Sport Sister Podcast - Season 1, Episode 3

Episode 3 – You’re Never Too Old For Sport: Carol Bates and Andrea Ellis.

Carol Bates and Andrea Ellis

Carol Bates is the founder of Crawley Old Girls.  She was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, in 2021, for Services to Football and Inclusion.  Andrea Ellis set up Bromley Belles, a recreational football team for women aged over 30, in 2018. She is also Bromley FC’s first Development Officer for Women and Girls.   Carol and Andrea join Natalie Doyle to discuss how sport can have a positive impact on women of all ages, how you can engage women in sport and why you should!  Both have many personal stories to tell and useful tips to share.

I think being in a non-judgemental environment fosters that confidence that I think a lot of women might not have.

- Andrea Ellis

Read this episode’s transcript

Natalie Doyle: 

Welcome to the Sport Sister Podcast, where we bring together professional experts with grassroots pioneers to discuss key topics for grassroots sport. 

I’m Natalie Doyle, and this episode I’m joined by two brilliant guests from the world of women’s recreational football. 

Carol Bates has been involved in football for over 40 years before she finally started playing age 48. She’d washed the kit, managed and coached teams, been a club secretary, but it wasn’t until she set up Crawley Old Girls that she finally got the chance to play herself. 

Andrea Ellis set up Bromley Belles, a recreational football team for women over 30 in 2018. She’s now also a Weetabix Wildcats Community Champion and Bromley FC’s first ever Development Officer for women and girls. Two women that love football, but didn’t have the opportunity to play until they were a bit older. It just goes to show you’re never too old for sport. Let’s see what they have to say. 

So Carol and Andrea, thank you so much for giving up your time today. I’m really looking forward to this chat. Women’s recreational football has just gone from strength to strength, hasn’t it, the last few years? And I know you’ve both been huge catalysts in driving that forward. 

I suppose my first question is, and Carol, if we start with you, what was it that made you want to get involved in the first place? 

Carol Bates: 

Well, I think sort of going back to I was about age seven or eight, watching my dad follow my dad around watching him play football every weekend, and then in subsequent years doing everything in football apart from actually playing, making the teas and washing the kit and being a secretary for years and everything that went with it. Managed a men’s team and coached a girls’ team. I did everything apart from playing. And it wasn’t until I was 48 that I just sort of said, at the time I was the chair of the local football club, Crawley Town, the supporters’ alliance and the community foundation there, they were trying to run a project run by the Football League Trust to get more girls involved. But the sessions were only for girls age 14 plus, and 25 was the maximum age. 

At that time, I just thought I really wanted to have a little kick around, and played with parents at your kids’ football and we really enjoy it. And then I played in the charity tournament and absolutely loved it and just thought, no, this is something I’ve always wanted to do. And here was an opportunity, but actually it wasn’t an opportunity because I was too old. So me being stubborn old me, I was like, this is not going to stop me here. So I just said to Amy, who was at the foundation at the time, “Is there any chance that we can get something organised for older women and just have a kick about and learn to play football?” And it sort of went from there really. 

Natalie Doyle: 

And how many do you have involved at the moment in the session? 

Carol Bates: 

So at the moment we have a closed Facebook page, and they’re not all active, but there’s just over 200 on there at the moment. So yes, there’s lots of women now involved and enjoying football. 

Natalie Doyle: 

Brilliant. How about you, Andrea? What made you want to get involved? 

Andrea Ellis: 

Well, unlike Carol, I was the only one in my family that liked football from an early age. Obviously wasn’t allowed to play at school, but always kind of was desperate. Every play time I used to put on my QPR top ready to go out and kick the ball about with the boys. And just as time went on, I went to an all girls school, never got involved. Played hockey, played in goal for hockey, because that was the only thing I could do with kicking a ball. And as time went on, I approached my school. We got some girls’ football set up with Crystal Palace, that was back in the early nineties. But then obviously I left, played a bit at university. When I came out, I played a little bit more, but then just things happen and it just kind of dries up and you don’t go and it’s not a priority. 

