Melissa Boulton: On The Thetford Journey From The Start

Above: Melissa Boulton (left) in possession for Thetford Town this season. Photo: Hannah Parnell.

Thetford Town’s Melissa Boulton spoke to Darrell Allen about being on the journey at the club since it formed in 2018 and described the whole club ethos into the present success in Step Seven (6/2/22).

Thetford Town midfielder Melissa Boulton, although aged only 21 is an important and founding member of the club’s squad.

“I have been with the team since it began, when we started with only four or five girls at training, to where we are now with over 20 signings to our team. I have played football since the age of eight, and have played ever since.

“I first played at Brandon FC, and moved from there to more local teams in Thetford. I have always been a midfielder, and whilst being at Thetford Town, have grown into the position of being either a right winger or a centre-midfielder. I love playing for the team, and feel we have come an extremely long way since our first season together.

“Last year, I took on the role of being a Manager at the club, of an under 16s girls team, as I have a passion for supporting girls into football. The team was very successful, and some of the team have now moved up into our ladies squad, and are valid members of the squad. I have also been a coach for the Ladies team, often completing training sessions and warm-ups before games.

“I have played for Thetford Town Ladies since the very start of the team, back in 2018. We have lost and also gained lots of players through the team’s journey, but my biggest memory is going from playing games with eight or nine players, to now fielding a full squad almost every week.

Above: Melissa Boulton (centre) looking to get free for Thetford Town. Photo: Hannah Parnell.

“Our players have developed massively, improving in fitness, footwork, and overall ability. We have some talented players, and as a team, have a really strong side, competing with the top teams in league one. As mentioned above, I have gone from being a player at the club, to managing my own team, and coaching alongside Dave Skipp, to run training sessions for the team.”

This season saw Thetford moved up into the top tier of the Norfolk Women and Girls League due to restructuring. Although not expecting the promotion to Step 7, Melissa feels that the team have embraced it with both hands.

 “At the start of this season, being promoted into Division One was a big shock for the team, as we were not meant to be moving up. However, we took this as an opportunity, and we were excited to try our luck at the bigger, stronger teams. As proven, we have gone and shown our quality as a team in Division One.

“We are competing with the top teams, and are showing that Thetford Town Ladies is a Division One side that must be feared when playing. I believe this opportunity has allowed other teams to recognize our talent and ability as a club and a squad.”

Thetford has certainly shown their ability in the division, losing only once so far. Melissa reviewed how things have gone from her perspective.

“I do agree that our season so far has been a success. We have had the longest-running time of being unbeaten that our team has ever achieved, and we have competed, and if not beaten teams in which we did not even believe we would even match in terms of ability prior to this season. We have shown this consistently so far.”

One of Thetford’s proudest moments of the season was the Norfolk Women’s Cup tie against Step Five Wymondham Town, where they held their illustrious opposition, who are bound for the FA Women’s National League on current form for 55 minutes. Melissa spoke about her pride in Thetford’s achievements that day.

Above: Melissa Boulton (left) challenges in Thetford Town’s huge Norfolk Women’s Cup tie against Wymondham Town, from two divisions above them. Photo: Hannah Parnell.

“The match against Wymondham Town was one I felt nervous about playing. The entire squad was ready to show what ability we had to offer, but at the same time, we did have doubt in our heads of how the game would go.

“To finish halftime at a draw, and to have put a goal away against Wymondham was a huge achievement. This was seen in our celebration and excitement to have scored a goal. We have worked hard as a team, training twice a week, and alongside that, keeping fit, to ensure we could compete with teams like Wymondham.

“Though the second half caught us by surprise as we began to tire, it is fair to say it is a massive accomplishment for our squad. We have shown that with more improvement, in future seasons we may be able to close the gap between ourselves and the top teams in the county.”

Melissa highlighted the fact that the club’s success is far from just about the first team. The pathway development for young players is a real strength of the club.

