As a veteran of both ladies cricket and ladies football, this weekend was pretty special for me. Winning is always nice but it was the feeling that it was a watershed and something had finally changed for the better that really warmed my soul.
I played in the inaugural East Anglian Ladies Football League in the seventies. Although this part of the country supplied several England internationals, for the most part the quality wasn’t great. Scorelines were often in double figures and we were viewed as ‘rather strange’ by both male and females alike. I’m not sure my mum was particularly impressed by her daughter’s choice of a hobby.
It was an unusual sport for girls to play, we often had to travel long distances to get a game. My team was based in Old Costessey but away matches could see us starting off early on a Sunday morning and driving to places like Colchester, Ipswich and Kings Lynn. The first season I played there wasn’t even another team in Norwich, although one did form soon after.
In the summer months we competed in five-a-side tournaments. Some of these involved long journeys to places like Manchester and London just for a one-day tournament, and holiday camps such as Brean Sands in Somerset for a week’s football camp. There just weren’t enough players in those days and if you weren’t prepared to travel then you didn’t get a game.
It was a similar story in women’s cricket but differed slightly in that cricket was already more established as a women’s sport. England had a team and I was aware of Rachel Heyhoe Flint being captain in the sixties and seventies.
I was pleased to see that Sunday’s World Cup Final starting bell was rung by a grand old lady from Norwich who at 105 is the oldest living female cricketer. So it certainly wasn’t new, but it hardly featured in the media at all, and certainly wasn’t considered a working class pursuit.
In the late 1990s and 2000s enough of us got together to form a ladies cricket league in this area. When I first started to play the teams out there were often ladies’ hockey clubs who were looking for a summer sport. Again, there was a lot of travelling to get to a game.
We also set up a Norfolk team, and I was lucky enough to represent my county on several occasions. I also got to play at Lakenham before it was sold for development. I am very proud and grateful for having the opportunity to do this, and the memories will always stay with me
The turning point for the women’s game was the introduction of the National Lottery. As a result the England and Wales Cricket board appointed development officers specifically for women’s cricket, and funding became available for men’s clubs if they set up and encouraged a women’s team. We suddenly became very popular.
This didn’t go down particularly well with everybody however. Although there were some great cricket people out there who helped and encouraged us, there were some who took a dim view of the whole thing.
I recall during a meeting at my club, one of the members standing up and saying that his under-12 boys’ team was better than the England women’s team. He could well have been right at the time (not now), but that should never be the criteria for playing sport.
If you enjoy participating in something you should be able to do it however good or bad you are. We were also a long way down the pecking order when it came to pitch availability and had to wait for a slot when the men’s or boys’ sides didn’t need the second or third pitch. I often had to ring around other clubs to see if we could use theirs just to host a home fixture
I haven’t been involved for many years now, but things have changed beyond all recognition. Girls now play soccer professionally, which started in the USA; ironic really considering that it never has been a mainstream sport over there. And now most Premier League and EFL clubs (including Norwich City) have ladies’ teams.
Most international women cricketers are now professionals and can make a living from the game. And both girl’s cricket and football are now on the curriculum at some schools, the standard of which has improved radically. It was there for all of us to see at the weekend.
A lot of the England cricket team and all of the football team hadn’t even been born when I last played, but I was still just a teeny bit proud. I feel that in the early days we helped pave the way for what has happened since.
We ignored the sideways glances and the hurtful remarks and stuck with it. A big shout out too to all the other people who helped and encouraged us; referees, umpires, linesmen, groundsmen, coaches and even mums who did the teas. I’m sure they all had better things to do on a Sunday afternoon, sometimes in awful weather.
I’m paying for it now though. Joints and cartilages are registering their disapproval of my past antics and starting to give up the ghost. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world though, and watching at the weekend made it all worthwhile.