‘Here you go Ruthy, here’s a feature idea for you’ shouted one of my colleagues.
Excellent, I thought. Had he found me a pampering session, wine tasting? Oh no. This was definitely more of a physical challenge.
His suggestion was that I join a women’s football team for the night.
And so it was I found myself walking through Luddendenfoot Park to join the Hebden Royd United Ladies. The team are struggling for members and there is a very real, and devastating, chance it could close.
The lack of players meant at the end of last season they were fielding a team of eight, so it’s no surprise they were subjected to an 18-0 defeat. But to their credit they were back out training days later.
I’m was met by manager Paul McMahon, who got involved after both his daughters started playing. As the girls in the team introduce themselves it hits me I’m a tad unprepared. I’ve failed to bring bug spray (their pitch is canalside) or contact lenses – so no diving headers for me.
Training then starts under the watchful eye of coach Laurie Dyer.
The natural skill of the seasoned players was immediately clear.
Like any other team, amateur or professional, it was time to practise our set pieces. Passing from the back, laying off to the midfielder, taking the ball back and then (attempting) to fire it past Paul in goal.
The most prevalent yelp from me was “sorry” as I missed the ball but it warmed us up for a kickabout. Laurie and Paul took respective goals and it was time to find my inner Rooney. This wasn’t a speedy task. I decided to stick near Becky, a formidable full-back.
A few passes here, some join-up play there and we were getting into our stride. But if I had a pound for every time I apologised I’d be on the equivalent of a Premier League wage.
After the pain came the glory. A lay off by my teammate left me alone and facing Paul. A moment of dread, a deep breath, and the ball miraculously connected with my foot and slid past the ‘keeper.
As the game went on, my confidence grew. If not quite going in for a Vidic-style crunching tackle, at least I wasn’t running away.
With a full team the girls have seen success. They finished second in the West Riding County Women’s Football League a few years ago and they have a shared passion the club shouldn’t close. But costs are high. The pitch alone costs £500 a season and in winter training moves into the gym at Calder High.
Their Tuesday night training sessions are all about having fun. A glass is raised after games in the pub and team spirit is definitely not lacking. The girls are as much about chatting about their jobs, lives and weddings as they are about practising their nutmegs, free kicks and corners.
Like many women, I’m on the eternal hunt for the fitness regime that is both satisfying and works. There’s enough running in football to keep a few pounds at bay and if like me it requires your upmost concentration, you’re distracted enough not to realise you’re out of breath.
Women’s football has a tough mountain to climb. Hardcore football fans say the game is slower, less powerful and there’s less skill on show. Not so, say the team.
Jenna Cobham, 26, has been in the team for three years. For her, the team spirit is the biggest draw.
“I just really enjoy playing football,” she says.
“It’s the stereotype that puts girls off. It’s not true across the teams we play and it’s certainly not true here.”
Less girls usually start in football anyway, says Paul, but teams see a sharp decline when the girls hit Year 11, when academics take over in importance.
But Paul believes there are plenty of reasons to watch.
“The quality is fantastic. There isn’t the same diving and theatrics,” he says.
His message is simple: “Come and have a go. People shouldn’t be put off by age, our oldest player is 52.”
If you’re looking to get involved in a team sport, there’s a great group of girls, passionate about their sport, who are waiting to meet you.
For more details E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01422 884261 or 07933 712447.