full version of the game before, the defense having owned the offense for the main-stay of previous practice sessions, just two reasons to cause concern, but the truth of the matter is, it wasn’t.
Playing, as we were, to full game rules, but 12 minute quarters, by the time we got on the field it was almost time to come off, a certain case of time flies when you’re having fun most certainly being the apt descriptor in this scenario.
Immediately upon taking the field the Red Diamond’s offense moved the chains, good carries from Birmingham Lion’s running back, Ruth Matta, as well as multiple receptions from Northants Titans’ Hannah Pye, pressuring the Blue Diamonds hard-working defense, but whilst they flexed they would not break, and with nothing to show for their endeavours the Reds handed over the ball 28yds out.
The Blue team’s offense however were taking no prisoners, an impressive debut from (unsigned rookie) Sian Kersse saw her stealing yards galore on her way to the end-zone and with a two-PAT attempted but not converted the nominated away-side stole first blood together with the lead and relinquished neither for the remainder of the game.
Following a much needed breather the second quarter was a more mooted affair with both sides cancelling each other out following the frenzy of kick off. Birmingham’s Nancy Stone took her team-mate Laura Moore’s punt back for a fine gain before the end of the half but with the Red team’s defence in no further mood for conviviality, there was nothing further coming as Teesside Steelers Bev Marwood’s unit closed the door on the half.
The second half period started with the Blue defence turning the screw, Hertfordshire Tornado Amanda Casey in tandem with Derby Brave Verity Snell both policing from line-backer, started to quash the easier yards the red’s had taken earlier in the game – the contest soon thereafter descended into a battle of wills and as such a battle of defences, but it was again the Blue’s who came out on top – Birmingham Strong Safety Nena Killick, picking the interception, retuned for a touchdown, to kill off the game (0-12).
With some impressive performances from a number of first timers including the aforementioned Kersse, Sandwell Steelers Natalie Taylor as well as a thoroughly compelling tackling display from (the currently unsigned) Dawn Seymour - the future looks pretty bright for BAFA’s Diamond Series right about now – and with Game 2 only a few days away, we ask: where are you going to be?
Diamond Series Game 2 – University of Hertfordshire (De Havilland Campus), Kick off 4pm
Fully kitted Women’s American Football is becoming a real force to be reckoned with in the UK over the past year. The USA has been the world leaders for decades. Women doing combat, pitting themselves against each other physically and mentally, building the bond of team sport.
There are other versions of the sport and I wanted to look at the LFL – Lingerie Football League, not in a direct comparison to fully kitted but maybe as an insight to the LFL.
LFL style football in the UK is not a big crowd puller and it has barely got off the ground (Ed.note: it has since been brought to our attention that founder of the LFL, Mitch Mortaza, is keen to relaunch the LFL in the UK) but I spoke to Phoebe Schecter Birmingham Lions and GB Linebacker, Defensive MVP 2014 who has played LFL before converting to fully kitted football.
When Phoebe came over to the UK from the USA she tried out for LFL Manchester and made the team, they had practises and promotional events but nothing further. The franchise is now in hibernation.
Laura Moore – Do you think LFL players could stand up to the brutality and physicality of kitted games?
Phoebe Schecter – There are some serious athletes that play LFL on both offense and defence, some people maybe don’t see past the uniform
LM – Kitted football has a variety of build types playing the game. I have never seen a typical D Line player starring in the advertisements. Is this because they would not be included or encouraged to play LFL?
PS – I am not sure they would necessarily be discouraged but I believe it would not be encouraged. Unfortunately not many people want to watch ‘bigger’ girls running around in smaller sized uniforms.
LM – If these women are athletes why do they choose in your opinion to play in a bikini and with little protection?
PS – I think originally it was a way to play a sport they loved and get paid some sort of benefit. Unfortunately as all female American football players know we all have to pay to play with no sign of being treated like men’s teams any time soon. I think that it is great that these girls are proud of their bodies and how much hard work they put into them. To me being muscular and athletic is a better role model than skinny and unrealistic
LM – Do you think LFL teams are able to gain sponsorship and publicity more readily than kitted teams?
PS – Even though I don’t agree with it, I do think the LFL will have an easier time getting promoted. They reach out to a specific population of students and men. Guys go and enjoy their favourite three things –Beer, Women and sport all in one location.
Now the LFL in the UK is small fry compared to what it has been previously in the US but it’s fizzled out even there. Have people realised its gimmick, are people now wanting to watch Women play the game fully kitted and compete at the highest level with the same kit, the same rules and the same passion as the men. One of the worlds highest profile female footballers Jen Welter agreed to give her take on LFL. She has been playing for 13 seasons in Women’s Pro football and this season was the first female Running Back to play Men’s Pro football with Texas Revolution. Her honours and achievements are a credit to her hard work and dedication.
Laura Moore – What is your opinion of the LFL?
Jen Welter – The LFL is an entertainment experience designed to suit the male desire to see women in lingerie playing a game of football. The rules are modified to make it more like flag than like professional football. Women playing in full kit challenges what were once viewed as the final frontier in sports. It is empowering. It shows women can do anything, and that girls can be anything when they grow up. Playing a modified, pacified, half dressed version of football shows that women are valued as spectacles rather than serious athletes.
LM – Do you think LFL players could as a whole stand up to the physicality/brutality of kitted games?
JW – The question really is about the motivation of the players. Do players in lingerie care more about showing their bodies or playing football? And no I don’t. Though some of the lingerie players have played and could play kitted football, the majority could not and have chosen not to.
To be perfectly blunt in 2013 there were open try outs for Team USA, and out of well over 200 of the absolute best players in the USA, only 1 was from the LFL. If you really believed you were among the elite football players in the world, would you want to represent your country?
