Founding Ladies to retire

Date: 10 April 2015

This Sunday, 12th April, will see two of the founding members of Preston Grasshoppers Ladies pull on the blue and white hooped jersey for the last time.

The Ladies host Northwich at Lightfoot Green in the final game of their season with kick off at 2.00pm. It will be an emotional game for Shirley Faragher and Steph Wilson who have been involved with the Ladies section in each of the 13 seasons they have been in existence. Shirley must take credit as the founder of the Ladies section (as you’ll see below) and Steph has been a driving force in taking the Ladies forward on the pitch but especially off it. Shirley and Steph will play on Sunday for the last time.

In the build up to the game we’ve caught up with Shirley and Steph to ask them some questions about the last 13 years.

When and how did you come to be involved with Hoppers?

SF: When I first went to UCLAN the sports arena had not been built (showing my age here!!!). The UCLAN rugby club used to train at Hoppers on a Monday and play at Hoppers on Wednesdays. We also used to hold our annual rugby awards dinner at Hoppers. When I left Uni I wanted to continue to play rugby and I knew that my friends on the Uni team wanted to start playing for a club. The nearest clubs were Fleetwood and Blackburn and most people did not drive. I wanted to try to set up a local team so I approached Ken Moore who I’d met previously. Ken put me in touch with Eddie (Ian Edwardson) and Phil Leck who attended a training session at Uni to meet me and the other girls. We then arranged to start training at Hoppers every Thursday at 6pm.

SW: I returned from University in Leeds in June 2002 where I was first introduced to the game, on my return I looked for a local team and the nearest one was Ormskirk. In the September time I was out on a first date when I spotted a poster on the back of a toilet door advertising the team and the first training session. I took the poster down, returned to my date and excitedly shared my discovery. I should’ve realised at that point by his reaction that he wasn’t a keeper but it actually took a couple of months to come to that conclusion. Anyway I rang the number on the poster and a very enthusiastic Shirley gave me the details of the first training session. I arrived at the club for the first session, a large group of women were congregating in the entrance hall. I spotted a familiar face from my high school days in Jenna Ralphson and Shirley soon came bounding over to welcome me, I was very much the outsider as everyone was either a current or ex UCLan player. After a few weeks of training I joined Shirley in the bar who was hanging on to attend a meeting with the club management committee. It was at this point that I offered my assistance; I was working in sport development and with Shirls having to deal with everything that was being thrown at her in order to develop the side it was a no brainer to offer my support. I was soon sitting round the committee table negotiating with Brian Hexter and John Heritage to make the club more female friendly and completing reams of paperwork with Keith Mellalieu to get us affiliated with the RFUW.

Steph (left) and Shirley (right) enjoying a team night out

Steph (left) and Shirley (right) enjoying a team night out

What memories do you have of your first game for Hoppers?

SF: I rather naively organised our first game against Vale of Lune who were a very experienced, well established team. Needless to say we lost by a large margin and didn’t score any tries. Luckily, this ‘baptism of fire’, as the Lancashire Evening Post called it, did not put too many people off and we continued to progress over the years. Myself, Steph and Mel Box all played in that first game. Steph captained the team and, believe it or not, played in the centre in those days ;-).

SW: Ha ha ha, I remember Shirls telling me she has arranged our first fixture against Vale of Lune. Having played my Uni rugby in Yorkshire I had no idea of the standard of the side, I mentioned the fixture to a colleague who had previously played and her face spoke a thousand words – what had Shirley done? Anyway I kept this knowledge under my hat for the rest of the week and along came game day, to my surprise Coach Jonny Hutchins selected me as captain; I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing but was extremely honoured and glad to have not shared my insider knowledge. Needless to say we got an absolute spanking but you couldn’t fault the determination of each and everyone of us. I also had a real awakening to womens club rugby when my opposite number half punched me full in the face, to my surprise it didn’t really hurt (where there’s no sense!) and I laughed out loud which only sort to further enrage her. On reflection I must have been doing something right to provoke such a reaction from someone with much more playing experience that really shouldn’t have needed to resort to this. Oh and I had my hair died on the Friday previous and the die ran, the number 12 shirt had a purple stain on the back for most of the season.

Over the years who has helped the Women’s section flourish to what it is today?

SF: Steph and Graham have both worked tirelessly over the years to make the team what it is today and to keep the girls together. We have always been lucky to be supported by the club who have helped us every step of the way. Particular thanks go to Eddie and Mike Jackson for all their dedication and efforts in coaching us. Malcolm, Ken Moore, Peter Ashcroft, John Heritage, Peachy and Hamish have all been supportive of the Women’s section over the years.

SW: Any woman who has ever pulled on the shirt has played there part in my eyes as well those who have given their time to help with coaching. It would be remise of me to not to mention those ladies who have put in that little bit extra: Catriona ‘GRAHAM’ West was a force to be reckoned with around the committee table as well as on the pitch. Marie Swinfield was one of the most passionate and dedicated team members despite being broken a lot of the time. Mel Box, Kelly Singleton and Wendy Barr took the reigns off me a few years ago and more recently Danielle Nash has thrown her hat into the ring.

