Arup Cardiff Ladies Football Club: Our two-year journey to our first eleven-a-side match
‘Our company is putting on a 5-a-side tournament, hosted by the Amsterdam office. It would be great to enter a Cardiff ladies team and an amazing holiday. Who fancies going?’
Not many people (including the players) would have believed that that email two years later would have resulted in a ladies football squad of over 35 players, training every week, approaching our first friendly 11-a-side football match.
My name’s Ian Amos and I coach Arup Cardiff Ladies Football Club. All of our players are either past or present staff of the Arup Consulting Engineering firm and on 30th October we are playing our first ever 11-a-side match against our rivals Penarth Women FC (and it’s their first such game too). This is our journey so far.
My eyes were opened to the women’s game during the Women’s World Cup finals in Canada and I was looking for a way to be involved in the sport. I had just completed my FAW football leaders award, so with the 2017 Arup tournament being held at the same time and in the same country of the Women’s European championship finals, it was a sign that I had to put a ladies team together and enter.
I sent an email advertising the tournament and in preparation offered to run a few ‘football for beginners’ training sessions. The aim was to cover all of the football mechanics across three, one hour-long training sessions ending in a friendly match between ourselves in the fourth week. It was a cold, wet January and was pleased when 10 players showed up.
There were a number of sports represented including netball, hockey, gymnastics, running, cycling and martial arts as well as players who were not particularly sporty. What they all had in common was that none had played any football before and interest ranged from ‘Yeah, I’ll give it a go’ to ‘I openly admit I don’t like football but have never been to Amsterdam and fancy a decent weekend away’.
Regardless of the ladies’ backgrounds, we had a team!
Finding other teams to play of the right standard is difficult for beginners
After the fourth week, the consensus was to keep training and we made Monday nights at the local leisure centre a regular slot. The more we played between ourselves, the more confident we became and it was time to challenge other teams. The problem was there were no teams to challenge.
The local 5-a-side football centres had plenty of men’s leagues running every night of the week but not one of them had a ladies league, so there were no obvious 5-a-side teams we could challenge, or league to compete in. I could have contacted the South Wales League teams but having watched a few games to gauge the ability level, at the time we would have been nowhere near them.
We had to get creative, so we ended up arranging friendly 5-a-side matches against the netball teams our players were members of outside of football. Even though they didn’t play the sport, they were all fit, organised and competitive and gave us really good games.
I then found a group of ladies on social media who played football between themselves every Thursday called ‘The Powerleague Girls’. Like us, initially they were a bit reluctant to play another group of ladies and for us it was another step up but we were excited that we were going to play against footballers.
Before agreeing to a game though, we decided that you can’t play against a proper team without matching shirts, so we teamed up with professional footballer Lily Agg and her company Soccerella and designed our own ladies fit kit and badge.
When they arrived, we were ready.
The first time we played Powerleague Girls, we were 4-0 down after 5 minutes. They showed mercy and kept the score under double figures and used the rest of the match to try different players in different positions.We didn’t care that we had been comfortably beaten. We were overwhelmed with pride for putting ourselves on the pitch with actual footballers.
We went on to play the Powerleague Girls 5 times before the office Amsterdam tournament and the fifth time we got to within a couple of goals of them. The more we played, the better we were becoming and we were excited for the tournament.
The Arup Amsterdam tournament 2017
Our flight left Cardiff International Airport at stupid o’clock on the Friday morning and we were in Amsterdam before lunch. The tournament was the next day and we had put in so much work the previous four months, we wanted to give a good account of ourselves. This meant we actually had an early (ish) night, even those who had initially signed up for the jolly. The hard work was worth it and we performed well in the tournament and finished 3rd position, behind the London office and the hosts, Amsterdam. More importantly, Arup Cardiff LFC had caught the football bug.
We couldn’t wait to meet up again after the summer break and the Amsterdam result had spread around the office so unbelievably, 25 players turned up to the first training session back.
With nearly double the amount of players, we needed a new training venue and a lot more equipment. Anyone involved in grass roots football knows the strain on finances and I put a call out on social media to see if anyone had cheap kit for sale and have to say a massive thank you to Welsh Women’s Premier League team Cyncoed, who donated footballs, bibs, cones and ball bags.
Around that time, the FAW had also formed a new Coaching C Certificate for the women’s game, so I completed the qualification and after finding a new training venue, we were all set to develop and raise our game.
The Cardiff Women’s Football Casual League
As the players improved, they naturally wanted more match experience against football teams.
Again I used social media and put an open invitation out for matches. Cardiff Dragons, Cardiff City LFC Veterans and the South Wales Police all got in touch as well as Cardiff Bluebelles, who were bottom of the South Wales League structure at the time. The Powerleague Girls put me in contact with another similar group of ladies and I also found Penarth Women FC had a team from their Facebook page.
What I quickly found was that there were groups of ladies spread across the city that liked to meet up casually at their own venue, very similar to what we were doing. You just had to look hard for them.
With so many teams in the same boat, we decided to create the Cardiff Women’s Football Casual League.
Games every week, or on the weekends do not suit everyone, so the aim of the league was to keep it as flexible as possible. We drew up a fixture list of one game per month to be played at any time. Rules didn’t really matter as long as there was a score at the end of each month to update a league table. It didn’t matter how many players or how long the matches were, as along as both teams playing the fixture were happy and the result ended in a win, lose or draw and that we had a fun, inclusive, competitive league.
The League took off well and after a summer break it is just starting its second season. Over summer we competed in the Arup summer tournament again, this time in Sheffield and although we didn’t repeat our 3rd place finish, we had a great time and our squad has now grown to over 35 players. We are lucky enough to have two assistant coaches who are beginning their coaching journey and we have decided to take to take the plunge into the world of 11-a-side football.
Our first ever game is scheduled on 30th October against our good friends Penarth Women’s FC. A first for both teams.