The first of a new series profiling some of the University of Birmingham’s under the radar teams, Burn FM caught up with the newly formed Women’s Lions, who won three of four matches in their first competitive taste of American football as part of the Sapphire Series this weekend. Josh Hunt spoke to quarterback, Jo Kilby, and defensive player, Nena Killick, prior to the game to discuss how things are going.
Regrettably still considered by many to be an all-male sport, up till now knowledge of women’s American football has typically been restricted to the ill-conceived ‘Legends Football League’ and similar ventures. Now, however, all that seems set to change, and the Birmingham Women’s Lions are looking to take advantage of it.
‘I think the biggest issue is awareness’, explains Jo Kilby on the difficulties facing the new team, ‘I never knew it existed at any competitive level for women, [this] was just by chance. The big challenge is letting women know.’
‘There are barriers to break down – women in what would traditionally be conceived as being a man’s sport. I think a lot of it is about making the opportunity known, giving the girls a crack at it. What we’ve found so far is it’s extremely inclusive. It caters for women of all shapes and sizes… you can’t have all skinny whippets or all big girls.’
Kilby, whose brother Jamie coaches the team, started playing football through development sessions run by the British American Football Association last summer. ‘Everybody playing football is pretty much a novice. Even the experienced girls have about six or eight months of practice so we’ve got both uni and non-uni girls coming in… there’s a real community feel to it’.
Though the game remains in its formative months, the women’s game is currently only played in a five-a-side format. Still, that’s not stopped people from giving it a go.
‘When you turned up to that first session [and] there were 25 or 26 people we thought; this is going somewhere’ says Killick, ‘it can only get stronger from where it is now. Every week there’s someone new…every week we have scrummage and we’re playing …no-one looks completely out of place.’
Having made such a bright start to life, you might be tempted to think the team would be content to rest on their laurels for a while. Not so, as the women have big plans for the future.
‘The [men’s] Lions are a real top tier team and the women will do anything to emulate that. I think with everything we’ve got going for us with the facilities, the coaches and the access to a whole city of players there’s no reason why we can’t be one of the top one or two teams in the country’ says Kilby. ‘In three to four years we’d hope that we’d have an 11 a side team and good GB representation. I think even looking at the players now we can see that being the case. We’ve got four or five girls straight off the back of the five-a-side GB team adding their experience and confidence.
‘Also, we need to cater for everybody so we’d look to have more than one team to cater for novices so that it really does become that team for everyone. That’s where we’d like to pitch ourselves over the next few years.’
Such lofty goals might ordinarily be scoffed at, but given the history of the Lions programme, there’s little reason to doubt that the team won’t be leading the way for women’s American football in five years’ time, particularly given the team’s impressive performances this weekend.
For now, though, the top priority is spreading the word and getting more women involved with the team. So, what would Kilby say to those thinking of giving the sport a go?
‘I’d say just give it a try. It’s a great, great team sport.’
‘It’s great because it’s still in its infancy state – you can quite easily rock up from not having any sporting experience at all. We’ve not gone immediately to a pro-level where there’d be no room to accommodate these girls. We’re all growing together; it’s a perfect opportunity for people to get involved.’
Jo Kilby writes what is next for her and the rest of the women’s Lions:
Next up for the team is a trip to face the Derby Braves in a full-length clash on the 22nd February.
For the majority of the side, training will continue dutifully under the leadership of Head Coach Jamie Kilby and Defensive Coordinator James Branagh. Meanwhile six of the Lions are off to the 2014 Women’s World Tackle Football Games in Texas this week for some 11-a-side up-skilling, rubbing shoulder pads with some of the best players in the world; former NFL players and some of the countries best coaches will be hosting the event alongside USA Football.
It’s an exciting opportunity for the girls to learn from the best and to get a feel for where the bar needs to be set in order to compete on the international scene moving forward. From the travelling six, all have previously been involved in Great Britain trials and selection and will hopefully look to feature again when the development days leading to international selections start again in a few months time.
In the meantime the knowledge and experience the girls bring back to the Lions’ den will be invaluable in helping to move the team onwards and upwards.
Get in Touch: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @bhamlionswomen