Actually, as you know, Natalie, we kind of met over the London Leopards, getting the hundred coaches in London by 2020. And I applied for that. And at the same time I was thinking, yeah, coaching would be great because I was a teacher at that time as well. And I was thinking, but actually really I do want to play. And I’ve been looking for veteran teams and I’ve been searching vets because that’s what men’s teams are called for those older players. And there was nothing out there. And then all of a sudden I kind of heard, I think it was on… I’m pretty sure it was Carol. I did hear about women’s recreational. And I was thinking, oh, hang on a minute. There’s another team. There’s another category out there for people that are older like me and just picked up that I was barking up the wrong tree almost. 

Just one thing led to another and I approached Kent FA and they said, “Well, why don’t you just contact Bromley Football Club?” And yeah, they’ve been really supportive. So that was four years ago and it’s just grown. It’s just given me so many experiences. I mean, I never thought it would be like that, but yeah, so that’s how the journey started at Bromley Belles. 

Natalie Doyle: 

That’s interesting, isn’t it, Andrea, that you said that you started to look for vets football. Because like you say, that’s what it looks like for men, is it’s vets football. And I think women’s recreational football is very different, isn’t it? And I imagine that’s a conscious effort to make it very different. How do you approach what it is that you are running for these women to make it seem like this isn’t vets football, it’s completely different. How do you approach that? 

Andrea Ellis: 

Well, I mean, it is completely different because obviously veterans is more about people that have played in the past and they’re kind of looking to carry on playing at a slower pace maybe. But as far as the women’s recreational is concerned, you’re looking at a different audience, completely different audience. So you are looking at people that may have played or haven’t ever played or played a long time ago. And obviously haven’t been involved in football for a while. So the whole kind of audience is completely different. You are looking at people that are in a different mindset. Maybe they don’t think they’re able to play or they’re worried about joining a football team, and they haven’t got that experience of playing football to fall back on. 

Carol Bates: 

Yeah, I think it’s interesting actually, because when we first set up seven years ago now is that we introduced it as older women come and learn to play football sort of thing. Because there wasn’t any women’s recreational football as such around then. And we actually called it ladies’ social football. And I think back now, and I actually cringe at that. It’s morphed into women’s recreational football, but it started off just with older women learning to play. And then all these other women saw what was going on. And some of them who did get the chance to play, wanted to come back into the game. So we then got to the stage of we have these beginners, but then we have these experienced women that want to come back into a game as well. And then you sort of mix that up and then you have to think, well, how do we take it from there? 

Because you can’t have all the experienced players playing with women that have just come into the game because, one, it’s not fair on them, and two, it’s not fair on the beginners because they’re better. Then you have to think about how you set your sessions up in relation to abilities and ages, et cetera. We didn’t really go to ages because we were all sort of over 30 and 40 and nearly 50 at the time. But I think we had to set up separate sessions in the end because we ended up not being beginners after a few years. So we wanted not additional but extra, harder coaching if you like. And then we were still having beginners coming into the game. So that still needed to be very basic. And always said, when we started look at it as like mini soccer, with the kids just starting to play. And that’s how we did it. But then of course you’ve got the women that come into the game. They want to play their game as well. So you have to sort of plan on how you’re going to manage it all as it starts to grow, and it has grown and it’s going to grow massively after the Euros as well. 

Natalie Doyle: 

Yeah. That must be a real challenge. I think we always kind of focus on that issue, don’t we, for girls in terms of there’s going to be a big range of abilities. Some might have played a bit more before than others. But from a women’s point of view, that range could be much bigger, can’t it? Because you could have people who’ve literally never played, who are like you say over 40, over 50 potentially, never played the game. You could have some who have played for quite a while, certainly for the time we’re at now. And then are just looking for something a little bit more casual. Is that quite a difficult thing to manage? 

Carol Bates: 

I have a very strong ethos that COGs is all about fun and enjoyment. So regardless whether you’ve played before in a very competitive environment, whether you are new to the game or you’ve just got some experience, if you are coming to the Crawley Old Girls sessions, you will know that it’s all about fun and enjoyment. So what happens is the experienced players who come in, we’ve got women that used to play for Brighton years ago, but then what happens is they come in and they play. And what we do when we have festivals is I always split the teams evenly. So there’s always some beginners, some intermediate, some experienced players in each team as we play for fun. And the experienced players then help the other players in their game. 

And actually that gives the experienced players something else because they then feel that they are actually doing some good and they’re helping others through their football learning journey. So you have got another side to it, and then the beginners obviously are learning off the more experienced players as well. So it’s not just going and playing a game. There is that other interaction as well from beginners through to experienced players in the same team. 

