Llysfaen Lionesses



June 2017
October 2017

In the first of our new series, “In the Spotlight….”,  Carol Bates speaks to Síona Murray, who has been trying to knock down doors in Wales, with regards to getting Women’s Social/Recreational Football recognised and built upon.

Síona was one of the founder members of the Llysfaen Lionesses, who got together in February 2017, and has not stopped promoting the group of Mums and “old girls” since.

The “Lionesses”, as we’ll call them, are the first group to be set up in Wales and have approximately 16 women who regularly attend the training sessions, once a week.

We asked Siona a few questions on how it all started and how it’s progressing.

Carol Bates:  What made you get involved in setting up the “Lionesses” and how did it all start?

Siona Murray: Basically, I was asked 🙂 Don’t underestimate the power of just asking someone face to face. I don’t think I would have volunteered or put myself forward for it. But my friend Debbie (now our Captain and goalkeeper extraordinaire) asked some others and I if we would be mad enough to get a few Mums together to take part in the Cwpan Y Bobl (the People’s Cup). I figured if she thought I could do it, and the others were up for it too, then why not. It would be a great story to tell anyway. So I said yes, and we haven’t stopped since.

CB:  How did you promote your first session and get the ladies to join you?

SM: We actually haven’t had to do very much targeted promotion. We had a small core group to start and no dedicated coach, so couldn’t really promote it as such. We were joining in the under 9’s training sessions with their very patient coach Craig Richards. He would split his time between them and us. But as more people heard about us, and the numbers grew through word of mouth, that couldn’t go on long term. We were very lucky to find our own coach Jonny Smith through our ace midfielder Beth – he’s her husband! Once Jonny was on board we did share far more of our activities through social media, contacted sponsors and got more vocal about women’s football in general. Our numbers grew again, mostly through personal recommendations, and then our second coach Craig Hughes joined us during the summer. There’s about 25 of us involved now, with 16 regulars.

CB:  What age range do you have in your group?

SM: Our youngest player is 13 and our oldest is 56. That’s a far bigger age range than you would find in mainstream football, but not unusual for the women’s recreational game – or informal game as they call it here in Wales. So a good mix of young girls, middle girls and old girls! The fact we can accommodate such an age range, and everyone feels empowered and encouraged to play, is a real testament to the welcoming and supportive atmosphere we have created. This is about so much more than football.

CB:  How have things changed since that first session?

SM: We can usually pass the ball in the direction we mean it to go! And we’ve stopped saying ‘sorry!’ so much 🙂 To be honest, while we are more confident players ,the fun, the laughing and the willingness to learn hasn’t changed. Our fitness levels have improved enormously and so our coaches do make those drills harder. We all complain but everyone still does it and no-one finishes a drill on their own. We all want to learn more and get better – we drive the coaches mad asking for feedback and what could we do differently. We all want to play and learn more about our positions and our role during a match.  I think most of us would agree that we should have been doing this years ago and are determined that others will benefit from what we have learned.

CB:  Have you had any help in growing the group and getting more ladies interested?

SM: Yes – from the COGs of course! Being able to get in touch with women at the forefront of developments in the English game has been fantastic. We’ve made some great English FA contacts who have been very generous with their time and have included us in conversations that aren’t happening in Wales yet. We see you succeeding and it gives us the boost to keep going here.

Locally,  we have no official named contact really in any of the football organisations, but there have been individuals who have been fantastic with advice. Once they saw how motivated we were to develop women’s recreational football, and saw the numbers we have involved, they have been happy to offer informal help.

However, we haven’t really had huge support outside of this. We have fought hard to be taken seriously and for the established networks to be interested. Again, individual coaches have been great, but I think people were more puzzled by us than anything – especially as were determined not to be pushed into a league situation that just did not suit us. There has to be another way.  Our aim at first was just to learn to play for ourselves, but we now want to open this opportunity up to as many women as possible. We thought if we did as good a job as we possibly could, then others would follow.

CB:  We know you entered the Cheshire FA’s first ever Women’s Recreational Football Festival, recently.  It looked a great day.  How did you get on and how many teams did you meet there?

SM: it was a fabulous day – we fielded two teams ourselves and there were over 70 players altogether. All beginners just like us and it was such a relief to play against similar age groups and skill levels. We came in third and fourth place. Steph Knott from the County FA has been a great help and we are thrilled she gave us the chance to be included in these games. They have just held the second beginners’ tournament with 5 teams getting involved. We came joint second and were delighted. Everyone could see an improvement in their playing. It’s the atmosphere that’s different though. It’s competitive but fun and you are as delighted to see great playing from your opponents as well as yourselves, as we are all learning together. Cheshire FA are now talking about starting a merit league. We are lucky to be close enough to the border to be able to take part, but it would be fabulous to one day have our own version in Wales.

First ever Cheshire FA Recreational Festival for Beginners – September ’17. The “Lionesses” are in pink and orange.

CB:  Tell us about the publicity you’ve had since that Festival and the “International” match you organised with the Stafford Soccer Mums who came over to Wales.

SM: Well, we made page 3 of the Stafford Express and Star! I think we’ve made lifelong friends with the Stafford Footy Mums and having a social media presence really helps teams like ours keep in touch. We couldn’t be as vocal about this match unfortunately, as we didn’t have the full support of the Football Associations. I think teams like ours in Wales are going to have to carve out our own niche to show the official organisations that it works, and that they do have to adapt existing structures so everyone can play. We’ve kept in touch with local papers too and Dave Jones at the North Weekly News has been very generous with their coverage and really supportive from the start. It makes for a great headlines – why aren’t more media outlets and football organisation jumping at this? We’ve also just finished some publicity shots and interviews for Sport Wales and they are going to feature us in the national #OurSquad campaign to encourage more women over 25 to get back into sport. That’s something I never thought I would be involved in! We have also recently been nominated for a ‘Senior Team of the Year’ award at the local council sport awards and are going to the ceremony in November. What a mad nine months this has been.

A day with the Stafford Soccer Mums, including families and friends travelling from Stafford to Wales.

CB:  What are your future plans for the Lionesses and have you heard of any more teams setting up in Wales, anywhere?

SM: We found out this week than another local club ran their first training session for their own mum’s team last Sunday- this was unthinkable six months ago, so I know we’re doing something right. Some of them came to watch our international game and one of their junior club coaches was actually the ref, so we’re going to claim that we convinced them it was a great idea! Realistically though, we can only look forward to the next six months and what we can achieve that time. Until we are included under the grassroots footballing umbrella, there’s a lot that could go wrong. But we are proud to have achieved this much on our own with no large club or official FAW support.

CB:  Finally, how has the Lionesses and all that goes with it changed your life?

SM: To be honest I’m not sure what I did with all my time before this happened last February.  I am loving every minute of this, but it’s a new and fragile thing. The challenges, the bruises, the falls, the nerves before a match, wearing blummin’ shorts in public – all these things should have put us off, but they haven’t. Bring it on!

CB:  Thanks, Si.  I’m sure it won’t be long until the COGS are on their way to Wales!

If anyone would like any information on the Llysfaen Lionesses, you can find them on Facebook at https://en-gb.facebook.com/llysfaenlionesses/ or contact Siona Murray at siona.home@gmail.com.