Ben Gilby speaks to David Kwiatek, the club secretary and first team manager of Pride Park FC who play in the tier seven Derbyshire Ladies League Division One.
David began our conversation by detailing the journey that women’s football has been on at Pride Park FC.
“The club was originally formed from a group of boys playing at the Soccerdome on Pride Park, as a single boy’s mini-soccer team in 2002 and has grown from there. We formed our first girl’s team as under 10s in 2005-6 and they eventually progressed through all the age groups and into Open Age, with some of those original players still playing for our Ladies team. At our height we had thirteen boys and girls teams but hit a barrier when it came to forming new teams, and the numbers declined. We decided to concentrate all our attention and resources on establishing new girl’s teams and finally reversed that trend when we established a FA Wildcats Centre for Girls. At the same time, having been a club without a home – playing at various venues scattered across the city of Derby, we located all our teams’ training and our Ladies home matches at Moorways Stadium.
David then outlined the specific difficulties that Pride Park have faced over the past twelve months or so since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been a challenge to maintain enthusiasm and motivation, but we’ve tried to stay engaged with our members and it was a relief all round when we were able to resume training at the end of March. It has taken some juggling on the financial side, particularly early on when we didn’t know whether the League would resume and what costs were still to be faced, but our members have been supportive and patient throughout. It also meant that we lost the momentum we were building through our FA Wildcats Football Centre for Girls as we have had to pause the programme during the pandemic (although we were able to place all the girls that were attending with teams) so will be starting afresh when we resume.”
Apart from the pandemic, Pride Park face other challenges. “Like many grassroots clubs, the biggest challenge we face is having sufficient volunteers to run everything,” David said.
“We have a small and dedicated group of volunteers who work wonders, but are constantly stretched and often covering more than one role, so it is far from ideal. As well as they do, we could do so much more if the work could could be spread. It’s something the Committee have been giving a lot of thought to and we have plans to really push for more volunteers in the coming months.”
“All our volunteers and helpers are unsung heroes, whether they are on the Committee, coaching, helping with a team or running the line or all of these! They all make a valuable contribution without which the girls and ladies would not be able to train and play each week, which is, ultimately, the aim.”
“In that context it’s difficult to single out individuals, and I’d like to give them all a shout out – but will mention Andy Hobson, one of our newest volunteers, having started coaching with his daughter’s team only a short time ago. His enthusiasm and willingness to be involved in the club’s activities – playing a big part in getting three teams up and running – reinvigorates the old hands like me! Our Treasurer, Dave Wilsoncroft has been handling our finances for as long as anyone can remember and longer than he’d like! Then there’s our Chairman James Skinner who coached a team for around ten years, helped out with others, managed kit on behalf of the club, and now provides a steady and calming lead in meetings.”
With football now able to resume again, I asked David what the club’s schedule looks like between now and the end of the campaign.
“We’re about to resume our league season, with the first of eleven remaining fixtures. The Derbyshire Ladies and Girls League had the foresight with the support of the Derbyshire FA to make provision for an extended season, into June, which has proved necessary, and have kept the clubs fully informed along the way. As things stand and with a couple of mid-week games, we should finish our fixtures in mid-June.”
David then went on to outline the pathway from girls to women’s football like at Pride Park.
“We currently have four junior teams – under 8, 9, 10 and 12 girls, in addition to our Ladies, so in total there’s around forty girls and sixty players in total. We were also running a FA Wildcats Football for Girls Centre before the pandemic, so the aim is to resume that with a focus on four to seven year old girls.”
With the club playing in the seventh tier Derbyshire Ladies League Division One, I asked David what the division was like.
“The League has two divisions and a total of twenty-one teams, so it caters for a range of abilities and ambitions, from those who just want the opportunity to play, to those seeking to progress as players or as teams up the pyramid. There’s a sprinkling of players that have played at a higher standard, including the FA Women’s National League. There are, for example three Development teams of clubs with teams higher up the pyramid; Chesterfield, Ilkeston Town and Woodlands, as well as a couple of clubs with a team in each Division.”
“We are first and foremost a real grassroots club – in contrast, say, to those associated with elite professional clubs and who clearly have similar aspirations for their women’s team – all our members pay subscriptions and having done so, have a reasonable expectation to play. Our primary focus is on providing footballing opportunities for girls and ladies based around an ethos of respect, enjoyment and inclusivity.”
“Our Ladies team still has a nucleus of players from our original girls’ team of 2005-6, and the value of the sense of community and friendships that creates is important – success can be measured in many ways, not just by the winning of trophies. Having said that, we do aim to be competitive, and have had some successes – we’ve played in Division One of the County League for all but our inaugural season, in four cup finals (winning one), finished as runners-up in the League, and have reached the County Cup semi-final on three occasions.”
“We have considered stepping up to the Regional League in the past, but the travel required for away days has been the biggest stumbling block – particularly for players with family and work commitments on match days – and in line with our ethos we don’t want to be in a position where we have to bring in additional players and turn away existing players in order to make that next step, having seen the impact this has had on other teams. It’s something we keep under review, however, as the make-up of the squad and situations change, so it’s certainly not something we’d rule out.”
As ever with our club features, we ended our conversation by looking ahead to the Pride Park’s goals for the short term future.
“When I first got involved in the female game some sixteen years ago, the prospects for a professional women’s game in England, with mainstream TV and media coverage, and genuine career opportunities for women in and around the game seemed a long way off,” David said.
“In that time, all those things have become reality – which is astonishing progress. I think, and hope, the women’s game will become more established over the next five years with those trends becoming more embedded. More particularly, that heightened visibility and acceptance will, I hope, encourage even more young girls to play the game and to give them the opportunities to do so. There’s a lot of focus by the FA, understandably, on elite clubs being used to promote the game, but I’d like to see more of a link up with grassroots clubs to provide a genuine playing pathway for girls of all abilities.”
“I also think the increased professionalism at the top level will, inevitably, bring many of the less appealing aspects of the men’s game into the female game – which will, I think, be a pity, as the absence of diving, shirt pulling etc – cheating by any other name – is one of the first things newcomers find so appealing about watching the female game.”
“Finally, I really hope that within the next five years the tendency to try to compare men’s and women’s football will have passed. It drives me mad – amongst many other reasons the games are at different stage of evolution so it’s meaningless! Why can’t you simply enjoy and appreciate elite athletes – whatever their gender – for what they can do? We don’t compare male sprinters to female sprinters, male tennis players to their female counterparts, so why do it with football?! Rant over!”
“As for Pride Park, I hope we will be buzzing with one, possibly two Ladies teams, a girls team for each age group, and a thriving Wildcats Centre to bring along the next generations of players, all supported by an army of committed, skilled and well supported – and appreciated – volunteers!”