Andrea Ellis: 

Yeah. I mean, I’ve gone to Carol in the past for advice actually in how to kind of manage that with the teams. Because again, as Carol said, we’ve got the same thing with us. We’re completely inclusive with a range of abilities. We all want to play football. And the most important thing is making sure that we are having fun and we are getting fit. And by doing that, we’ve also had that same ethos as well of ensuring that we mix up the teams. We don’t do an A and a B. That’s not the way that we work. We play together as a team. We’re one club. And so we’re one team. And yeah, it helps support those people that feel that maybe they’re just at the beginning of their footballing journey. And also for those that are more experienced, as Carol said, it’s also got its advantages as well to support those other players and that sort of mentoring role that you have and a supportive role in the club, which kind of goes to the whole wider picture as well, I guess, in the fact that we’re all women supporting women playing football. 

Natalie Doyle: 

Yeah. That’s a really good point around the motivations you touched on there, Andrea, about why they want to play. To have fun, to keep fit potentially. Do you see that there are different motivations for the different women that you see that come down? Is it more of a social element? Is it the fitness or is it a bit of a combination of all of it? 

Andrea Ellis: 

We have quite a lot of socials. Yeah. I’ve just literally been talking to some teachers, we just held a cup competition here today at Bromley, and some of the female teachers that came down to support the girls’ teams, have just been talking to them. And a lot of the time when you talk to people, they talk about, “Oh, I’m not very good. I’m not really sure, I’m a bit worried. I need to come down with a friend.” One of the first things I say is, “Look, everyone just has a lot of fun. 

And we are a big team and we do a lot of socials as well.” We’ve done things off the pitch that we would never, personally as well, never have dreamt of doing, really pushing myself out of my comfort zone. 

I mean, I use the example, we did Tough Mudder a few years ago. 30 of us did it. And it was the most amazing thing. I never would’ve done that if I hadn’t been with the Belles. So in that aspect, yeah. It is two parts. And also it’s just great to be with people that you have a shared passion of football, but you’ve lots of different people from lots of different backgrounds, lots of different environments in lots of different situations. So both parts are really, really important. And I think that’s what makes the team work and gets that unity between you. 

Carol Bates: 

Yeah. And I think you’ve got as well so many women that you would never have met normally in your normal life that they’re all coming together over this one passion of just… Well, a passion some of them didn’t even know they had before they came. Just playing football and just enjoying playing football. And so you’ve got so many more friends, you do different things with each other, you learn about other people’s jobs and other people’s lives. It is so much more than the football, as Andrea said, it was the social events. We have quite a few socials and we all enjoy a drink every now and again. There are some good videos and experiences that come out of that. It is not just about the football, but primarily the football is how it starts. 

Natalie Doyle: 

Yeah sport can do that, can’t it? Can bring together lots of different people from different walks of life. And I think it’s really good to see such diverse groups coming together in that way. Carol, you mentioned earlier around you cringe when you think about how you branded up the first sessions that you ran around ladies social football. Now you’ve got really strong identities for the sessions that you run. So COGs or Crawley Old Girls, Bromley Belles, do you think that sense of identity really helps to bring people together in terms of the sessions that you’re running? 

Carol Bates: 

Oh, absolutely. Because my son works in the local Tescos and he said, “Oh, there was a woman that came in today and she had a COGs jacket on.” And people feel part of this real women’s community that actually is their safe space at times. So as soon as you go into the 3G for one of the sessions you are with your group, they’re like your women and you feel safe. You just walk through the door and you know that you are going to be empowered by your female friends, you’re going to be supported and you’re just going to have fun and enjoyment. You can take the mickey out of each other as well. And we have mishaps, but I think it is a real community of women. They are proud to be part of COGs and they’re very proud that they’re actually playing football now as well. So am I, I wouldn’t have been doing any other activities before that. But to put on my boots and just go and play football is just such a big part of my life now. 

Andrea Ellis: 

Yeah. It’s funny to talk about identity actually, because a lot of the Belles that we have, we are obviously part of Bromley Football Club. A lot of the Belles that we have, they’ve got youth players in the youth. So some of them coach the youth and some of them have youth players there as well. And I think it’s great. Everyone, as I was saying earlier on, I wanted to put my football shirt on at play time when I was younger and I love putting my shirt on. Being part of a bigger thing, a bigger entity, like being part of the football club is amazing. And it kind of knocks on because you’re going full circle. We are having the children, lots of sons seeing their mums play football, it’s game changing at the end of the day. And we all belong to the same club. I mean, I don’t want to embarrass my own children, but they do say to me, I’m really proud, you play football, you are older and there’s no barriers. 

