Our Women’s Football Correspondent, Abi Ticehurst, caught up with the Berks & Bucks Women’s & Girl’s Development Officer, Alex Pratt on the new restructure of the Southern Region Women’s Football League for the 2022/23 season. Here’s everything he had to say.
On the decision to restructure the leagues
“We were looking to geographically restructure the Thames Valley Counties Women’s Football League initially and trying to address the geographical challenges within that league. What came to fruition from that was a bottleneck at the top of Division One which was leading to a big swell of teams because teams were coming in at the bottom and then teams were unable to be promoted out of the top.
The reason for that is that at Tier Six, the Southern Region Women’s Football League, there was only one division, Division One South, that was made up of teams in and around Hampshire, which meant any teams that wanted to be promoted on merit had to decide whether they were to travel each week. Promotions weren’t being decided on merit and ability, they were being decided on whether or not clubs could afford to go to those areas.
On the progression of the pyramid
Berks and Bucks were the only region where there was only one regional division at Tier 6, every other county across the area had at least two divisions which were geographically split, there was therefore a ‘void in the North’ where if teams wanted to be promoted they couldn’t be so we set about working with the FA and the two leagues to open up that opportunity.
On working with the FA and leagues
“The only way that was going to work was via a mass promotion because it’s the creation of a new league. There was the potential to supplement the mass promotion from the TVCWFL with some later movement in the Division One South, so teams that had previously applied to go up. For example Milton United, Eversley & California but are probably more suited to this new division.”
On consulting the teams
“We started a consultation process with the clubs, explained why we wanted to create the new league, the bottleneck and the void in division. In the future, we wanted clubs to feel like they could be upwardly mobile and they wouldn’t have to worry about geographical challenges in going up, they could be safe in the knowledge that if they finished 1st, 2nd or 3rd they could take the next step without having to worry about those things. We wanted that not to be an issue in the women’s game, because the Premier division (the next Tier up) is more geographically appealing because a lot of the teams are in and around our Berks & Bucks area.”
An information evening was held and Alex pitched travel times and how the process would work to all the teams. There had to be a big group of teams in agreement in order for the decision to go ahead. Alex admits there was some hesitation initially as “no one wants to be the first team to commit to it”, so it was important for him to clarify that they would be taking the step together as a collective. Teams were encouraged to apply for their place in the division but reassured that should they decide it wasn’t the right choice that they were able to pull their application too.
The majority of teams from Division One applied for promotion and a couple of teams from the top of Division Two which will now form Division One North of the Southern Region Women’s Football League with all teams’ applications having been approved. The following BBFA teams have definitely been confirmed to us, Badshot Lea Ladies, Caversham United Women, Long Crendon Ladies, Penn & Tylers Green Ladies and Slough Town Ladies.
On the local women’s game
“We’ve got teams that are upwardly mobile, ambitious and want to make their way up the pyramid. I think it says a lot about the coaches and committees and the players, we’ve got lots of good players who have potentially been stuck in a league for too long where actually they’ve got a high level of ability but it’s been external factors preventing them from moving forward”.
Alex was keen to make the most of his role as development officer and sought to establish where the development was needed most within the county pyramid, “The fact we’ve managed to get 8 or 9 teams to agree to promotion speaks volumes because they are the teams who have in the past wanted to go up but travel times may have prevented them from doing so. So I think from my perspective, it was about spotting that void and the potential challenge and being able to solve that with the clubs and leagues was really important.”
On the future of the league and women’s football
“I think for the future of women’s football in our area and in the county, it’s really positive because it’s not just for that group of clubs now. We also invited clubs who might want to take that step in the next few years to have their voice. A number of clubs were interested in the proposal and we’re on board with this but perhaps we’re not ready right now and that supported our decision.”
We would like to congratulate all the teams on their promotion and make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the 2022/23 constitutions.