If you’re going to be Football in Berkshire Women’s Football Correspondent then you will need to have a hard work ethic! Abi Ticehurst has her work cut out reporting on the fortunes of 21 local teams in the Women’s Football Pyramid, from Reading up in the Women’s Super League through to the nine different sides from extreme west to the far east of the County plying their trade in tier 9, the Thames Valley Counties Women’s Football League Division 3 (West and East). If anyone is able to do all of these teams proud then Abi can.
Abi is a keen footballer herself and you can spot her of a Sunday afternoon working as hard for AFC Crowthorne Ladies as she does for Football in Berkshire. The Crowthorne side who play in TVCWFL Division 3 East were a brand new team for the short-lived 2019/20 season as Abi explains: “The club chairman of AFC Crowthorne had been keen to get a Ladies team going for a little while and then my coach and manager decided to team up and approach him about starting one up and it all began from there. I initially saw a post in December of 2018 about a team starting in April (pre pre-season) so I registered my interest and then April came round. I think maybe 4 or 5 of us turned up initially and each week we just grew and grew in numbers and we now have around 22 registered players with maybe 10-15 of us active in the squad.” Abi herself is a defensive-minded all-action player, modestly describing herself as: “Chaotic! I’m usually just running about like a nutter to be honest! My standard position is left back but I’ve played CDM a few games this season, which is an exhausting role as I’m not naturally pacey, but anything to support the team game!”
Interestingly, despite being a self-confessed soccer nut, Abi is as new to partaking in competitive football as her club: “Joining the Crows was the first time I’d stepped on a football pitch besides PE at school! I played Netball at Uni and in a social league the year before joining the Crows.” Unsurprisingly for a brand new side, the season has been a learning curve, as Abi explains: “Without a doubt the highlight of the season is seeing a single digit appear next to our name on the table. Everyone was buzzing after that (a draw with Bessingby), even though we’d have loved for it to have been three were it not for a lucky goal in the last 10 minutes! It was just such a sense of achievement for us. We’ve struggled a little with injury a bit. It can be a little disheartening to lose every game too, especially when you’re competitive which I definitely am but we bounce back every week and give the same 100% every time”.
Helping Abi and the Crow Ladies develop as well as providing the inspiration and growing the morale is “a great manager and coach duo in Karl and Dan! We’ve had some fairly big defeats over the course of our first season but without fail every single game they tell us how proud they are. They’re really committed to working on new skills during training as well as taking it back to basics sometimes! There’s a real variety of players and skill level within the team so it’s no mean feat trying to get us all working together during training and games but they’ve worked so hard to gel us as a team. When we’re playing with a full team we’re a force to be reckoned with even if the scoreboard doesn’t reflect that and that’s definitely down to the hard work put in by them during training. It also helps that there’s always a pint on Karl in the clubhouse after a game.”
Listen to Abi’s interview on the Berkshire Football Stories podcast. All episodes available here.
One of the things unique to playing and supporting team sport – and something we are all missing during these strange times – is the sense of belonging that it brings us. That is no different at Crowthorne Ladies: “They’re just the best bunch of girls. Considering we’re a new team we’ve gelled together so well you’d think we’d known each other for years. We got a comment post-game from the coach of Harefield when we played them back in December, he said passion, attitude and heart were the three words he’d use to describe us. We were already playing with a 10 woman team and one of the girls ended up injured so we were down to 9 at half time, but we battled on away from home on a 4G pitch against second in the league and the game ended 4-1. It was a crazy game; our keeper Carmen saved two penalties, Siobhan our warhorse midfielder equalised for us, but everyone put in a serious shift I was so overwhelming proud to be part of the team that day and still am! Typical of the team’s attitude is Aki, our captain. Every goal we concede – and there’s been rather a few! – she’s straight back in position shouting ‘heads up girls’. She’s always there to motivate us and get our heads back in the game and she’s an absolute powerhouse of a centre back.”
When not playing her heart out for the Crows, Abi is watching and studying football. A supporter of both Reading FC Men and Women – “I had a serious obsession with Adam Le Fondre whilst he was at the club!” – football has been in Abi’s life for as long as she can recall: “My brother had the Manchester United ‘Sharp Viewcam’ 1999 away kit shirt and I forever wanted to steal it from him! Funnily enough he now has absolutely zero interest in football as an adult and the shirt is long gone! Being a Royal County girl means I’m a Reading fan. I started to take a serious interest in the men’s team around about 2010/11 and I still wear my 2012/13 season shirt to matches! I’d say I really got into supporting the Women’s team around about 18 months ago and my interest in the women’s game really just snowballed from there.”
Abi is very active on social media, which will prove a great asset to the Football in Berkshire team as she files her reports and stories on the growing women’s game, starting with the mini-series profiling all of our local sides. She enjoys following many of the top players on Twitter and Instagram: “I just want to be best mates with Millie Farrow. She’s such a solid striker – even though I’m a LB – and she’s hilarious, her social media cracks me up. If you can play football and have a laugh at the same time, count me in!” And there are plenty of other WSL players Abi looks up to: “even though Arsenal are a rival team to Reading, their squad is seriously talented. Miedema is just effortless on the ball, I wish I was as silky as her. Also love Leah Williamson and Beth Mead, both gifted players and still so many years left in them.”
‘The more people do to promote the Women’s game the better’
Those top players with a high social media profile are helping the Women’s game to become more noticed and respected. But Abi is adamant that there is still a long way to go: “There is still a lot of the classic ‘get off the pitch and back in the kitchen’ attitude. In this day and age there is just absolutely no need for it. And I totally accept that the women’s game is nothing like the men’s game but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to play. In terms of strengthening the game, it’s really all about investment, from both people and in terms of finances. The more people do to promote the Women’s game the better. It starts right from the bottom with grassroots too, starting girls playing right from the point at which they can kick a ball is vital to the growth of the women’s game.”
Abi herself is part of that growth. And she feels she has developed as a player in her first ever season: “In terms of my strengths, I’ll get my head on any ball I can. I’m not afraid to go all in in the air and I’m determined to get a goal from a header at some point – I’ve got a wager on with my best friend! I’d like to become quicker on the turn with the ball at my feet and I’m my own worst critic. It infuriates me when I give the ball away and I sometimes allow myself to be distracted by that rage!” The Crowthorne team are growing and learning too: “We’re discovering what our style of play is. As a brand-new team, everyone has brought with them a real mix of skills and experience, so it’s been about figuring out what works for us as a team and also what doesn’t. For me personally, it’s just knowing that I can actually play football, so it’s gone from an on-screen passion to the real-life thing!”
The season seems to be done and dusted and Abi has begun to reflect on a great year: “A big shout out to all the Crow Ladies, my legends! And of course, my manager Karl and coach Dan. And to my Dad and Aunty who have been at every home we played this season, come rain or shine supporting me and the girls!” Abi will keep busy during this down time, promoting Women’s football on FiB and beyond. And when football resumes we await hearing about that elusive headed goal!
If you have any news or stories relating to the Women’s game in Berkshire, Abi would love to hear from you. She can be reached at [email protected]
If you would like more details about AFC Crowthorne Ladies and opportunities to be involved with this growing club, please contact [email protected] , or message 07946 366204 or via the AFC Crowthorne Ladies Facebook page.