And so I think being part of Bromley Football Club is just for us, a lot of us are really proud. We’ve got an identity, we’ve got our badge, we go out there and we know what we are about. We’re very happy to spread the word on that. So yeah, it is really, really important. 

Natalie Doyle: 

Yeah. It’s really important, isn’t it? That sort of breaking down barriers and changing perceptions of women in sport. Like you say, if the younger players are seeing what you are doing, then they just see that that’s normal. That’s what should be happening. So it’s so important. Okay. Right. I’m going to get into the details now in terms of how you do it. So this sort of age group of women is a really difficult age group to engage. Usually got lots of other things going on. How did you at the start, I imagine it grows as the momentum builds, word of mouth probably helps to get people along, but at the start, how did you get those women down to the sessions? 

Carol Bates: 

Well, I think the most important thing that I found was that saying to people, “You don’t have to have any experience. You don’t have to be fit. You don’t have to have any ability at all, just come down and have some fun.” That was the main thing. I think as the years have gone by, as you say it’s difficult for this age group. I think when you get a bit older and your family’s sort of grown up a little bit more, it’s maybe a bit easier. But certainly the imagery around midlife women being active is one of my really strong sort of things. It frustrates me sometimes, because I think you’ve got to be able to see women like me who are overweight, but we are running around with a smile on our face. You’ve got to be able to see that image, to know that you can do that as well. 

In fact, I did some work with Women in Sport and Getty Images. We did like a library of images of the COGs playing, and everyone’s different sizes. Everyone’s different shapes, different abilities. And that’s the sort of thing that we need to look at to engage with more women, especially during midlife, especially during menopause, so important that women are active. And I think one of the things as well that I completely got rid of is the word ‘exercise’. I just do not use that word anymore because you have to use the word active. Because to me, as I was growing up, soon as someone said exercise to me, that would mean, right, you have to go fast, you have to do something to be fit. And all those images, you just want to get rid of that now. And you just want to normalise it basically that women that are larger, women that are slower, everybody can be active. You just put a football down in front of them. We give them some coaching, and then they’re active and it goes from there. 

Andrea Ellis: 

Yeah. I mean, I’m pretty much the same as well as what Carol was. I just echo what Carol was saying. I guess for me talking to people out there, it is about identifying the barriers that are stopping people from coming. So one of them is they feel they’re not fit enough or they maybe feel like they’re going to be judged. So it’s about reassuring people that it is fun. So I make a real big deal of, you know, actually putting photos on social media about us, not only playing football, but doing the socials. Like Carol our girls are exactly the same, different shapes and sizes and everyone, you don’t have to reach a fitness level to come and play. So seeing those barriers, I would definitely say we are flexible. 

So there’s an environment where, okay, if you can’t come for a few weeks because of work or family commitments, then there’s no issue around that. We’d expect that. So I lay that out quite early on when I’m talking to people. That it is there to be of benefit to them. It’s not a tie, it’s not a club. I think sometimes a lot of girls or a lot of women think that they’ve got to train every week. 

They’ve got to be part of it every week. And if they’re not, they’re going to be removed from the team, and it’s not like that. It’s do what you want, however much or however little, and take it from there. So they’re definitely the things that we’ve tried to bring in to help support women join and to engage with those women that maybe we didn’t or wouldn’t engage with football. And also I go out and I talk to a lot of women. I tell them about us. Try to be really approachable and say, “If you are worried, come along and watch.” That’s happened a couple of times. And within 10 minutes they’ve brought their boots to watch and come out onto the pitch. So that’s a good thing. 

Carol Bates: 

I think it’s really important as well, actually, I’ll just echo what Andrea said, the non-committal part is really important for women. There’s so much going on with families and things they have to do outside work. That it’s important for them to know that they can just come whenever they want to. And I think the other thing I’ve always found is that when I say, “Come and play football, come and join us, come and have some fun,” I think there’s two answers that always come back. And one is, “I don’t know anything about football,” and two is, “I’m not fit enough.” And I say, “Well, you are precisely the people that we want to come along then.” It doesn’t matter that you don’t know anything about football for a start, because you’ve got your feet and you’ve got a ball and that’s all you need. And just not being fit enough, you just go at your own pace. There’s no pressure to be any fitness or any ability wise, there is no pressure to be anything, you can just go at your own pace and just enjoy it. That’s the main thing. 

