Stevenage FC Women on the World Cup, inspiring young girls and next season
- Credit: Archant
With a new football season around the corner, Jacob Thorburn spoke with Stevenage FC Women about the 2019 Women’s World Cup and the club’s bright future.
Like every Thursday evening at the County Ground in Letchworth, Stevenage FC Women are gearing up for an intense training session.
The 2019/20 season starts in just over two weeks, and despite the recent heatwave and thundery showers, 26 girls aged between 15 and 30 have turned up.
The team finished ninth last year in the fourth tier of the women's game, and their trophy cabinet is beginning to blossom - with two promotions, one League Cup and three Herts FA County Cups in five years.
But this squad's strongest asset is their togetherness. What should be a difficult slog in 30 degrees is a session full of laughs and giggles.
At the heart of the team lies their passionate, hard-working manager, Mark Dicker.
Mark first started coaching an U11 schoolgirl's team five years ago. Since then, he has watched his former youth team grow as players and has landed himself the top job at Stevenage FC Women.
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But juggling a full-time job, a young family and team duties isn't easy. With a warm smile, Mark says: "My wife would probably say I spend too much time here!"
"No, luckily she's very understanding. The players have taken to my kids too, so it's really like one big family here."
Like his players and other members of the club, Mark works here voluntarily. He thinks he spends at least 10 hours a week preparing sessions, doing admin, leading training sessions and of course managing on match day.
"Regardless of whether I get paid or not, I'd still do it. I'm happy here and it's all about developing the players for me," Mark says.
Mark admits he hasn't been involved in the women's game as long as some of his peers, but his passion for the game and hands-on approach has won him no shortage of admirers from within the club.
First team captain Paige Logie is one player who jumped on board with Mark's style immediately. She's been at the club for two years, and took up the captain's armband last season.
She's spent time at top-flight clubs, having previously played for Arsenal and Watford reserves, but may have found a home at Stevenage.
Paige said: "The direction the club are going in keeps me coming back. We are a tight-knit family here, we're one group."
When she's not at the club, Paige works full-time as a care co-ordinator.
"You have to try and balance everything. It's hard sometimes, but it's worth it.
"The girls are lovely here. You can't fault Mark, he's a lovely man and you've got Dave. They all make it really fun."
Dave Potter was first introduced to women's football by his then 13-year-old daughter showing an interest in playing the beautiful game.
He started as a passionate fan on the sidelines, the standard dad-fan on a Saturday, occassionally chipping in with refereeing duties.
Fifteen years later and Dave, now the club's development manager, still has "the bug for the women's game".
"The game has changed massively. At the start of pre-season, we had 60, 70 girls turning out. To see that enthusiam was remarkable," Dave says.
"We still have a long way to go, but lots of clubs are taking the right steps going forward,
"We are getting our name out there, and people want to turn out for Stevenage. But there's still more to be had. "
Another veteran of the team is Amy Notschild, captain of the reserves, who is entering season number 16 at the club. In that time, she says she has seen both the game and the club evolve massively.
"When I first started playing, I was having a kickabout in the school playground and practicing with the team in a park. I definitely didn't think I would be here 15 years later!
"Now, the quality has definitely gone up - I mean, we're training at this wonderful facility. I think the Women's World Cup can do wonders for the game and I hope young girls are inspired to join their local clubs."
The future is certainly looking bright for this ambitious club. Two new coaches have joined the existing set-up, and Mark hopes they can push the team to the next level.
"If we can hit the top end of the table, even top four, I would be very, very impressed with that," he says.
To find out more about Stevenage FC Women, and how you can support them, click here.