Frustration at state of women’s football in Jersey

FOR anyone interested in women’s football, Sunday’s clash between Grouville and Rozel Rovers provided plenty of food for thought, not just about the game locally, but in the Channel Islands generally, and even further afield.

Former professinal Jodie Botterill Picture: JON GUEGAN
Former professinal Jodie Botterill Picture: JON GUEGAN

Among those willing to share their views was former Welsh international and professional player, Rozel Rovers striker Jodie Botterill.

‘I’m speaking out because of sheer frustration. I’ve been involved in the sport for 21 years and nothing seems to have really changed,’ she said.

‘We keep doing the same thing, year after year, hoping things will be different. It isn’t working. Something dramatic needs to happen.’

Her main issue is that not enough is being done to keep girls in the game.

The facts seem to bear her out. Following the late withdrawal of Portuguese United there are just four women’s teams in the Island, and one of those, Rozel Rovers, dominate the scene. As their manager, Tim Pryor, pointed out ‘last year, we won all four major honours’.

In Sunday’s Zenith Cup group-stage game they were once again back to their winning ways, asserting their authority with an 8-0 drubbing of Grouville.

It had been hoped there would be a flood of new talent in the women’s game this year, but that failed to materialise with Portuguese pulling out just before the season began due to a lack of players.

Many of those who had wanted to play have now signed for other teams. While this has brought some new talent to the game it has generally served to strengthen the already-strong teams and widened disparity in the league. Nilza Velosa is a case in point, scoring on her debut for the ‘Rozettes’ on Sunday.

It is not much of a consolation for Jersey players, but the situation seems even worse in Guernsey. They only have one women’s team, Guernsey Ladies FC. With no other team to play, they are forced to come to Jersey. The only action they are likely to see this season is competing for the Colin Welsh Trophy – Jersey’s Women’s FA Cup.

What is perhaps baffling is that this fall in the number of girls and women playing football in the Channel Islands is being played out against a backdrop of the sport booming elsewhere.

Fifa estimates more than a billion people watched the 2019 Women’s World Cup final, and ITV has signed a four-year deal to show all of the Lionesses’ qualifiers and friendlies, starting this Friday with England v North Macedonia. At one time the Lionesses were ranked number two in the world, and in 2019 made it to the World Cup semi-finals. Inspired by the success of the national team, there has been a surge in the number of girls and women playing the game in the UK.

For Guernsey’s Island side, today is a far cry from 1997 when they beat Jersey 3-0 in the inaugural women’s Muratti. It was the beginning of an uninterrupted five-year-reign, although Jersey has now overtaken ‘the old enemy’ with 13 victories to six, culminating in a record-breaking 9-0 victory in 2016.

Political infighting in Guernsey meant there has not been a women’s football inter-insular clash since 2016, but the word in the stands is that is about to change. Guernsey is hosting the 2023 NatWest Island Games (originally planned for 2021 but postponed in the light of the Covid pandemic) and a women’s football tournament is planned. It is almost inconceivable Guernsey would not want to enter a team. With this in mind, it had been planned to revive the women’s Muratti in 2020, and again this year, but Covid put paid to that.

Players say a revived Muratti will do wonders to kick-start women’s football locally and act as a real incentive to youngsters.

Also watching Sunday’s game were Chad Morris and Fiona MacKinnon-Fox, head coaches for the Jersey’s women’s side. Despite the apparent dearth of female players locally both coaches say Jersey would be ‘likely to have a great squad’ for any Muratti or the next Island Games. Botterill agrees.

The reason for this is, although Guernsey superstar Maya Le Tissier is the Channel Islander who seems to be grabbing all the headlines in women’s football, having captained England’s Under-15 and Under-17 sides, there are a number of Jersey women playing top-level football in the UK – often below the radar. Two of them – Holly Muirhead and Tiffany Sundby – both play for Chichester and were in action for Rozel Rovers on Sunday. Others include Sara Luce, who plays in goal for Southampton, and Megan Wood, who plays for Keynsham Town Ladies.

Natasha Keen and Anita Tavares are both playing in the USA. If they were all to come home, it could be an outstanding team to rival the Jersey women who lifted the Island Games trophy at Springfield in 2015 and who put an end to what has almost been a Scandinavian domination of the sport.

As was apparent from Sunday’s game and evidenced by the women who have gone on successfully to play the game away from home, there is certainly talent in Jersey. As Botterill highlights, the number of girls attending the Jersey Football Association’s Player Development Centre also shows many are keen to take up the sport.

The problem, as Botterill sees it, is keeping those youngsters interested in playing the game and not taking up other sports. This happens in part because girls have to be 16 before they can play senior football, and in the interim are picked up by other sports where the same rules do not apply. Botterill’s answer is simple: establish U16 and U14 girls’ leagues in the Island. That would be dramatic.

And, after years and years of doing the same thing, it may just be the change the sport needs.

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