Andrea Ellis: 

I think as well as women, we’re quite apologetic. We say we are not very good at doing something straight away. It’s trying to change that and say, “Well, who says?” Who’s made that judgment? So I think being in a non-judgmental environment fosters that confidence that I think a lot of women might not have. I mean, for me personally, I will give things a go, I’m quite an outgoing person, but I know that there are a lot of people that aren’t, and I’ve seen some real people in the team just grow with confidence. They’ve emailed me, said, “I’m going to come this week. I’m going to come this week.” And then it’s taken them two months to come. And then they finally got the courage to come and then they might watch for a little while and then they come along and then they might not be involved in the socials. They might not put themselves forward for a tournament. 

And then as time goes on, you just carry on being supportive, that drip, drip, drip of, we’re having a good time here. We’re a good solid group of women that are enjoying our football. And then things happen. You start seeing them grow in confidence, put themselves forward for festivals and tournaments, and actually have a big smile on their face. So yeah, it’s providing that supportive environment and being nonjudgmental. We also say for people that are about to come, that we buddy them up for the first session. 

Carol Bates: 

I was just going to say exactly the thing. 

Andrea Ellis: 

So that they’ve got someone there that they can talk to. Because I send out an information sheet to people that are interested or have made an enquiry and that details what a session looks like. Where we meet, what we do, how the session pans out. Because for some people that can be a barrier. Because if they’re not sure what it’s going to entail, then they’re not going to do it. So then when they actually do get that courage of coming along, to have a buddy just means that they’ve got someone there who has been there for the four years, knows the drill, says, “I felt like that when I first turned up,” I think that kind of empathy as well is really, really helpful in making people feel more reassured and more likely to join. 

Natalie Doyle: 

Yeah. That confidence bit is really important. Isn’t it? 

Carol Bates: 

Yeah. It’s so important for the confidence to come out. When I was younger, I wouldn’t have said boo to a goose. And since doing the football, I’ve got up on stage and spoken to people. I can’t explain how it gives you confidence, but when you’re enjoying something and you feel good about doing it, it just makes your whole demeanour change. Doesn’t it? And it gives you more confidence to do what you want to do. And plus I think when you get older, I always say I wish I could say to a younger me or the younger girls now that actually when you get a bit older, you don’t care as much what people think. So with that as well as building confidence as well, I wish I could say to the younger girls, don’t worry about what you look like when you are actually being active and doing sport, because it really doesn’t matter. Because in 30 years time, you actually won’t give a damn what you look like. So you might as well enjoy that confidence 30 years earlier. 

But I’ve seen so many women, their confidence has just gone sky high. And with that, some of the women have gone into coaching. So there’s such a knock on effect of just making that step to just come in and be active with a football. It is just an ongoing process that will help other women and girls to play. 

Natalie Doyle: 

Yeah. I mean, Andrea, for you, if you look now, you are Bromley’s first Development Officer for women and girls, it has basically led to almost like a career change for you. You would never have imagined that would you in the past? 

Andrea Ellis: 

No, I’m still dreaming. I’m still dreaming. I just literally am pinching myself. I mean, I’ve loved football for 40 years and I never ever thought at the age of 47, I’d be sitting here at Bromley Football Club working to develop women and girls football. It’s just amazing. And today I was running this tournament for, we had over a hundred girls this morning from local schools in Bromley. And I was just thinking I love it because I love seeing their faces and their engagement in football, but there’s a little bit of me that was thinking, oh, that could have been me 40 years ago. But I’m so chuffed for them that they have that. 

But yeah, I have completely career changed. I never really envisaged being in this role. When I applied first of all to do my Level 1 with the London Leopards, I was a primary school teacher, so I had experience in teaching, and I always loved football, but I never thought that it would develop into setting up the Belles and playing and just all the things that it’s brought with me, and sport, football. It’s amazing. It’s always been my passion. So I’m literally living the dream at the moment. And I’m really excited about the future of it. Because as Carol said, with the Women’s Euros coming up, it is growing massively. 

