Impetus are proud to be joint-sponsors of Sutton United Women’s Olivia Watson. One of Olivia’s early football experiences came at local girls side Beecholme Belles. Ben Gilby spoke to the club about their set up, challenges and how they remember Olivia.
Can you tell us about the journey that girls’ football has taken at Beecholme? Gary Tuhill and Ray Watson, who were frustrated at the lack of opportunities for girls to play competitive football, established Beecholme Belles in 2000. The team was made up of sisters and friends of a Beecholme Colts boys team.
In 2001 there were enough other clubs to join the Belles in the Surrey County Women’s & Girls League. The Under 11s at that time went on to win the League, League Cup and County Cup treble! The Under 10 team – which included a number of Under 8s and Under 9s – went on to be the runners up.
Since then our teams have had mixed results but Beecholme remains at our original Council owned ground in Banstead and is still a club run by parent volunteers dedicated to giving girls the opportunities in football that boys readily enjoy.
Towards the end of last year, we annonuced the joint sponsorship of Olivia Watson at Sutton United. Olivia started her footballing journey with you at Beecholme Belles. How is she remembered at the club? Libby’s potential was spotted by Jim Hobern who was one of our manager / coaches at the time. Jim was coaching at a local primary school tournament and remembers speaking to her mum and being surprised to hear Libby wasn’t already a member of a club. Jim said: “After the footie tournament I asked Libby who she played for, as I didn’t recognise her from other sides in the league, she said she had never played before and was easily girl of the tournament. I left Beecholme’s details and didn’t hear anything until we played a netball tournament at Shawley and she again was girl of the tournament. But fortunately her mother, Vanessa was there, and I managed to convince her that Libby should come and see if she likes football at Beecholme and the rest is history.“ Libby joined Jim’s team in 2008 and finished as an Under 18 in 2015/16 when her team won the Surrey League Challenge Cup and were Surrey County League Champions under the management of Jim Hobern and Jim Carter.
At that time the Club didn’t have a women’s team so Jim negotiated with Kingstonian LFC and a lot of the team transferred. A strong bond was formed both on and off the pitch and the girls still keep in touch. Beecholme tries to continue that ethos of not only allowing the girls to develop their football skills but also their social skills and confidence. We recognise some girls will continue to play football but that all of them can go on to become confident and happy women in whatever they do.
What sort of proportion of girls have gone on from Beecholme Belles to play senior women’s football? We don’t have the capacity to keep track, but we do know that Libby is one of 6 former Belles playing at Sutton United:- Sophia Demetriou (U21s Captain), Erin McNicholas, Fern Colepio, Georgina Wicks & Ellie Denton. Other players have moved on to Mole Valley, Tooting Bec WFC, Roffey FCW and Walton Casuals LFC as well as playing at university or on scholarships in the United States. Some younger players have moved on to Chelsea or Brighton & Hove Albion. It works both ways though because we also accept players who have played at Chelsea or Brighton & Hove Albion!
We started our first women’s team in 2019 so there is now the opportunity for girls over 16 / women to play in the County Flexi League. This is an area that has seen rapid growth over the last few years with fantastic support from Surrey County FA.
How have things been since outbreak of coronavirus? How has it impacted on the club? The biggest impact is the cessation of football training and play. When we were presented with the guidelines from the FA and Government last summer we developed a Covid Plan, appointed a Club Covid Officer and parent volunteers from every team stepped up to act as Covid Marshals. That very quickly helped us to take the necessary precautions and allow (initially small) group training to restart. Approximately 95% of players returned to weekly training which we managed to arrange throughout the summer with the help of our volunteer managers / coaches. We saw it as a way of supporting the players’ mental and physical wellbeing. We were very lucky to get financial support from Surrey County FA & and the Football Foundation to cover increased costs e.g. PPE first aid, hand sanitisers.
The Club has exceptional relationships with its coaching partner LionHeart Football and Blenheim High School who provide us with winter training facilities. The Committee and groundsman continues to work hard throughout lockdown to support our members to ensure we’re ready as soon as restrictions are lifted.
Other than the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak, what are the biggest challenges facing the club on and off the pitch at the present time? The biggest challenge is the costs of running a grassroots club. We don’t own our own ground so lease a public recreation ground from the Council, which we then pay to maintain. We have to provide our own equipment; the biggest is of course goal posts and nets. We have no storage so have experienced net damage from the local wildlife and just before Christmas someone actually stole our new 11v11 nets on a Saturday afternoon!!
How many different girls teams do you have at Beecholme Girls? How have they got on in their league and cup matches in recent years? For the 20/21 season we have 10 teams ranging from U9s through to open age women’s team. We also run two Wildcats Centres in association with Surrey County FA and our coaching partner LionHeart Football. It’s been a mixed couple of years but almost all teams have gained promotion and our senior youth teams (U16s and U18s) both sit in the County’s Premier Divisions. It’s now another difficult season and it’s possible we won’t get to finish, but as things stand it looks like our U12s, U13s and one of our U14s are likely for promotion next season.
What are Beecholme Girls’ aims for the season once lockdown is over and games can recommence? To train and play as much as possible! We didn’t get to have a celebration or pre-season tournament last season so once restrictions allow we’re planning a BIG celebration for all the players and their families!
How has the club kept touch with players, coaches and parents during the difficult coronavirus period? Managers have kept in touch with Whatsapp groups doing loo roll challenges etc. and LionHeart has held a series of online fun football sessions replacing our usual Friday evening training.
Are there any particular unsung heroes at the club who you wish to highlight for their great work? The three busiest members of the Committee (Michele, Lorraine & Karen) no longer have daughters at the Club but still put in many hours a week ‘behind the scenes’. Without them plus of course all our volunteer managers and other Club officials (e.g. Angela & Lisa our Fixtures & Referees Secretaries) we just couldn’t operate!
What are Beecholme Belles’ aims for the next five years? To get back to playing football and provide opportunities for as many girls / women as we can. We’re somewhat restrained with a very small home ground but perhaps we’ll develop relationships to access more local pitches which will allow us to grow the number of teams.