If you go down to the 3G outside Redz on a Thursday evening you’ll witness a revolution. You’ll see a group of “older ladies” (their words not mine before I get lynched) playing football with a passion, enthusiasm and fervour that quite frankly I’d have loved to have seen last season from some of the CTFC first team players.
A little over a year ago the Crawley Old Girls (or COGS as they’re more affectionately known) were formed. Set up through the Crawley Town Community Foundation, with funding from the Football League Trust Female Football Development scheme. The sessions were developed specifically for older ladies, who have an interest and passion for football. The initiative has become so successful now that their coach, the patient and long-suffering Marcus Doyle, is called upon to run two sessions on a Thursday evening. The first, for the newcomers from 6 to 7pm and then the second for the more “established” players from 7 to 8pm.
It would be very easy to come out with a tired old cliché along the lines of “if you can’t beat them, join them” but the harsh reality is that it’s more like “if you can’t join them, beat them”…!
Don’t for one minute assume that this is just some mindless exercise class with a football in the middle. This is football first and the fitness is a secondary benefit and by-product. The emphasis on passing and movement is clear to see. Marcus is continually keen to emphasis the necessity of movement and communication above all else and when the Thursday night sessions end in matches you can see the fruits of his (and their) labour. While I was watching the training last night I saw two beautifully worked goals from box to box with two-touch football. Now I don’t often see that on a Saturday, and when I saw it last night both my eldest son and I burst in to genuine, involuntary applause.
Obviously I watch Crawley Town play and with two boys playing club and academy football (one even playing internationally recently which I have promised him I’ll write about at some point), I get to stand on a lot of touchlines and witness a lot of training. I can honestly say that the standard of training that Marcus puts on is as good as any I’ve seen, but more importantly the atmosphere in which it’s conducted is second to none. The COGS are clearly having fun and I wish this atmosphere could be bottled and sold to a lot of the youth teams I’ve seen. If all football was played in this manner the world of football would most definitely be a happier place. They are a little too polite at times and have a habit of reverting to more “ladies” than “old girls”. Apologising to each other, stopping to help each other up after a tackle or, quite frankly not laughing enough when one of their number walked face first in to a ball were signs to me that this is football with a difference. I’m trying very hard here not to make tired and lazy stereotypical comments about girl power or the fairer sex, but it’s not easy. They play the game with passion and enthusiasm, but they also play it with a smile and warmth that in all honesty I don’t see in men’s football.
Don’t get me wrong though, this is training. Back in March, and again last month the COGS entered competitive tournaments. In both tournaments they were up against other like-minded (and aged) opposition where they were able to put what they’d learned in to practice. They played well and hard and the minor injuries sustained have been worn more as a badge of honour than the inconvenience that they rapidly become in everyday life. Whilst they clearly gave a good account of themselves in both tournaments, the tales on their return and since have been more about friendship than football. Football appears to be the glue that keeps them together and bonds them to others. The connection made with Dagenham and Redbridge at their most recent foray in the Wembley Power League is one that appears to have stuck and I gather we might get to see the two play each other sometime soon in Crawley.
On the subject of Dagenham and Redbridge, I work with a Dagenham fan. Obviously the first hour on a Monday is devoted to discussions about League 2 and we sit in our own little corner while the glory-hunting, TV based Premiership Fans talk about their insular little world. After the COGS trip to Wembley he just happened to comment that “our women played each other at the weekend”. Now to be clear here, he doesn’t have a wife or girlfriend (he is a Dagenham fan after all), but he knew of their version of the COGS and he knew about ours. He also referred to it like it was the most normal and mainstream thing in the world. 18 months ago neither existed. Now they are referred to in the revered Monday morning football debrief. That’s progress indeed.
The Crawley Old Girls is a wonderful initiative. It’s gone from strength to strength and I can’t see it declining any time soon. They are a warm and welcoming bunch and I’d recommend any woman who’s even slightly interested to get in touch with them or simply go down and say hello. The COGS scheme has proved beyond any doubt that the female interest in football doesn’t stop when you hit 18. In the case of many it goes on past 40, 50 and 60. And quite frankly there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. As I’m repeatedly reminded; age is just a number. In some cases it’s quite a big number, but it is just a number.