LM – I have never seen what is a typical O Line/D line build of player starring in LFL games or advertisements. Is this because they would not be included or encouraged to play by LFL teams?
JW – LFL teams have image standards, so no, there is no place in the LFL for the female equivalent of what you would see in the NFL playing on the O Line or D Line. Players are chosen on image first, ability only after the image requirements are fulfilled. Further, I have heard from girls who were benched for games due to “weight violations.”
LM – If these women are sports orientated and athletic why do they choose in your opinion to play in a bikini and with limited protection?
JW – Again this goes back to primary motivation. Are you interested in promoting yourself as a model or an athlete first, and how do you want others to see you? I personally know I could not be the player I am without proper gear and full kit. I would have turf burn covering my entire body, and that doesn’t look or feel good.
LM – Does the publicity and the larger crowds pull women away from the kitted game?
JW – In some cases yes. However the LFL is all sizzle and little substance. There are many cases of burned bridges and false promises. The league uses girls, and everyone is deemed replaceable.
LM – In the USA do LFL teams get more in the way of publicity and sponsorship?
JW – All I can say is that the perception you seem to have of the LFL is not the reality here in the states. Though there was once a pop of interest it was short lived. It never picked up the way it was initially billed which led to a downgrade in quality of players, venues, coaches and sponsors. Too many people saw there was really no substance in the LFL organisation. When the USA figured out the truth, that’s when they targeted other countries that were less football savvy. It’s unfortunate really. I hate to think that other countries believe it is actually viewed as football here in the states.
I have to say a huge thanks to Jen Welter for her time and completely honest viewpoint on what the LFL is, has been and certainly isn’t in the States. Her opinion and her clarity of some of the finer details of LFL certainly raise a few eyebrows. I guess questions is leaves me with are did it never take off herein the UK fully as women just didn’t get behind it, saw through the hype and realised it wasn’t going anywhere? Did the women involved with LFL in the UK as Phoebe Schecter mentioned in her motivation just want to play football and have that as their only available version at the time?
I know of a handful of players in the UK who have come from an LFL background including Phoebe and they are up there battling, fighting and smashing fully kitted football, these women are athletes. But as rightly pointed out by Jen that’s down to their personal motivation and what they see themselves as in the start. Model or Athlete?
What is clear to see from both interviews is that these women are fully focused and committed to the game. Kitted football for women, playing hard, training hard and believing in themselves and the team.
The National Sapphire Finals have been and gone but instead of sitting back and revelling in the last few months, the caretakers of our game aren’t standing still, they’re moving onwards and upwards and taking the game with them….welcome to the first ever, Diamond Series!
Diamond football is BAFA’s brain-child and with its inception, it hopes 11 aside women’s football will be borne, or at the very least introduced and then trialled by a first ever Great Britain women’s team.
Since May players have been attending BAFA sponsored development sessions in order to learn and up-skill themselves in the fundamentals of 11 aside football, all in preparation for a series of three games to be played between the Red Diamonds and the Blue Diamonds - the first of which kicks off this Saturday at 2.30pm at the University of Hertfordshire.
“This time last year we had less than 60 women playing football” commented GB women’s Head Coach Jim Messenger , “…but in the last 12 months participation has increased by more than 300%; the progress at our pre-Diamond development days has been excellent and the high attendances have allowed us to progress at a great pace”
With opportunities and numbers on the rise, so also, are new teams – last year’s GB captain, Bev Marwood is a player and General Manager at the newly formed Teesside Steelers: “Women's football in the UK is being taken seriously and it’s growing, there are new players out there ready for the 11 aside challenge and the Diamond Series is going to be a massive opportunity for them and everyone involved.”
Everyone like Birmingham Lions’ cornerback Jemma Nixon….“it's amazing that I could be in with a chance of representing Great Britain in a sport I only took up five months ago. I’m hoping to learn new skills playing Diamond football and to bench-mark myself against some of the best players in the country.”
Having cleverly combined both participation with opportunity right from the start (rather than devise an elite pathway that segregates the perceived ‘best’ from ‘the rest’) BAFA are now happily reaping the rewards – numbers are up, interest is high, standards are rising. “Development days and Diamond football is about giving people of all shapes and sizes, backgrounds and abilities the chance to play and to be a part of our community”, affirms Hertfordshire Tornado and GB line-backer Amanda Casey, “that’s the simplest reason why we’re seeing women’s football in this country grow because people who want to play, can and people who do, enjoy it!”
With each Diamond team running the same play-book, all games will take place under the watchful eyes of Great Britain Head Coach Messenger and his coaching staff, who will subsequently select their first ever 11-aside national squad directly from the Diamond Series contingent.
Exciting times lie ahead for women’s American Football in this country, and one might say, it’s no less than this industrious bunch deserve. To follow their progress, or to get involved, visit facebook.com/BAFAWomen for more information.
Diamond dates: 28th June @ University of Hertfordshire (De Havilland campus), 12th July @ Lichfield Rugby Club and 26th July @ Bedford International Stadium.
Just recently the Womens Sapphire Series was played out to its conclusion on a terrific Finals Day played at Lichfield Rugby ground. The Sapphire event has been a huge success in the development and growth of the sport here in the UK. It is a 5v5 game that is fast and furious and as you will see below from the highlight reel there are some dynamic plays. The clip is of the Birminham Lions, who after a slow start to the campaign ended up at the top of the rankings and ran out comfortable winners against the Hertfordshire Tornadoes.
We will be bringing you much more coverage over the coming weeks as the development days continue and the GB trials begin. For now enjoy the highlights of the Lions season.