FEATURE: Diamonds Women & Girls are just so glad to be back
Grassroots football teams have been back on the pitch for a few weeks now and AFC Rushden & Diamonds Women & Girls CIC are one of those who are delighted to be back in the swing of things
Coronavirus brought grassroots football to a hold last year.
Although elite level football was able to continue, grassroots players would have to wait until March 29, 2021 – just over a year on from the initial break – to get their opportunity to return.
We are a few weeks into the return of grassroots football now and, although not everything is quite back too normal with many restrictions and limitations still in place, many sides including AFC Rushden & Diamonds Women & Girls CIC are just delighted to be back playing again.
The side ply their trade in the Northamptonshire Women’s & Girls Macron Premier Football League.
Currently the league has been split into small groups to ensure fixtures can be played and help draw this season to a close with the sections of four playing each other twice with no promotion or relegation available.
However, it’s the return to playing that has been the most important thing.
Girls football lead and coach Kevin Bull has been a key figure in the establishment of the club’s women and girls section.
He said: “The Women & Girls section of AFC Rushden & Diamonds was originally set up within the community club in 2015.
“In 2018, we approached the main club and went on to establish the Women & Girls Club as its own entity.
“The club has gone from four girls in 2015 to over 170 girls and ladies representing the club on a weekly basis.
“Our core aim is and always will be to develop the female game within the club and county and become the largest, most successful club in Northants and eventually make it into the National League or WSL.
“The return of our game gives people the opportunity to see some of the best women and girls football in the county and see just how far the game has progressed in recent times.
“The pandemic has badly affected all our lives and possibly changed our ways of life forever, but hopefully for the better.
““Having been robbed of football has been really upsetting to all our players, coaches and families.
“Football returning has enabled all of us to regroup, take stock of what is important and focus on progressing in the game. It has had a very positive affect on everyone’s mood and mental health.
“The 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons have been so disrupted and the stop-start nature has not really been ideal.
“But I believe we have made the best of a bad situation, retained most of our players and added even further.
“We just view the past 13 months as preparation for the coming 2021-22 season starting in September, hopefully a normal season without disruption.
“I think the league restructure will help a lot and should help all levels of the female game develop further and ultimately going onto help improve our national team.
“Our ethos is to continue to create new youth teams and develop them all the way through to ladies football at 16 years old, adding to the funnel.”
Football was missing for so long for so many when the leagues had to be cancelled, meaning for some players months had gone by without being back in that team environment and out on the pitch and for many people this time away from the game has been a struggle.
Diamonds captain Kim Lynch was one of those but she says there is real excitement now that things are returning to some sort of normality.
“It was really hard to stay motivated during this last lockdown,” Lynch said.
“I think it was because it was cold and dark with winter, so it was hard to stay motivated to train.
“In the first lockdown during the summer months as a team we signed up to complete ‘running woman’ challenges of varying distances from 5km up to 75km.
“That was good, we used to keep progress of our fitness trackers and post them on our WhatsApp group.
“We also had a zoom quiz night which really helped us to stay in touch with each other.
“Now we have returned everyone is excited to be back training and playing.
“The motivation and atmosphere is high in the team now and we’re ready to go.
“Now because of the league restructure we are mainly focusing on next season.
“We still want to win these last few games, but the focus is on getting back our fitness and working together as a team again.
“The biggest aim is integrating the U17’s into the ladies’ team ready for football.
“Due to the lockdown and missing so much of the season the league has been split into groups of four.
“We play the three teams in our league twice, home and away and you will be awarded points as normal.
“Nobody will be relegated or promoted this season it is just to get us back to playing competitively. I think this has been a good decision by the FA.
“It has taken the pressure away clubs worrying about getting teams together for matches or risk of relegation while we are still in a pandemic and people are still shielding or isolating.
“It’s allowing a gradual return to football and everyone seems grateful just be able to play again.”