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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL DURING A PANDEMIC: A LOOK AT MATLOCK TOWN LADIES

It’s not only Matlock Town’s men’s team that has had an impressive start to the 2020/21 campaign. Matlock Town Ladies are currently in second place in the Derbyshire Girls & Ladies League Division 2 after winning five of their first six league games.


This is a season though like no other and the great start comes under the constant worry and anxiety over what happens next regarding the COVID-19 virus within England. Derbyshire Media Company has spoken exclusively to Matlock Town Ladies joint manager Josh Gomm for an insight into how lower league women’s football has been coping under, arguably, the most difficult year the world has experienced in modern times:


“When we first started going back, everyone was just happy to be back playing some form of football. But we had restrictions where you couldn’t get close to anyone…it developed where you could only have groups of six training together. Our league actually started a lot earlier than a lot of other leagues…so because of that we had even less time to prepare. It was a very quick turnaround. We also had a problem where some players were a bit cautious to play to start off with, because we have players that work in healthcare and things like that. So we had to be cautious because obviously we didn’t want to spread this virus round and these players didn’t want to spread it round at their day jobs. So it was very tough to start off with. It has got a bit better in the last few weeks or so but it does look like things are about to stop again. There was a lot of risk assessments that we had to do to make sure all the right protection was there for the players and for the managers. So it’s certainly been an interesting start to the season but we’ve got through it as well as we can.”


While much has been made about the financial worries of non-league teams within the men’s game, the women’s game within lower league football receives even less support and relies on funding itself even during normal circumstances:


“Financially, we don’t really get any support from the FA. We’re self-funded. Players pay subs so we can afford things like the referee’s fees etc. and every player makes their own way to the games in terms of travelling. So we’re very much self-funded. We get help from Matlock Town’s men’s team where they can.”


Gomm is optimistic that the support for women’s lower-league football will improve but concedes that there is still a lot of work that needs doing:


“I think it’s going in the right direction…the FA do a really good job with getting young age groups involved. But once it gets from youth football into adult football, the support starts to drop off a little bit. The proper support is not there at the minute.”


At the time of writing, England appears to be on the verge of a second national lockdown being announced, which, if it does happen, will obviously have huge consequences for football at all levels. Josh was asked how much a forced break in the season for a sustained amount of time (strongly rumoured to be for the vast majority of November) would affect and possibly damage the game at Matlock Town Ladies’s level:


“Facilities isn’t too much of an issue financially as we’re self-funded but if we have to have another long break, it will be hard to get everything back running again. We’d effectively have to have another mini pre-season. We’d be struggling to get players fitness back up to standards. With the start that we’ve had, we obviously want to keep building on that…it’s obviously something that we’re hoping to avoid but it is looking unlikely right now that we’ll be able to play through November.”


Away from the pandemic, Gomm spoke at length about where Matlock Town Ladies are as a football club right now and is clearly encouraged at the direction that the team is going in:


“We didn’t have a women’s team until about five to six years ago. That team has come up through the youth ranks…we’re making a really good push this season and this is probably one of the best squads that we’ve had in a while. We’ve got a good core of players and we’ve had a very positive start. The short-term goal is to get into the top division of the Derbyshire Girls & Ladies league. That’s the goal we’re aiming for this season…in the long-term, the football landscape changes quite a lot when you go from regional football to counties football…we want to go as far as we can go. We want to build up the youth team more…we’re quite lucky that we do get quite a few spectators for our level of football. If anyone wants to get their football fix, please come along and watch us and get to know the team. We try and play an attractive brand of football.”


Gomm is confident that support and interest for the club will continue to grow, particularly once the COVID-19 crisis finally eases off. The team play their home games at Cavendish Fields in Matlock but there is something in place which should mean that the club will be able to alternate where they play at times to try and boost their fan base:


“We’re still definitely looking to boost our support. We’ve agreed with Matlock’s board to host some games at the Proctor Cars Stadium, so hopefully that will encourage more fans to come along and watch us. As the club has only been around for about six years, I don’t think the whole of Matlock know that we’re there, but we are starting to make a bigger name for ourselves and as the word gets out there, more people are coming out to watch us.”

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