In June 2022, Cambridge City Ladies and Girls appointed a new Head of Youth Development.
We were lucky enough to acquire the services of Steve Smith, from the Cambs FA Advanced Coaching Centre. Steve was tasked with paving the way for our current U15s to join and compete in the prestigious JPL Warrior League.
The JPL was formed with the intention of creating a league for the very pinnacle of girls’ clubs outside of the Elite Regional Talent Clubs. So when approached by a number of professional football clubs to offer an elite environment for female players, they seized the moment and two of the most talented and prestigious girl’s divisions in England launched. It is now the fastest growing all girls league in England.
Steve made an immediate move to recruit Phoebe Webb, who he worked closely with in the Cambridgeshire FA ACC, into the management team.
In the heat of summer they set up player trials to identify who they thought could link in with the core of existing U14 Cambridge City players. Specifically looking for a balance within the team, with players who had physical and mental resilience, as this would most definitely be required in the Warrior league. All the Girls who attended the trials brought something to the table and the management team really enjoyed working with everyone that came along.
With the squad in place, the team were eagerly awaiting confirmation of the forthcoming fixtures so they could start work preparing for the next stage fo the journey. The league Division finally came through and City had been paired with Tottenham, West Ham, Leicester and the renowned Haringey girls to name a few. This was the moment everything became REAL, the team realised how much work had to be done to prepare the girls for the league.
With a mix of U14s /15s, size and ability, Steve and Phoebe set about finding the toughest friendlies they could find, and over the next 2 months the girls went through a tough period with the players as they looked to push and stretch them technically, physically and mentally.
As the Team started to form, so did the trust, resilience and all important relationships within, just in time for the start of the season.
The season began with some cup seeding rounds and first up a visit to North London, right behind The Tottenham Hotspur stadium. A tough tie but the girls came through with flying colours, winning against a very physically strong Haringey Girls Devs team.
Next up came West Ham Performance. Another very physical game against a very well organised and robust West Ham side. However, the City girls had started to click and the tough tests they had been exposed to in pre-season started to pay off. Finishing the game 3-1 winners and the team were beginning to look like warriors.
In the final seeding round another victory against a physically strong Ebbsfleet team and City had finished as top seeds in the group for the cup rounds later in the season. This meant they will be drawn against some of the countries very best youth sides. An awesome start and a challenge that every member of the team will relish.
The next few months saw some mixed results against some very good sides. The team grew in confidence and ability as they travelled to new places, played at some great venues and experienced competing at the highest level against girls from varying different social, economical and cultural backgrounds.
The toughest test to date cam recently. An away trip to the east midlands to play at the Leicester City FC training ground, an incredible experience for the girls. Sadly the result didn't go our way. A 4-0 loss to probably one of the top U15 girls sides in the country, but as we conceded goals we actually grew in confidence, adapted, created chances, grew into the game and came together during and after the game.
The girls came away with heads held high, having competed with one of the very best professional female clubs in the country.
Sitting in the dressing room, that at one time player’s like Jamie Vardy would have used, the sign on the wall next to the Leicester club logo was “ FEARLESS” and that’s exactly what our warriors had become. The future is looking bright for our Under 15s but we'll leave the last words to the boss.
"Player development is a never ending continuous cycle, I’ve always enjoyed the journey as much if not more than any results, something we try to engrain in our players. As a club we have extended an arm to our Girls Pathway, this will not only prepare our players for senior football, it will also teach them valuable life skills to enable them to grow as people not just as players.
I am extremely proud of the Warriors Team we have built, the first Grassroots club entering this league in the County, I'am told.
We do not have the financial support, the staff or the resources that many of the Pro clubs we play against do but what we do have is a group of Girls and parents who week in week out, travel across the South East competing, developing and wearing the Cambridge City badge with pride, making new friends along the way.
As we look to the future, we hope to extend our pathway, bringing more JPL Warrior opportunities for other age groups. These will link in with those all important Grassroots teams along with a few new ideas that will help with support and development of all our players."
Steve Smith - Head of Youth Development - Girls