How I wish I could have started reporting on women’s football 20 years earlier

This Bangor City squad was packed with talent – sadly I’ve not seen many of them play

I started reporting on women’s football in 2012.

June 20, 2012 to be exact.

Wales v Israel, Euro 2013 qualifier at the Racecourse, Wrexham.

It was a happy baptism. Wales won 5-0 with Natasha Harding grabbing a hat-trick.

I presented the Player of the Match champagne to Sarah Wiltshire, who also scored, while Liverpool FC ace Hannah Keryakoplis from Penyffordd rattled home a fifth.

There were three North Walians in the team – Hannah, goalkeeper Nicola Davies and defender Nia Jones.

Jarmo Matikainen, whom I got on well with, was the Wales manager and the ultra helpful Angela Roberts, co-ordinator at the time for the national teams, praised my input, saying I was ‘someone the players felt at ease with’.

Eight-and-a-half years on and I still enjoy reporting on women’s football.

I do much less on the international front nowadays, preferring to concentrate on the domestic game.

For the past three to four years things have been far from healthy in that regard. We have lost all northern presence in the Welsh Premier, chances for our girls at international level have dried up, while the North Wales League has, on occasion, been reduced to a farce.

Then came coronavirus, so right now we are in a gloomy place.

However, there is hope, with the impending pyramid restructure of women’s football for season 2021-22.

A tiered system will be introduced, and the interest shown by teams vying to be in level 2 north is very encouraging indeed.

With no competitive games involving North Wales women’s teams having been played since March 2020, it has been difficult to find stuff to write about.

Recently, however, my interest has been re-sparked by a feature Grassroots North Wales has introduced where players choose their All-Time North Wales Dream XI based on female footballers past and present.

It has opened my eyes to many players who were in their prime pre-2012 and therefore I never saw play.

I realise I have missed out on a lot and genuinely wish I’d have started covering women’s football a good 20 years earlier than I did.….

Around 1992 would have been a good starting point, with Pilkingtons (Rhyl) winning the first two Women’s Welsh Cups back-to-back, followed by the emergence of the great Bangor City sides managed by Keith Fearns.

While the Welsh Premier Women’s League did not go fully national until 2012 (my Freshman year), before that the likes of Bangor and later Caernarfon Town competed superbly in the English pyramid.

Ceryl Jones, Iona Williams, Alison Mummery, Cheryl Foster, Jade Thomas…players I didn’t see kick a ball, were all star names.

All I can rely on today is archive reports and enthusiastic recollections of people like the Shooman brothers, Matthew and Joe, about how Ceryl “Giggsy” could light up Farrar Road with a split-second turn, or Fozzie’s razor-sharp finishing.

Many of these girls did not just play for North Wales clubs of course.

Foster, now a UEFA Elite referee, was a striker for Liverpool, Ceryl represented both Merseyside giants, Mummery turned out for Manchester United and Mickey’s daughter Jade also starred for the Anfield Reds.

All played for Wales at various levels.

Some amazing North Wales players in this Wales line-up. Ceryl Jones (back row – furthest right – No 11) and goalkeeper Nicky Davies (dark top – left). Front row: Tania Jones (No 7), Jade Thomas (No 8), Cheryl Foster (No 10), Katie Williams (No 17) and Eleri Earnshaw (No 18).

I wish I’d seen them play. So why didn’t I?

Time of life was certainly not an issue. I have been a journalist since 1987. I’d have been late 20’s into early 30’s when the likes of Pilkingtons, Bangor City and Caernarfon Town were making waves. Plenty experienced enough age-wise then.

However, I have not always been a sports-only reporter.

In fact, I did not start to work solely on sport until 2007.

Before that it was all news for weekly local papers, with sports to be crammed in when I could manage it.

I worked in Denbigh from 1988-98, so covered just Vale of Clwyd area teams, then Rhyl between 1998-2007, so it was mainly the Lilywhites and Prestatyn Town.

There would never have been time to write in depth about women’s football, which between 1988-2007 was pretty thin on the ground in areas like Denbigh, Prestatyn and Rhyl, whose early 1990’s glory days were relatively short-lived.

The women’s football clubs themselves were also partly to blame as they never pushed themselves publicity-wise.

I do remember doing the odd relief stint on the Caernarfon paper where Town reports from the Northern Combination would be sent in.

I remember them playing teams like Leeds and Aston Villa and being pretty excited about this….names like Ailsa Orlik, Tania Jones, Iona Williams stood out, but my involvement was limited.

Sarah Colville (furthest left) has had some great players under her wing as manager of Llandudno Ladies FC. Sarah was also an awesome player but before my reporting time

Another regret is never having seen Sarah Colville play for Llandudno Junction. She was a real out-and-out goalscorer by all accounts, but I’ve only ever known her as a manager and that’s my loss.

I really wish that I’d have had the time to cover women’s football back in the 1990’s and 2000’s, armed with the drive and enthusiasm I have for it now.

I could have really turned the spotlight on those talented players aforementioned and given them the sort of exposure I can provide for players of today.

Of course in the 1990s and even 2000s there were not the internet options we have today, so my coverage would still in those decades have been mainly limited to newspapers, but it still could have been so much more considerable than it was.

Thankfully, I’m able to revive some of the memories on Grassroots North Wales and the enthusiastic response I’ve had has been welcome.

Even after 2012, I had to fight hard to get women’s football any space. The time I spent on it was resented by decision-makers. I did my best and many people thankfully know that.

Now we’ve got the website, time and space is unlimited. Some of you well and truly take advantage of the opportunities to publicise yourselves and I am extremely grateful, but others remain obstructive and reluctant to join in.

That’s their choice, my door will always be open, even to those who show no inclination to walk through it.

I speak with sadness about what I’ve missed, but I also cherish what I’ve had.

Since 2012, I’ve been able to cover women’s international football, Welsh Premier, a Welsh Cup final which featured our very own Llandudno, seen some amazing players, there have been some great times….

I look forward to the tier 2 development, the young Bethel squad’s further progress, how the new teams will adapt.

Yes I do wish it had all started for me reporting on the women’s game back in 1992, but it didn’t and there’s no point looking back.

For now, I’m just glad to be here and part of something special which deserves a few lucky breaks in the coming months after so much suffering. Same for all football…..

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