Some of the teachers I spoke to today were saying the girls, because of COVID it’s their first tournament they’ve had out of school. And they were just so excited. I mean, we did the Let Girls Play a couple of weeks ago and they were just… At the beginning I said to them, “Anyone like football?” And they’re like, “Um…” They’re a bit hesitant. And at the end there was a last minute goal and they were running around bibs over their faces celebrating. So it’s great. So to see that, that those girls have that opportunity now, and that I can be some part in that, then yeah. I feel very honoured. 

Carol Bates: 

Yeah. I think as well, we should also recognise the part that The FA has played in this as well from the beginning. I remember when we first set up and I met Rachel Pavlou, who’s an absolute wonder and unsung hero of the FA in relation to development of women and girls. And we have been given some opportunities and we’ve helped The FA try and build up women’s recreational football. With the Women’s Euros coming up and the legacy project Sport England have invested a million pounds into adult recreational football to increase participation. So there are seven women’s recreational football officers around the country for the host cities, and they are building up participation and building up programmes. So there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. And The FA are looking at people setting up Just Play centres as well. So you can go to your local County FA and get a Just Play session set up. So if anyone wants to do it, the actual structure is there to do it and the funding is available to do it. So I would just say anyone get involved and go and see your local County FA. 

Natalie Doyle: 

Definitely. Yeah. I think if you are based in one of those host cities, or if you are based in Bromley or in Crawley, if you have a woman listening to this who’s thinking about going along to one of those sessions and is feeling maybe a bit anxious about it, I’m not good enough. What would you say to those people? 

Carol Bates: 

Well, I think first of all, there are no barriers. You don’t have to have any ability to be able to play football, you don’t have to have any knowledge about football at all. It’s just come and be part of a wonderful group of women and you are just kicking a football around. And you’ll soon learn how to kick a football properly. You’ll soon learn which way to send a pass and little things like that. And once you get involved with the other women, there’s just no stopping, honestly. So just go and do it is all I’d say. 

Andrea Ellis: 

Yeah, I’d say the same. I mean, and if you don’t come along and try it out, you’ll never know. Worst case, come along once. Try it. Don’t like it? We need never see you again. 

Carol Bates: 

A lot of the sessions that are run, the first session’s free anyway. So you’ve got nothing to lose whatsoever. 

Andrea Ellis: 

Yeah, absolutely. We do the same thing as well. There’s never been I don’t think in all the last four years that we’ve had someone that just come once and never came back again. There’s so much more than just kicking a football though, as well. It’s so much more, it’s just a great family to be involved in. To be part of something, to belong to something, to have that identity and that one thing for yourself as well. So go and follow that. I know a lot of mums that I’ve spoken to that play, they said they were just itching, itching to get onto the pitch. Their foot is edging over that sideline and they’ve felt that for a long time. 

And now you’ve got the opportunity to do it. And I know the first tournament that we went to as Belles, which was actually the COGs Festival back in 2018. Yeah. And one of our players, she still plays now. She came off the pitch, she played hockey partly because there was no football, women’s football to play. She plays football with us now as well. And she won’t mind me saying by the fact that she’s in her fifties. And she got off the pitch and under her breath, well, after that first game, Carol at the COGs Fest, she whispered, “I’ve waited 40 years for that.” 

That is because she wanted to play, never had the chance to play. Now she’s had that opportunity. All the things that have come with it have been brilliant. And that’s really moving to hear that. She didn’t necessarily want anyone to hear that, but it was that feeling of that she felt, that’s it, I’ve managed to actually get to play football in an environment, when I say competitive game, what I mean is it’s not just in the park, but a festival game. So yeah. So really moving stuff. 

Carol Bates: 

Well, I think that’s just one story, isn’t it? And behind most women that come along, they have an inspiring story. And actually without sounding dramatic, a few of them said it’s changed their life by coming. And you can’t underestimate that really. Mental wellbeing is so important as well, as much as physical wellbeing, isn’t it? And when you get women coming along who say that that is their thing that’s changed their life. You know, that is really important to sort of recognise that. 

And then you’ve got inspirational women, we have a woman that’s 66 and she came along and she started playing. Maybe I think she was 62, 63. We all thought she was in her fifties, and then she came along and she played on her 65th birthday. And we never knew, she actually came to the session and she has done the play with the FA Playmaker. So she now is able to coach. Now, how inspiring is that? It’s just unbelievable. 