“I believe a big mention has to go to our U16 girls who have come up this season, and stepping into a Tier Seven division. The step from youth football to ladies is already a huge jump, and they have made it unknown, that they haven’t played in ladies before.

“A name that comes to mind, especially, is Abbie Corbyn. Week after week she runs full length and width of the pitch, ensuring she is putting in her all to push for a win for the team. At the age of only 16-years-old, taking on women older and double her size, with no fear, is a huge accomplishment.

“Another player who I feel has shown immense improvement this season is keeper Lydia Ward. Lydia is a huge part of our team, and often keeps us in matches that could be going a different way. She is an amazing keeper, who makes some saves which would be seen in men’s Premier League football. She is the best keeper I have seen in this league, and the best I have played with.”

Above: Melissa Boulton challenging in the air for Thetford Town. Photo: Hannah Parnell.

In a season full of memorable moments for the club, Melissa highlighted one particular away day.

“My favourite moment from the league so far is the game against Beccles FC. This may seem odd to most, as we had an awful game as a team. However, it was a game in which, sadly to say, many of us were feeling ill/hungover from a great football night, the night before.

“Regardless of feeling rotten and horrid, and not to mention the horrific state of the pitch, the team still managed to pull through and show our skill and class as a team, and come away with a win. I believe this one game alone shows our capability as a squad.”

Melissa also wanted to acknowledge the contribution manager David Skipp and Stuart Terry bring to the team. “Dave Skipp has been manager of our squad since the beginning. He has put immense time and effort into our squad, and without this effort, we would not be where we are now.

“He stuck to the team in times which many wouldn’t, with only five girls at training, or seven girls at an 11-a-side match, and still motivated us to carry on. His efforts do not go unseen, however, I feel his efforts are not appreciated as much as they should be. As a squad, we are thankful for all his effort and achievements for our team since the beginning.

“This year we have been lucky enough to gain the additional support of Stuart Terry, who has not only brought laughter and care into the team, but has gained us social media presence, and partnerships with HerGameToo, which is a huge stepping stone for our team. We are beginning to become more known for our talent, and believe we are now being recognized as a top contender in Division One.”

Melissa then spoke in more detail about that recent partnership launch with Her Game Too.

Above: Battling it out against Wymondham Town. Photo: Hannah Parnell.

“HerGameToo is a campaign against Sexism in Football, to welcome women into the game with respect and equality. I know the team is extremely excited to have gained this partnership, and for myself I am extremely glad to be part of this partnership, as it is something I have been very passionate about ever since starting football.

“This was my main reason for starting the U16s team, to encourage more girls to get involved in the game. We feel it is an excellent opportunity for us as a club, to support the movement of the campaign, as we very much believe and support the ethos and morals it supports, and hope to get more girls and women involved in the game.”

In two weeks’ time, the Lionesses visit Carrow Road and Melissa is looking forward to the occasion ahead. “I will hopefully be attending the Lionesses game later this month, as it is an excellent opportunity for us as a team, and as women, to support them in the thing that we are all so passionate about.

“I have never been much of a fan of watching football, however, I have attended many of the Womens Cup Finals, and enjoy watching the talent in which these players show. It is also excellent to see the fan base for Womens football grow. A huge inspiration is player Lauren Hemp, who is from Norfolk herself, and debuted for the England squad in 2019. She is the same age as myself, and to have achieved as much as she has at her age is amazing. It is also great for our county to have had someone go that far in her footballing career.”

Melissa’s conversation with us concluded with her revealing her targets both personally and as a team for the rest of the season.

“My personal targets for the rest of this season is to continue to build on my fitness and footwork with dribbling. One of my known qualities as a young player was to run the entirety of the game non-stop, and I would love to be able to maintain a full 90 minutes as a 21-year-old, and get back to the level of fitness I had as a teen.

“As a squad, our goal is to continue growing in this league, taking our losses as lessons, and building on them, and also taking our wins as motivation and drive to continue to show our quality. We have shown a lot as a team so far this season, but we still have more to show.”

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