It’s been a year since Abi Ticehurst stepped digitally in to the role of Football in Berkshire’s Women’s Football correspondent. It was an area that, as a group, we wanted some to specifically focus on for some time, and to really do women’s football in Berkshire justice.
Thankfully, Abi has really run with it and produced some terrific content, whether it’s interviews with key figures, getting breaking news out there or, as it has been this season, following Reading FC Women in the FA WSL in lieu of actually playing the game.
Abi, hello! It’s been quite a year for you. What have been the highlights?
Hello! Yes in a year when we’ve had virtually no football I seem to have been busier than ever. I think I’ll begin with my first highlight being joining us for S4K, playing football still very new to me at that point and I’ve been feeling rather lost with my first team Crowthorne having folded in July but the welcome I received from all the girls at the club was immense and despite the stop-start nature of the season, I can’t wait to be back out on the pitch with them.
I’ve been even busier off the pitch, writing for various publications. I couldn’t have dreamt of all the incredible people I have encountered through writing for Football in Berkshire, so that’s definitely up there, getting to write week in, week out about the league I play in, amongst others, is just the best. I also love the fact it’s afforded me the opportunity to go watch and write live updates on my own football team, Reading Women, in a time when so many haven’t been able to see their team, I appreciate the privilege that is.
A self-confessed podcast nerd, I was approached by SELK Podcast, who asked if I’d like to start my own show on women’s grassroots football and of course I jumped at the chance. I’ve released 3 episodes and they’ve had a combined listenership just short of 300 so far.
I can’t talk highlights and not mention the fact I was asked by Grassrootz TV to join them to interview Manchester City and England rising star, Chloe Kelly, utterly starstruck at first, but it was an amazing experience to chat about her footballing journey and her ambassadorship with the Super 5 League, a women’ grassroots foundation.
This is also the first year, I’ve dipped into the non-league men’s game, so it’s been great ticking off new grounds and teams and getting the chance to see first hand what the incredible volunteers at each of our Berkshire clubs do.
Listen to Abi’s podcasts on the SELK network below:
Have you always wanted to be involved in the media side of things?
It’s actually been one of those things that I’ve just sort of fallen into if I’m totally honest! I’ve been an armchair fan of football most of my life as the only one in my family interested in the sport, but I’ve always loved reading what others think, plus I analysis and stats. Writing is definitely a passion of mine, I first dabbled in blog style writing when one of my lecturers asked if I’d write for hers at university. And when I joined my first football team, AFC Crowthorne Ladies, that definitely sparked my specific interest in women’s football coverage more so than ever before.
You’ve now written 140 articles on FiB. Which one’s stand out?
140? Wow! I didn’t realise it was that many! I think I’d have to say the women’s football history one is definitely up there, finding out about those who paved the way for women like me today was so interesting and being able to weave local history into that story made it all the more fascinating.
I also think it’s so important I have a proper understanding of the whole of the women’s game so researching the structure of women’s football as a whole for my post on the Football Pyramid definitely stands out and as I said, I love statistics so it was right up my street.
I don’t think I can pick a specific one, but the interviews I’ve written have been a labour of love too, it’s such an honour to be able to tell people’s own footballing journeys and each person I’ve written about has always been so grateful for how I’ve told their story.
Read all Abi’s interviews and articles here.
What do you think of the women’s scene in Berkshire? Are there enough “elite” clubs? Are there enough clubs all told? Where are the improvements do you think?
Generally speaking, it’s going from strength to strength, I’m seeing clubs committing to the development and growth of the game by announcing they’re starting up a women’s team. There are lots of very accommodating members of the community who are always happy to have a chat with me or say a few words when I’ve got a piece of writing in mind. Playing for a team myself means I haven’t really had the chance to get along to any games so it’s difficult to really comment on that aspect of the current landscape.
One big area for improvement and I do appreciate there’s so much involved in this, is the development of a solid club pathway, by which I mean the chance to progress from youth to senior football. You can find a boy’s team for every age group at practically every turn in the county but it’s further and fewer between where girl’s teams are concerned. I think some of that has to do with visibility a lot of the time, it’s very possible that there are many clubs who offer this chance already, but I think it’s a real case of ‘you’ve got to see it to believe it’. This obviously isn’t solely down to clubs, there’s a part to play for parents, peers and even schools.
“There are so many factors at play, that stop women from getting involved in sports, so the introduction and growth of football purely for fun is definitely an option I think could be explored further.”
Having spoken recently with Carol Bates from Crawley Old Girls, I really feel like there’s a space for the development of recreational women’s football too. Women’s football is typically more traditionally more inclusive when it comes to ability for example, but there still comes a level of expectation when you join a team that play competitively. I’m grateful for my own playing opportunities but I certainly feel like I could’ve and still could benefit from playing in a no-pressure environment. There are so many factors at play, that stop women from getting involved in sports, so the introduction and growth of football purely for fun is definitely an option I think could be explored further.
I don’t feel like there is this overwhelming sense that we need more elite teams within the women’s game in general right now. And if by elite, we mean professional, there’s way more that needs to be done at the bottom before we put more pressure on teams and clubs. Only around half the ‘elite’ Championship is actually fully professional and many of them are linked with wealthy men’s clubs so I don’t feel like there should be any expectation further down the pyramid for a topflight ideology. That said, I wholeheartedly encourage clubs to push forward in their drive for the development of standards in the game, be that on and off the pitch, but that ultimately comes from things like sponsorship and investment and this is where the women’s game remains considerably disadvantaged. Our own Berkshire clubs, especially those competing in the Premier Division of the Southern Region Women’s Football League will likely have ambitions for promotion to the National League, but I’m not sure any of them are anticipating a rise to the Women’s Super League or the Championship for that matter, any time soon.
Finally, as it’s international women’s day.. who are your footballing idols? On the pitch and in the media?
How long have you got for this one? There are so many inspiring women both on the pitch and in the media.
Right now, I absolutely love the genuine connection there is between the Welsh girls at Reading, in particular captain Tash Harding and Jess Fishlock. Jess in particular has been so vital to the squad’s midfield this season, I’m heartbroken she’s going back to OL Reign! Elsewhere, Fran Kirby, she’s been frighteningly clinical at Chelsea this season, Miedema at Arsenal, Lucy Bronze at City, Renard at Lyon. I could go on!
I think the likes of Jayne Ludlow, Kelly Smith, Hope Powell, Alex Scott and Rachel Yankey have all got to be thrown into the mix, women’s football was catapulted in the 90’s and early 00’s but still faced so many barriers, they paved the way for so many of us who play now.
How cheesy is it to say my S4K Ladies too? They’re just such a great group, there’s so much variety amongst us, can’t wait to be back on the pitch with them.
Off the pitch, Maggie Murphy, director at Lewes, is a real pioneer in the game right now, championing equality for the whole football club and she speaks so honestly on any matter. In terms of writing, I love Katie Whyatt at The Athletic, she’s simple in style yet thorough, notifications are firmly switched on for every new piece she writes.
Equally, Suzy Wrack at the Guardian, she tackles the big issues and her interviews are always a great read and one final one, Tim Stillman who covers Arsenal Women, there’s a genuine passion for the team in his writing yet he remains funny and light-hearted. Honourable mention for our very own Lish Povey too, always the most kind and encouraging words of support from her.