write up courtesy of Birmingham Lions
The Lions for some time now have been at the forefront of pushing the boundaries of the sport, and in true pioneering fashion, this year promises to be no exception to that declaration as the team yet again look to launch a first for the British women’s game, but this time they’re not doing it alone!
Birmingham’s GM Jo Kilby explains: “…it’s in our interests to continue to try to enrich the game, as such, we’re now in a position to start sharing with others the opportunities we’ve worked so hard to develop over the years, to help inspire, promote and develop local teams and individuals.” To this end the Lions are thrilled to unveil their ‘Super 11s’ proposition which will see the reigning national champions team up with neighbours, Sandwell Steelers, to offer some of their best access to 11-aside full field international football this Spring.
The collaborative approach, and the “Super” element specifically, has been an idea the Lions have been floating around for some time now, “we first briefed members of the women’s football community on the idea in May last year as a suggestion to progressing club football via the Diamond Series, and then again leading up to August’s ProCloud Transatlantic Trophy as a way of getting a fourth ensemble British ‘all-stars’ team playing 11s” added Jo, “but there just wasn’t the encompassing buy-in sadly, so we paired the concept down to work with just one team, the Steelers, and following (BAFA consent, and) a productive meeting in December, we gained a positive response and immediate traction from the Steelers’ management.”
“Sandwell could see our vision from the start” commented Lions’ Head Coach Jamie Kilby, “…which simply put was to provide unique access to 11-aside football for some of their players, who could then return this experience back to their team, to help upskill from within.” The idea behind helping other clubs to fortify was very much a part of the proposition’s mandate, recognising as the Lions do, that stronger teams with better honed players will deliver a better level of competition but equally, it was also important to promote the fact that collaboration can put a British 11’s team on the field in Europe, and if in Europe, why not in Britain?
Birmingham’s philanthropy however isn’t purely one way, it comes with benefits – they gain access to some of the Steelers most ambitious and progressive players to both strengthen their 11s squad whilst pushing their incumbents to keep performing….which is just as well as the Lions will be putting their 11s training to the test in just a few, very short weeks, taking on one of Sweden’s best, the Arlanda Jets, in Stockholm on Saturday 30thMarch.
“We’ve set ourselves a massive challenge again in heading to Sweden to play the very established Jets with just a brief 11s build up behind us” said Jo, “…but finding playing windows in European calendars, with the Sapphire Series operating at odds with Europe, is just where we find ourselves!”
With a second fixture hoping to be confirmed soon (after the disappointment of a meet with Germany’s Munich Rangers recently falling through), the next 6-8 weeks will be busy to say the least, but that’s not fazing some. “I’m beyond excited to be joining the Lions this spring to play 11s football internationally” offered Steelers’ LB Libby Davoren. “Fixtures such as these don’t come around often, and we’re thankful to the Lions for opening their doors to a fellow Midlands team for the opportunity. Birmingham are really leading the way with women’s American Football in the UK and I’m grateful to be a part of that journey!” Also joining the fray will be Sydney Green and Sophia Klair. Originally a further five Steelers were nominated to attend by Sandwell Head Coach Sam Rafferty, but through injury, surgery and work commitments, their availability unfortunately couldn’t be confirmed.
“Libby, Syd and Sophia have been down to a couple of sessions with the team, ahead of kicking things off more formally this Saturday, and we’ve no doubt they’ll settle in well” added Jamie, “…they have the talent, attitude and application to contribute to our football team and that’s all we need ask of them.”
…and for the Lions they’re now all in with their new additions! “We’ve added these guys to our inner sanctum, shared our playbooks, audibles, everything” offered Jo, “that this welcome represents an insight into our 7s provision is not an issue as we need to be selfless in making this work; all that matters now is putting the best possible 11s team onto the field in less than 4 weeks’ time – that all said it would be remiss not to assert that whilst we fully recognise these guys will be representing the Lions with gusto we widely acknowledge they’ve been powered by ‘anvil steel’ in getting to this point!”
Head Coach Sam Rafferty also on board – assisting the team with their preparations from the D-Line – is also hopeful for a greater outcome beyond just the next couple of months: “…joining with the Lions for these international fixtures is an incredible opportunity for our players and will allow them to continue to progress in the sport. I think this is just the start of a great relationship with the Lions that will really benefit women’s football in the Midlands.”
…and if the only take-away that comes from this venture, is evidence that those teams that choose to collaborate and work together can do great things, then between the Lions ambition and the Steelers’ might, Birmingham’s Super 11s proposal won’t have left a bad footprint on the British women’s landscape, after all is said and done.