Having been involved since the start please name with reasons the players you have played with who best fit the following words.

a) The fastest

SF: Emily Stirzaker – for obvious reasons

SW: From the early days it has to be Marie Lorenzen. Marie had played in the U16’s and joined the women in our second season, she was a quiet girl who would just pop up in the right place. Once she had the ball she would often run away from support much to my despair, but this was usual because she had spotted a gap on the other side of the field and was confident that she had the pace to beat anyone who might track across – she mostly did! Marie was one of those players who appeared to just glide and didn’t lose any pace when changing direction.

Somewhere in the middle playing years we had a full back called Ang for a season, she was like a Gazelle. Her legs went up to her armpits, her long stride made her almost impossible to tackle. Add to this she was extremely powerful and she was a real force to be reckoned with, it was a shame we couldn’t keep hold of her a bit longer.

This season Emily Stirzaker’s pace has been a real asset to the team its been a while since we had someone with such blistering pace. I’m sure this has been a factor in her selection for the England College’s & Universities Rugby League Team, congratulations Emily!

Myself and Shirls were speed demons in those early days and made a formidable partnership in the centre’s until I moved to the back row. Shirley had retained her pace better than me remaining in the centre positions and although I might now play in the front row I still show flashes of pace once in a while, albeit over much shorter distances.

b) The funniest

SF: This is a difficult one. I have two. Mel Box and Hayley Ciotkowski. They’ve both got a wicked sense of humour and always make me laugh.

SW: Hands down winner Geordie Keri (Keri Bradbury Nee Waterhouse) for those that know her I don’t need to say anymore. For those that don’t “Daft as a Brush and not bothered who knows it” is an apt description. Although Hayley Ciotowski’s “Gurning” will always crack me up and Mary McCarthy and Lyndsey Boardman were both unintentionally hilarious.

c) The hardest working

SF: Nasher and Amy Pond always give 110% during games and behind the scenes

SW: Catriona “Graham” West – at the time of joining the team G was a good few years past the average age of the team but her work rate put many younger players to shame. She would slap players bottoms as she passed them with an encouraging “come on we are walking, let’s make an effort to get there. I swear G also had Velcro for hands as I am unable to explain how she came out of what appeared to be a ball trapped in maul, with the ball secured, she then took everyone by surprise by attacking the edges of the maul and stomping up the pitch. Could’ve gone to Kelly Singleton, an absolute work horse on the pitch but being garbage in training denies her the top spot.

d) The most skilful

SF: Catriona ‘Graham’ West – she is an expert at rucking, mauling and all the technical stuff

SW: Megan Tudor – Megs began playing rugby in the mini’s – the boys team with whom she played were distraught when she couldn’t play past the U12’s. Megan joined the U16 girls but they were all older and soon progressed to the ladies squad. Unfortunately for Megs and us the RFUW moved the age for women’s rugby to 18, with her mother’s consent we sneaked her on in a few games. Megan turned 18 in May and then went away to University. Having played from such an early age Megan’s game understanding and handling skills were far superior to anyone else I have ever played with. If we had more girls playing from an early age it was raise the standard of the game considerably. Can’t not acknowledge Mel Boxes, great shows but not so much go

e) The most powerful

SF: Clarky – I always feel more confident when she’s on the pitch

SW: Gemma “Taffi” Hallett powered up the field and over the line on many an occasion in the early years. I witnessed her strength when she launched Shirley (much to her surprise) over the top of a ruck on the try line so that she cleared the ruck entirely and scored in open space behind it. Shirley certainly felt it and Taff’s talents didn’t go unnoticed as she was selected to represent her country and continued to do so for many years after she left. Taff is the only full international we have had, hopefully she won’t be the last.

Nicola Clark was an extremely powerful player and almighty tackler. For those that know the family line it was to be expected I suppose, with father Bill and brother Darren having a similar reputation I believe. Playing at a similar time was Gema Adams. Gema was exceptionally fit and an extremely powerful runner, you regularly saw Gema storming up the pitch with players hanging off her and she was still putting in as big hits at the end as she was at the beginning of a game.

For the last few seasons we have had the pleasure of playing with Champion Cross Fitter – Mie Maxwell-Smith. Her one rep max’s would put many of the men’s section to shame. Mie is Canadian and was here training to be a doctor unfortunately her time here is over but her monster quads and resultantly tight shorts will not be forgotten.

f) The toughest

SF: Marie Swinfield – We had no subs during a game at Buxton so she continued to prop for us for the entire game despite breaking her hand and losing several finger nails within the first quarter.

SW: I can’t split Elena Bailey and Yvonne Tunnicliffe, both scrum half’s neither of whom is taller than 4″10. They both regularly got clothes lined by lazy taller players and just bounced back up again with only tears on a few occasions.

