Women's Football - time to change

Cod Almighty | Article

by Dale Houlston

27 June 2024

He created it and now watches from afar, hoping that his Rome isn't burning. Dale Houlston asks Town the critical question: what, exactly, is the purpose of the women's football team?

Do you want to win or do you want to play? Time to choose.

I'm hoping that the departure of the women's management team is an indication that the club is taking women's football seriously. Though that will depend on who they appoint next.

If they merely appoint someone with an interest in women's football, whose remit is to provide an inclusive game of football for local players, then that's not going to be successful. Sustainable success and upward momentum in the pyramid won't be achieved by just signing players who have played grassroots football locally. There may be talent coming through in the area, but you have to have more than that.

The landscape of female football is very interesting, and the pathways are quite different to boys' grassroots and academy football. So the club needs to appoint someone who knows that landscape and is able to recognise where the talent is. Someone who is also well-connected in the women's game, in order to know where good established senior players are that the club can attract. And also well-connected in order to loan players to bolster the quality in the squad.

In the past we brought in players from Leeds Utd, Doncaster Belles, Lincoln City, Hull City, Barnsley, etc. Those players were put in alongside the best available from levels below those teams, also with a knowledge of who the best kids were coming out of girls' grassroots football. That recipe was successful.

This next bit might sound odd. When a women's team stages 'open trials' events, it's a sure indication that they have a manager that is struggling with Women's football at a club like Town has to be more than a jolly-up on a Sunday. More than a box-ticking exercise that tells the world that Grimsby is inclusive. their recruiting. An open trial is probably okay if you are building a team from scratch. We had one when we first started the team just to look at what there was out there that we might not already have known about. But an established manager with good recruitment should already know the landscape, should already know where players are, and should already be working hard to go and sign whatever players are needed. That's the bit of the job that never stops. That's happening at Gainsborough Trinity who are making some very impressive signings. Being all over the women's football landscape made me quite unpopular with some other teams, but if you are going to be successful then your manager has to know what's out there, and has to have a thick skin too.

The club's new CEO comes from a great background in the women's game. If she is going to be having some involvement in the women's team, it could be excellent for women's football at Grimsby. Even if that is just in her desire to see things being done properly. Currently the women's team comes under Neil Woods and the boys academy, which in itself I find quite bizarre. I've got some respect for Neil like everyone else has, and he's a fine football professional. I'm not overly sure if Woodsie understands the landscape of women's football. To be honest I'm not even sure whether or not he has a great deal interest in women's football or even whether he wanted it under his umbrella. He certainly already had enough on his plate managing the academy. But I am sure he will be keen to ensure that the management of the women's team is put in good hands in order that it can rebuild and move forward. Of that I've no doubt.

The new appointment needs to happen quickly. And for the sake of some good players that remain there from my time, it has to be a good manager and coach to retain their services. Because those better players quickly became fed up with what was on offer, and some of them were already considering moving on. It would be a great shame if that was to happen.

Women's football at a club like Town has to be more than a jolly-up on a Sunday. More than a community-based, box-ticking exercise that tells the world that Grimsby is inclusive. Women's football deserves better than that. And those decent players left there from the very earliest time deserve better too. I really hope the change is an indication of the club's desire for more.

Interesting times ahead. I want the best for our women's team, so I'll watch with keen interest on who they appoint. Fingers crossed for an appropriate person.

If I was being asked who I'd try to get in to manage the team, as a starting point I'd be looking at someone like Suey Smith (not Sky Sports) or Amy Blinkhorn. Not sure what it would take to get them onboard, but they are great football people, in close proximity to Grimsby, both of whom are extremely well connected. A Grimsby lass in Amy Kay would have been superb, however she's now moved away to a job in football at Brighton, I believe. Or another excellent shout would be one of two guys I know from my time in the women's game: Chris Hamilton who did excellent jobs at Barnsley and York City, or Chris Funnell who has just left Lincoln United having successfully got them promoted to step 4 in The FA Women's National League. This is the calibre of management the club needs. Amanda Greenslade at Doncaster Belles has always impressed me too.

Make no mistake though, if the club is going to have some success, then the starting point has to be getting this next management appointment right. It would be a true demonstration that the club is taking women's football seriously. Get it wrong, then sadly the women's team will just continue to tick the box of inclusivity.