Spotlight on the Peterborough Royals women's American Football team
'It's a game that appeals to everyone, combining the physicality of full contact sport with the strategy of chess'
For women thinking of trying a new sport, American Football may not be the first one that springs to mind. But Peterborough Royals promise a warm welcome - and a game that appeals to everyone, combining the physicality of a full contact sport with the strategy of chess.
“People do worry about getting hurt, but my friends who play netball get more injuries,” said team member Jessica Liddiard, 27, who plays defense and safety.
“Recruitment in any sport is difficult because there’s so much else women can be doing, but it’s especially important for us with the nature of the game and 14 different positions. We need every shape, size and skill.
“But what is good is that it’s a sport for everybody. You need big people and little people. You don’t have to be strong in all positions, or have to run or catch in all positions. It’s completely accessible.
“People come to us from a lot of different sports, like netball, volleyball, rugby, swimming, horse riding or rowing. Any sport has transferable skills.
“And there’s a lot of mental stimulus. It’s almost like a game of chess once you start to understand it. People underestimate the thought process that goes into it.
”Ideally we would like to have enough players so that everyone has one position they know really well and that’s easy to pick up.”
The club is relatively young, founded only in 2016 by Mark Kerr. Benita Booker was coach in the early days and has since handed over to Jamie Ewen.
From a couple of seasons of playing five-a-side matches, the format switched to seven-a-side last season and now, having built up their squad, the Royals have just played their third game day with the extra numbers.The season lasts from December to March, with Royals currently contesting the Sapphire Series South Division 2, alongside Kent Exiles the current league leaders, Portsmouth Dreadnoughts and Eastern Eagles from Norwich and Essex.
“There are just four leagues across the whole country,” explained Jessica. “So you can tell how few teams there are, less than 20, but it does mean there’s only one more step up to Great Britain team level - which might appeal to anyone with those ambitions.”
There is also an 11-a-side Diamond League in the summer. “Players from the north, south and Midlands all went down to London for a couple of training days and were scouted for Great Britain,” said Jessica. “The next level of playing for your country is on your doorstep.”
Royals players Michelle Bark and Charlotte Fox both went to team GB trials.
“This season we have linked up with Peterborough Lions RFC and last weekend we played our first tournament there. Chairman Andy Moore has taken us under his wing and we are looking at rebranding with a Lions vibe.” They are also looking at more community involvement, perhaps events for the Superbowl and July 4th and evenings watching NFL. The Royals train at the club from 10am to 1pm on Saturdays and are always keen to add to their numbers.
“I’ve only been playing for a couple of years. I just went along and as soon as I started tackling people, I was hooked, “ said Jessica. “ I’d not done any contact sport before, only a bit of roller derby, but I found I liked smashing into people and you burn a lot of calories!
“We have players who do all sorts of jobs from social workers and lawyers to care workers and welders,” said the secondary school teacher. “We come from such a wide range of career choices, that there will always be someone newcomers have plenty in common with.
“It can be quite scary joining a new team but we’ll have a couple of rookie days and we find that people who try it do tend to stay.”
All kit is provided and no experience is necessary. The only real restriction is that players must be 18, or 17 with parental consent.
“It’s great to be able to get the message out there, that there are American Football teams for women,” she added. “It’s still very new and up and coming, but there’s definitely an audience for it.”