Most Courageous can only go to Shirley Faragher, to return to playing following the horrendous Tib/Fib fracture she endured proves her mettle. I have the utmost respect and admiration for her for getting back on the pitch, not ever holding back and playing like it had never happened.

Which game that you’ve played for Hoppers stands out most in your memory?

SF: There are two. The first is the fateful game which we played against Bolton in November 2003 during which I broke my leg. I subsequently had to have an operation to fix it. I still feel the effects of that injury today!

The second, I remember for more positive reasons. This is the game where we went to play away against Fleetwood and beat them for the first time. Prior to that they had always played at a much higher level than us so this was a huge achievement.

SW: Having played in all 13 seasons since the team’s inception there are so many to choose so I have selected 3.

Most memorable away game has to be Huddersfield, we played on some far away pitch under the viaduct that resembled a quagmire. It was the middle of winter and we played through rain, wind, hail and snow. James “Peachy” Roberts came with us as coach (it was also his childhood club) and he had to undo pretty much everyone’s laces as we could no longer feel our fingers. It actually hurt more having the shower than it did playing.

Playing Waterloo under the floodlights in the Lancs Cup Semi-Final has to be my most enjoyable defeat. Waterloo came into the game expecting to run rings around us. We had worked hard in the preceding weeks on our defence and much to Waterloo’s surprise they struggled to break through scoring in the last 5 minutes of both half’s which was due to superior fitness and not ability.

Many memorable home games but I will share a fixture against Darlington from about 3/4 seasons ago. Games against this opponent have been closely fought over the years and non more so than this one. With no front row replacements when I awoke to discover the Beer Monkey had paid me a visit there was no option of pulling a sickie. I would just have to pull my socks up, put my head down and drag my sorry hung over arse round the pitch. The first half had been evenly matched and remained 0-0 until winger Wendy Barr caught a ball that hadn’t made touch well in our half. Off she set and I don’t recall why but there was only me anywhere close so I followed in pursuit. Wendy retrieved her own kick chase and looked certain to score so I plodded on behind. Then much to my horror Wendy was brought down by a sole defender, I ran like I hadn’t in a very long time to take the pop from the floor and to continue on over the try line. I placed the ball down and continued running. It wasn’t a Forest Gump moment once I was off the pitch I promptly threw up. The conversion was successful and the ref blew for half time which gave me enough time to compose myself so that I could play on. The second half remained scoreless so I scored the only and winning try which I believe saved me serious fines.

What will you miss most about playing for Hoppers?

SF: Everything. Just thinking about it makes me feel sad.

SW: The camaraderie and laughter.

The Ladies team in recent seasons

The Ladies team in recent seasons

What are you hopes for Women’s rugby at Hoppers?

SF: I hope that there is always a women’s team at Hoppers and that they continue to progress upwardly through the leagues. Ultimately, I would love for there to be a successful girls section at Hoppers.

SW: That they remain a team based on friendship and fun.

Do you plan to stay involved with the Women’s section?

SF: Definitely. I will be at every social event possible. I will be paying my club membership every year and I won’t be throwing my kit away just yet!

SW: I have not had a specific role in the section for a few years now, you could say I’ve been weaning myself away. If I were to stay involved in any capacity I wouldn’t be able to resist playing which could be detrimental for my future plans. I intend to remain a member of the club but it will be as a social membership and not a playing one.

Is there anyone you would like to thank?

SF: I would like to thank Eddie and Mike for all their dedication and hard work in helping us to get the team off the ground. I would also like to thank the club for all of the support and interest they have shown to our team over the years. I would like to thank Nash for working so hard to secure the future of our team. She will never know how much I appreciate it. I would also like to thank all of my friends and team mates who I have met at Hoppers over the years and of course our new coach Keith. However, the person who I want to thank more than anyone is Steph. Not only is she one of the best friends I’ve ever had, she is an absolute diamond and without her the team simply wouldn’t be what it is today.

SW: Wow so many. Coaches: Jonny Hutchings, Eddie, Hamish, Peachy, Craig “Booty” Stephenson, Mike Jackson, Deena Aiken, Maz Claasens, Keith Golding and anyone else who has stepped in to run a ladies session.

The various committee members over the years who have supported the development of the side from Brian and John H at our inception, Neil Leeming who helped get the changing rooms adapted, Colin Whalley for bringing all the senior teams together which increased our inclusion and Bill Bailey who despite putting on a very good front puts his money where his mouth is.

Malcolm, Ken and Peter Ashcroft for just being Ace

But mostly I’d like to thank Shirley for putting the poster on the back of the toilet door!

Everyone at Hoppers wishes Shirely and Steph well in their retirement. Thank you for everything you have done for the club. It would be great to see a bumper crowd at Lightfoot Green on Saturday to bid them farewell.

Steph and Shirley in action on the pitch

Steph and Shirley in action on the pitch

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