And then we have another woman, Celia, she’s a grandma. She was playing in goal. And then her granddaughter was kicking footballs at her in the goal. I mean, how inspiring is that for a young girl to see her grandma in goal, playing and having fun with them. Another woman we had, who won’t mind me saying, she’s an inspiration to us all. She was a size 24, 26, and she wanted to play football, but she felt she was too big, and she lost eight stone so that she could come and play. And she’s now helping me coach football. There’s so many of these stories out there, and I’m sure there are many women out there who’d love to play and have got similar stories. 

Natalie Doyle: 

Yeah. It’s powerful stuff, isn’t it? It’s that finding your tribe, isn’t it? Feeling that you belong and feeling like you’re part of something is so important, especially to women. Okay. If we just sort of start to wrap up the conversation a little bit, I’ve got one final question for you both. So if we’ve got any clubs or organisations who are wanting to set up a women’s recreational session, be that in football, any sport, what advice would you give them? What would be your top tip? 

Carol Bates: 

My top tip would be, have a very strong ethos about what you want your group to be about. I’m very strong on fun and enjoyment, and just everyone to come along and just enjoy it, regardless of whether you want to play competitively or not in whichever sport it is. If the club has an ethos, then everyone comes in and they play under that ethos. So fun and enjoyment is my thing, so that everybody wants to come back again and play again. Just make it really inclusive and fun. Fun, fun, fun all the way. 

Andrea Ellis: 

Yeah. That would be my tip as well. But additionally, what I was going to say is that obviously if you are going to set up a club, a team in whatever sport that would be, is use the people, talk to the people around you that have done it before. Carol won’t mind me saying, as mother of women’s recreational football… 

Carol Bates: 

At least it wasn’t grandma! 

Andrea Ellis: 

She’s been there, she’s done it, she’s got the experience. I’m ever so grateful. I know I’m not the only person that’s grateful for Carol’s support and advice in the past. So I would talk, I’d reach out to people that have done it. I’d also reach out to, obviously I reached out to my County FA and I reached out to Bromley Football Club. Try and find someone that’s going to help and support you and that will stand up and say, “Yes, we are going to help you.” Because it’s a journey, it’s a journey. And you need to find someone that will help you with that journey, because there are different challenges along that journey. So you are actually making a difference as well. I mean, we love football. I set up a team because I wanted to play football. But as the time has gone on, I’ve realised how much of an impact that has on other people, and all the other opportunities it provides to people. 

Andrea Ellis: 

So if you can find a champion that will help you. I mean, I’ve been lucky here. I literally phoned up the Director of the charity. He wasn’t the Director of the charity then, he was the General Manager of Bromley Football Club. And I literally said, “I’d like to set up a women’s recreational football.” And at that point he said, “Absolutely, we will help you.” And I’ve been so lucky with the support that I’ve received, that it’s actually been a relatively easy journey. So if you can find a champion, if you can find someone that you can get advice from about how to do it, then you’re on a path to success. 

Natalie Doyle: 

There’s some great advice there. Thank you both so much for giving up your time today. It’s been an absolute pleasure. 

Andrea Ellis: 

Thank you for having us. 

Natalie Doyle: 

What a great chat that was with Carol and Andrea. Just fantastic work that they’re doing to bring women together and get them involved in football when perhaps they thought that the opportunity for them to play the game had passed them by. 

I think it’s easy to look at outcomes such as being more active, being healthier, being fitter as being the main things that come out of getting involved in sport. But we heard from all of those individual stories of people that have been involved in their groups, that actually it’s things like building your confidence and being part of something, bringing you together with women that you would never have met before. And that sense of identity and of community, which is actually so, so important. 

So to Carol and Andrea and anybody else who’s running these sort of groups around the country, you are doing a fantastic job. And they just go to show that it’s never too late for you to get involved in the benefits that sports can bring you. And if it’s a sport that you’re not actually interested in, it sounds like they’ve got a great social side as well, which is fantastic. 

Thank you once again to Carol and Andrea. Fantastic guests. 

That was episode three of the Sport Sister Podcast. I hope you’re enjoying it so far. If you are, then please do subscribe and leave us a review. We’d love to hear from you, and we’ll see you again next time. 

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