Impetus editor Ben Gilby spoke to Helston Athletic Women manager Paul Parfitt about the return of women’s football in the Cornish town and how the sport is becoming ever stronger in the Duchy.
Helston originally had a women’s club from 2016-2019 but changes to management and player availability meant that there wasn’t a senior team at the club last season. In January 2020, experienced Cornwall Women’s Football League manager Paul Parfitt was appointed having left Illogan RBL Ladies earlier that season and a new team was formed under the re-branded Helston Athletic Women in order to compete in the 2020-21 season.
Of course, shortly after the manager’s appointment saw the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown. Paul highlighted the consequences of this on the club:
“Obviously with all local football clubs, a lack of revenue has been noticeable during lockdown but the club has a fantastic Chairman, structure and committee so we were well placed when the restrictions were eased. Other than coronavirus, the only real challenge we have ahead of us is the weather, which can make postponements an issue at times.”
You might also be forgiven for thinking that it is not just coronavirus that provides Helston Athletic with a challenge given the duel issues of geography in terms of location and travelling plus the historic popularity of Rugby Union in Cornwall. However, Parfitt believes that is not necessarily the case: “Women’s football is doing well, there are fifteen teams in the Cornwall Women’s Football League (CWFL), with a further three sides playing further up the pyramid in the South-West Women’s Football League (SWWFL).”
One of the real strengths of the club are the excellent links between the men’s and women’s teams. Paul Parfitt explains: “We are well supported by the men’s teams and their First Team manager Steve Massey attends all our matches and occasionally can be seen even running the line for us. It is an arrangement and togetherness that is not present at all clubs sadly, but at Helston the rapport between the senior male and female teams is excellent.”
In the early summer period, Helston Athletic Women made headlines locally with their first ever entry into this season’s Women’s FA Cup. I asked Paul what the club’s aims were for the competition. “Our first aim was to represent the town and club for the first time in the competition and to win our first preliminary round match which we successfully did beating Saltash United Women 5-4. We would like to give a good account of ourselves in the coming round when we travel to Marine Academy Plymouth this coming Sunday and be competitive in the FA Cup matches. We have completed that aim in our first match, so we are now looking to progress further.”
Progression in the Women’s FA Cup is one positive for Helston Athletic, but another is the internal journey within the club from girl’s to women’s football, as Parfitt reveals: “The club has U8, U10, two U12, U14 and U16 girls sides and we currently have two of last seasons U16’s in our Women’s Squad along with half a dozen other players who came up through the youth ranks at the club, many playing for Helston from the age of seven. The pathway is well supported by all.”
Whilst last year’s Women’s World Cup “increased the visibility of Women’s football,” Paul also believes that it has also been successful “for attracting youth players to the game and club. I don’t think it has increased players at adult level but certainly I can see it only as a good thing.”
In terms of unsung heroes at Helston Athletic, Paul Parfitt believes there are many, but there is one person in particular who deserves recognition. “As a manager of a team bringing women’s football back to Helston the biggest supporter for me has been Chairman Paul Hendy. His work and commitment to the club and women’s team has been second to none.”
In terms of the future, Paul Parfitt hopes for “a continued increase in clubs in Cornwall. In respect of Helston Athletic Women, I would like to think that we would have a Development team in the CWFL and our Senior team in the SWWFL.”
Only time will tell, but Helston Athletic’s renaissance has started promisingly enough so far, to make anything possible.