Opportunity knocks for women’s football

Bolton Ladies FC offers inspiration for upcoming talent

With the new football season about to kick off, there’s one team in Bolton who can’t wait to get back into the game. Having taken a six-month break from competition due to COVID-19, the players of Bolton Ladies Football Club have been training hard in lockdown and are ready to take on the other nine teams in their league.

We’ve sponsored Bolton Ladies for the 20/21 season. The team, which competes in National League Division One North and plays at Crilly Park in Atherton, has a new kit featuring our logo.

We want to encourage young women and girls in Bolton to take up football. Nationally, enthusiasm for women’s football is growing. According to a recent Guardian article, 2.4 million women and one million girls are now playing football in England.

We hope our partnership will support female footballing role models that young footballers can look up to and be inspired by. As a result, it can hopefully trigger more girls and women taking part in competitive sport and lead to improvements in physical and mental health across the town, all of which results in healthier communities.

To find out more about the spirit and drive behind the women’s game, we caught up with the Bolton Ladies Team Coach, Chris Knights, and its Captain, Rebecca Foster.

A long-established club

“I’ve been coaching the team for three years but the club’s history actually goes back 30 years,” says Chris. “It’s one of the oldest clubs in the North West. People think that women’s football is a new thing but women have been playing competitively for decades.

“There’s a lot of excitement in the team at the moment. The sponsorship from Bolton at Home means that we can continue to move forward and hopefully achieve our target of going up a tier. We’ve got some new players who are really talented, and the whole team has been focusing on their own personal fitness while games have been on hold. I always say: ‘the fittest team will win the league’.”

Chris wants to get more girls interested in football: “Once the current restrictions have eased, we’re hoping to hold free weekly taster sessions and go into schools to talk about the game. The team are really keen to work on community projects like this.”

"People think that women’s football is a new thing but women have been playing competitively for decades."

A love for the game

Team captain, Rebecca, has been playing football at club level for 14 years. “I started when I was 11,” she says. “I used to kick a ball around in the garden with my two brothers – who incidentally don’t play football! I realised I was quite good at it so I joined a local club called Cadishead Girls in Manchester, and it went on from there.

“At 16, I joined Manchester City Ladies FC and then moved to Preston North End Womens FC when I was 18. This was high level football and I learned a lot while I was there. I joined Bolton Ladies last year as the team captain – giving me my first opportunity to lead a team.”

Rebecca works as a full-time PE teacher, trains twice a week with the team, does extra fitness sessions and leads the players at every game. So where does this dedication and love for the sport come from?

“As well as the fitness and competitive aspects of the game, I love the social side,” says Rebecca. “I have 13 other friends and we’re all working towards the same thing; we have a strong bond. When I’ve been teaching all day, the sport gives me a release – playing keeps me mentally fit too.

“As a teacher, I appreciate the value of sport and the positive effect it can have on children and teenagers who are dealing with the stress of schoolwork and exams. Being active and playing in a team can give young people something else to focus on.”

At the first game on 20 September, against Stockport County Ladies FC, the team will run onto the pitch in their new strip. “I’m so pleased that our new kit will have ‘Bolton’ on the front,” adds Rebecca. “It means a lot to us and our fans.”

You can follow the club on Twitter, the handle/account name is @BoltonLadies

The women’s league explained

Top tier: Super League Second tier: Championship League Third tier: National North and South League (Bolton Ladies FC is in this league for the North, in the second division)

The team plays around 20 games each year plus 10 County Cup games.

Routes into football – player profiles

Rebecca Foster

Age: 25

Position in the team: Centre Midfield (Captain)

Began playing: 11 at club level

Route: Cadishead Girls → Altrincham Girls → Manchester City → Preston North End → FC United → Bolton Ladies FC

Years with Bolton Ladies: 1

Job: PE Teacher

Footballer admired: Lucy Bronze (England and Lyon)

Advice to aspiring young players: Join a local club and while you’re young focus on enjoying the game without taking it too seriously.

Nicole Malpus

Age: 21

Position in the team: Right Back

Began playing: 11 at school and then aged 13 at club level

Route: Delamere Rangers→ Manchester City → Blackburn Rovers → Bolton Ladies FC

Years with Bolton Ladies: 3

Job: Teacher who works with children with autism

Footballer admired: Pablo Zabelata (Argentina, ex-Manchester City and West Ham United)

Advice to aspiring young players: There are more girls’ football teams now and so many more leagues so look around and take the opportunities available to you.

Georgia Payton

Age: 20

Position in the team: Centre forward (Striker)

Began playing: Aged 14 at club level (Georgia’s dad is ex-Burnley striker, Andy Payton)

Route: Burnley (Girls) → Burnley (Womens) → AFC Fylde → Bolton Ladies FC

Years with Bolton Ladies: New signing

Job: Care Assistant and also studying Sports Science & Coaching

Footballer admired: Jamie Vardy (England and Leicester City)

Advice to aspiring young players: It’s never too late to start playing. Joining a local grass roots team will help you to build confidence and develop your playing style.

If you have a story to share, please email news@boltonathome.org.uk