Bedford Junior Blues Girls Rugby
Women's rugby is on the up. Whether it be numbers of girls playing at grass roots level, or the ladies getting more TV time - you are likely to see them playing, more than ever before.
My small journey with girls rugby started in the first months of 2016 when, after getting a Scotland Six Nations jumper for Christmas, my six year old daughter asked if she could play rugby. As somewhat of a distant rugby fan myself, not playing since my own school days it was not something I expected to hear. But inspired by the jumper and a classmate who played in the Bedford Junior Blues Minis team, she had no perception of it being a 'boys sport'. So with a pair of football boots in hand, we ventured over to Wentworth Drive on a cold Sunday morning to see what was what.
Well, after just an hour of finding her way around the pitch and being supported by the excellent Head Coach, Andy Bennett, she was determined she would return; to the extent that we even picked her up a match shirt and other kit items from the club shop as we departed! That was day one.
The season continued through the Spring of 2016 as she got to know more about the game and to find a place amongst her new friends’ group. With a small handful of other girls in the team, she was not alone, she happily teamed up with the boys when 1-on-1 training exercises were required. I too also found some like minded parents to be sociable with on the touch lines. With my camera in hand, I took sporting shots for the annual family album and to send to the proud grandparents.
By the time the 2018 season kicked off, she was a competitive equal to many of the boys and I was the de facto squad photographer! Noticing that the Head Coach had a very busy time getting bibs handed out, speaking to parents with questions and all manner of other administrative matters, I decided to offer some help. I concede, my heart wanted to be asked to put my boots back on and help out with coaching, but the call to be our Team Manager seemed a better fit. It probably also stopped me going down a dangerous path that might have seen me believe I could even play in a veterans team, more than 20 years after I last grasped a ball! Understandably, there is quite a bit of admin and organisation when it comes to kids' clubs. I felt by taking this away from the Head Coach, I could allow him to focus on his real value; teaching the kids and coaching the coaches.
The two following seasons were perfect. Our squad number grew. Our kids all enjoyed their Sunday morning outing and we were able to pick up a few more coaches from the onlooking parents. What could possibly go wrong! Well, when the 2019 season rolled over into March 2020, as with many others, our fun was stopped by COVID. After a few weeks of wondering 'how long will this last' the Blues put in place a great Sunday alternative of Zoom training sessions with guest coaches from the Blues. Our kids quickly adapted to joining in from their living rooms and remaining involved with the club and their friends. We had a few start-stop attempts to return to Sunday training at Wentworth Drive. Lots of extra health & safety protocol, but this considered well worth it to get the kids back out on the pitch.
The 2021/22 season allowed us to get back more regularly to training and competitive matches with neighbouring clubs. Our girls' numbers even blossomed with a couple more taking an interest during the Six Nations period. We ended the season in recent weeks with our U11s squad at around 45 kids, of which six of our regular attendees were our girls. I also became slightly busier, during the last couple of seasons. My elder daughter, 13 at the time, felt she was missing out on the fun and asked to join the Girls squad too. So now with two daughters playing in different age groups, I would regularly spend my entire morning (and some of the afternoon) at Wentworth Drive on a Sunday.
It was, however, a great way to get involved with the Junior Girls squad and start to make the relationships with the coaches and other volunteers. before my youngest and her teammates joins them next season. I wonder if I will get my boots, my camera, or my laptop out then. Probably all three!
Looking forwards to the 2022/23 season, our U12s girls are required by RFU rules, to split from the boys and 'go it alone'. So, we will embark on a new season with the BJB Girls squad. With girls from U12s up to U18s, the Junior Girls team has quietly over the last eight years become established under the guidance and care provided by Head Coach Mark Stapley. With good numbers in all the age groups pre-COVID, Mark even embarked on establishing a Womens team. I think we could say he started well, with the Blues Women having a very impressive first season in the league and taking the title with an unbeaten scorecard. This inspiring performance acts as a motivation for some of the girls that play in Bedford Junior Blues today.
I am delighted that a few of the Blues Women even manage to find the time in their own schedules to come along and support the coaches with our girls training. It gives our club a great community and support feeling.
With small numbers, the Blues Junior Girls face a challenge just to exist for the coming years. Collaborating with some local clubs, we will continue to give our girls an opportunity to play competitive matches and to train with a wider group of friends. Let there be no doubt about the passion our girls have for rugby. At the recent end of season awards for the Bedford Junior Blues, they certainly made themselves known with great cheering for their teammates and bringing joyful support to the proceedings. With continued support from the club and the volunteers, I look forward to seeing our girls inspiring others to take up rugby. Seeing is believing.
U11s Team Manager, Girls Parent Helper, photographer & proud dad of two rugby girls.