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Participation | Introducing our partners from the Bristol Women's Football Casual League

You may not know it but there is something rumbling under the rocks of Bristol. A sporting scene that encapsulates positive societal values and mirrors the ever-growing popularity of modern-day women’s football. The Bristol Women’s Football Casual League has provided opportunities for women of all backgrounds and abilities across Bristol. For just under a decade, the founders and volunteers of this progressive, inclusive league have plenty to be proud of as they have witnessed an extraordinary growth with over 200 registered players. We spoke to League Secretary and member of Misfits FC, to find out more about the League and her football journey so far.

Laura, thanks for taking the time to chat to us. Firstly, what made you fall in love with the beautiful game?

I was put in Bristol Rovers baby grows since I was born and remember trips to the Memorial ground with my family from a young age, so it was something I was born into! My dad was taking my older sister along to Bristol Rovers girls’ football training and I went with them and watched. After a while the coach approached me (I was about 9 at the time and my sister 10) and asked if I wanted to get involved as they were looking for more players. I started playing and quickly found out that I really loved it and never looked back!

For those who may not know, could you explain what the Bristol Women's Casual League is all about?

The BWFCL was set up by players who recognised a gap between those females wanting to participate in traditional 11 a-side football in a competitive and regular league and those that wanted to play football but on a more friendly, informal, and flexible basis. The ethos of the league is to make sure football is available to all, those who identify as women, those who are non-binary, those that are mums, those that have work commitments, those who cannot afford the costs of more competitive leagues and training.

Most importantly for us to provide a friendly, inclusive league that all players are proud to be apart of.

We have definitely created a fantastic community which has 28 teams and counting! We are completely unlike any other women’s league in the area- please do check out our website for further info 😊

There's a big team of you involved behind the scenes but what is your role and how did you become involved?

The league is run by a fantastic core team, all built up from players from different teams across the league. Harry Hoare and Susannah Mallaghan are two of the original members; they both play for Cowgirls and are the fount of all knowledge when it comes to the league! Harry deals with organising the fixtures and all things ‘Full Time’ related along with our newest member Bonnie Buckley who has been involved in the new FA player registration system that we were introduced to this year. Susannah is our league treasurer; she deals with all incoming and outgoing costs and helps order anything we need for the league. We have Sophie Duncombe who runs our website and keeps it updated, Holly Watson who creates all our social media content, Holly Longman who is most importantly in-charge of our social events and Claire Allen who kindly takes league pictures for us when requested. Not only do we have our core roles, but we also help on the ground on match days, setting up the pitches, putting up goals, bringing down equipment, locking it all away again- there is a lot of work that goes on!

I joined the core group around 4 years ago. I was one of the core members for my team in the league Misfits FC. The secretary of the league at the time was Zoe Gibbons, one of the founders of the casual league, an absolute legend who is still playing in the league now! She had asked me to take over as secretary and that is what I have been doing for the past 4 years. I work extremely hard along with the core team to coordinate and run the league. You could say that I am the front of house causal league receptionist! I book the venue, pitches, co-ordinate with the team captains and our fantastic FA qualified Refs Bob, Alan and Andy and generally organise and help the league with anything that comes up. I wouldn’t be able to do it without my fellow core group! We do all this alongside our full time jobs/ other life commitments, it is all voluntary. The league would not be able to run without the core group and I am proud to be part of such a strong, amazing bunch of women!

The League seems to be growing year on year, why do you think that is?

I would say the Women’s World Cup in 2019 inspired a lot of women to get involved in football! Our fantastic Lionesses were finally getting the media coverage they deserved, and it seemed like more and more people were supporting them to do well. Now with the Women’s Super League being shown more regularly on TV and players getting well-known I think this has helped Women’s football become more popular, leading to more players wanting to get involved in playing. When I first started as league secretary we had 1 division, with around 12 teams. We currently have 3 divisions and 28 teams involved! Every season when I get requests from new teams it makes me so happy to see the league continue to grow and more women getting involved with such an amazing and welcoming community.

The 'Gas Girls' are massive supporters of the League and are proud partners. What does this partnership mean to you and the League as it grows?

To have the casual league partner up with the ‘Gas Girls’ is fantastic for us as we share the same ethos and what we stand for. We also have a few players in the casual league that play in the development and first team at ‘Gas Girls’ and it’s great to see them doing so well in football. From first contact with Matt at ‘Gas Girls’ I could tell he is really committed to the community, and it is great to have his skillset on board. He has organised a few friendlies with the casual league which has been a great opportunity for our players across all teams to get involved in. I would like to continue our relationship and I am pleased that when I asked Matt to get involved in our BWFCL 10-year anniversary celebrations next year he was more than happy to help!

And finally, what are your aspirations for the League in the coming years?

As the league continues to grow it is important to keep the casual aspect of the league. Although we are a competitive league, it is always important for everyone with all abilities to feel like they belong. The core has spoken about looking into an over 35’s division which is something we are keen to start over the next few years! We have also just confirmed partnership with the amazing campaign #hergametoo so we are interested in seeing how we can get more involved with that.

We really like to give back when we can which is why we give our division winners a sum of money each season to donate to their chosen charities, last season we donated to Cancer Research UK, Next Link Bristol, Glitter Cymru and Trains Aid Cymru. We get involved in helping the community such as foodbank collections on match days but there is always more we can do. The teams across the league are always fundraising for fantastic charities and this is something the league would like to get behind more, we’ve had suggestions for fundraisers that have been put on the back burner due to Covid but now things are opening up again we will definitely be looking at running some charity events in the near future.

Ultimately, we would love it if other cities would duplicate our league in their own hometowns and create more casual leagues across the UK- that would be the dream- then obviously a massive annual tournament to link it all together 😊

We will be celebrating our 10-year anniversary next year in August and I have already started to look into options of how we can commemorate this fantastic achievement so keep your eyes peeled for more details and how you can get involved!

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