The ladies team pre-covid. Credit Elizabeth Knibbs.

Ladies at Long Eaton R.F.C speak to Ashleigh Holland about the huge growth of the women’s game at their club.

If you look back just 8 years ago, Long Eaton R.F.C was an male-dominated club with zero women and girls getting involved in the game.

Fast forward to now with three growing youth teams and a large 31-player successful ladies’ squad, the progress is clearly evident.

Ladies player, Clare McGinnis said: “There are now a significant number of clubs across the local area. This has certainly helped us grow whilst in our infancy as local sides played us and helped us to develop.”

McGinnis said that Nottingham itself was a ‘football city’ and noted that even cricket gains more attention than rugby.

It does make you wonder if this wasn’t the case and Nottingham’s championship side received more credit perhaps rugby’s growth would increase even more in the county.

A group of girls at Long Eaton R.F.C after a training session. Credit Long Eaton RFC Facebook.

Regardless of Nottingham’s sport persuasions, participation levels are at an all-time high globally with over 2.7 million women playing regularly and for Long Eaton R.F.C the pandemic has actually led to more girls and ladies getting involved.

Elizabeth Knibbs joined the club in their first season, she said: “For our club personally, off the back of lockdown, we were inundated with new players wanting that social aspect that rugby brings and a new challenge. Many have said that the game/exercise and the social aspect was of huge benefit for their mental health during a very difficult time.”

“I feel that when you have a shared passion or interest it’s far easier to find likeminded people who share your interests outside of rugby so there’s definitely been a lot of friendships formed too”

The club wants to be accessible to all and recruits women and girls of all ages and walks of life with a big focus on enjoyment.

Ellen Berry, another of the original start-up players said: “Our senior women’s section is a mosaic of ladies, from all walks of life with one thing in common – we love playing rugby.”

“We have great numbers in our junior sides which is positive for the future. The club as a whole has started an ambassador’s initiative, with senior players helping out during training; being positive female role models for the younger female players.”

“It’s absolutely amazing, the ladies who I play with, most have never played rugby before, gave it ago and never left”

“They’re the friendliest and encouraging bunch of ladies I have ever met. The coaches are extremely supportive and push you to be the best you can be.”

The ladies in full swing during a scrum. Credit Long Eaton RFC Facebook.

Although the progression is definitely there, the limitations of being a women’s team in a male-dominated area are still apparent.

Player, Danni Elliott-Carter said: “At Long Eaton, we are fortunate that we have a Head Coach who truly believes in and is 100% behind our ladies section, but there is still a lack of help for him with regards to assistant coaches at the senior level and not every club is as fortunate as we are.”

“The rugby club has come on tremendously and the reaction has been mixed but generally supportive. It takes a while to adapt to a club where women have always been welcome but mainly behind the scenes, baking cakes and running the club shop, not necessarily on the pitch. As with all women’s sport, we still have those obstacles such as not being allowed to play on the 1st pitch despite paying the same monthly subs.”

“I would like to see our sport become one where women feel accepted, that it is OK to learn to tackle, get covered in mud, and not give a second thought to what you look like.”, she added.

The club does demonstrate exciting growth and also high hopes for the future of women’s rugby in Long Eaton, Nottinghamshire, and the UK as a whole.

Long Eaton’s chairman, Chris Brookes explained the club’s 10-year plan: “The hope is that by 2025 the Ladies Game has grown and developed nationally and that our team are well sufficiently supported and grown enough to have opposite weeks to the men’s first team on the main pitch, pre-game lunches, and sponsors.”

To get involved or to keep updated with the ladies section development visit their website.