Continuing in their role as trailblazers in the British Women’s game, the Birmingham Lions have announced a collaborative partnership with the Sandwell Steelers Women’s team, seeing the reigning National Champions team up with Division One rivals, the Sandwell Steelers, to see players from both teams access 11-a-side full field international football this spring!
A number of Steelers players will join the Lions as they head to Sweden later this month to take on the Arlanda Jets – the first time two teams have cooperated in such a way to produce an 11-a-side internationally competitive squad.
Libby Toussaint of the Steelers told DblCoverage.com how two teams that were rivals throughout this year’s Sapphire Series, also worked closely together in the build-up to this announcement:
“From our perspective, our relationship with the Lions has really flourished this year with our step up to Div 1. Some teams it might see it as a rivalry being so close on the map – we train at venues just 20 minutes and 8 miles apart, but both teams would rather cooperate than compete in that sense.
Myself and others have been at the Lions 11s training sessions during the Sapphire Series – literally, we’d train with the Lions on a Saturday, then head to Steelers on a Sunday and then play each other competitively as part of Sapphire!
Steelers’ and Lions’ players have welcomed it, though. It’s all about developing the women’s game and it benefits everybody for other teams to be developing.”
The two teams met twice during this year’s Sapphire Series, with the Lions emerging comfortable victors on both occasions – however, that hasn’t stopped the players building strong bonds while working towards a common goal:
“The Lions have been nothing but welcoming, sharing playbooks, groups, etc, to bring us into the fold. Steelers players have also welcomed it as a chance for us to upskill – our journey as a team has been far from straightforward: we hit a major checkpoint getting promoted, winning just one game this Series, and so we know to maintain our place in the top tier will be a challenge.
However, if some of our players are training more and at an international level, they bring that back with them and so our team will develop, it’s a great opportunity for our players and it’s only the start of what we hope to be a long and fruitful relationship.”
So far the Birmingham Lions are the only British Women’s team outside the GB Lions themselves to participate in 11-a-side football, outside the BAFA Diamond Series. Both teams see this initiative as an opportunity to broaden access to a goal all teams are building towards, and something other programmes across the country might look to replicate.
“It all has come about as British football is a small world, but especially British women’s football, with our HC being involved in Diamond Series and GB Lions, relationships have really developed with other teams in recent seasons.
Ultimately our teams have the same vision which is what has made this possible: improving women’s football in the UK.
The Lions are leaps and bounds ahead of our team so for them to open up their programme to us is really amazing. The Steelers are realistically years from playing 11’s or internationally, so why not share that opportunity. The Lions benefit, but so do we – it made perfect sense to do it!
Jo Kilby has been a saint in coordinating and organising it all, as has our HC Sam Rafferty. Both teams’ response has also been fantastic, it wouldn’t be possible if the players weren’t receptive to this kind of thing but everyone’s on board that this is the right move. It speaks volumes about the people involved in the sport really!”
The Lions’ Maz Hughes told DblCoverage.com how the Lions experience with 11-a-side football over the past two years has made them hungry to continue experiencing the game at this scale:
“Playing football with the Lions has given me so many opportunities- most notably, the chance to play full 11-a-side football as a club team in the UK and abroad as well.
Competing in the Diamond Bowl in Finland was just the start, and made us hungry for more. We want to test ourselves, and also want to encourage more women to play the sport.
Hosting the ProCloud tournament last summer certainly gave us a challenge, and was a massive learning experience. The best thing though, as well as making history as a team, was that we had a number of rookies join us who only found out about us because of that event. “
With the Diamond Series opening to registrations this week, more British ballers will have the opportunity to experience 11-a-side action this summer, but that doesn’t mean either of these teams want to pass up the chance to continue driving the game forwards:
Women’s football in the UK is growing, but outside of the GB programme there’s precious little chance to experience 11-a-side football.
Having set our sights on more 11 v 11 challenges, we were keen to make sure other players from other teams had the opportunity to experience this too! It’s no easy task to organise international fixtures, and at the moment other clubs may not have the squad depth to be able to venture into 11’s.
By partnering with the Steelers for this venture, everyone is a winner. We’ve gained some really valuable players for the fixture, and those players have a chance to experience something they wouldn’t normally have done.
All of this helps to grow the game, which is the ultimate aim. This is a brilliant example of local teams working together to get what is best for players, and best for women’s American Football in the UK.
I can’t wait to get out to Sweden and play the first Lions Super 11s game!
The Lions, and their additions from the Steelers, travel to Stockholm, Sweden, later this month to take on the Arlanda Jets, one of Sweden’s top women’s outfits who are entering their 10th year as a team.
The game will kick off Saturday 30 March, with further information available at BirminghamLions.co.uk.