During these, dare we say it, unprecedented times, grassroots clubs have been hit hard. Stuart Summers, Secretary of Abergavenny Women FC, and this month’s ‘Seren y Mis’ talks about how Covid-19 stopped them in their tracks, but how it gave them a chance to reflect on the previous season and learn lessons on and off the pitch.
O: How does it feel to be nominated as this month’s ‘Seren y Mis/Star of the Month’?
S: My initial reaction was pleasantly surprised. It’s nice to see all the hard work being put in at the club is being recognised by others. Any award for our club is most welcome as it’s a real team effort...Do we get a trophy as the cabinets are a little bare now?
O: Has football always been a part of your life?
S: Yes, I've always loved football. My first experiences were going with my father and uncles to watch Exeter City play at St James Park, and I was hooked immediately. I played a little bit, but I would describe my style as enthusiastic rather than gifted. I then took up coaching boys' and girls' football and have stayed involved in the female game for the last 15 odd years. As I've got older, I have gone from player to Coach, Coach to Treasurer and now to Club Secretary and official tea maker. I am eventually aiming for my own reserved parking space at Pen Y Pound and a small statue.
O: When did you join Abergavenny?
S: I joined Abergavenny Women 4 years ago when my daughter finished university in Cardiff, and she joined this club as a player. I started out as just a parent and supporter, but two years ago was asked to help behind the scenes. The club was re-structuring, and it was all hands to the pump to keep things running smoothly. It was a real baptism of fire in the first season, but things are eventually falling into place now.
O: How difficult of a situation did Covid-19 present for the club?
S: When we first became aware of the Covid-19 issues we were in a dog fight at the wrong end of the League table, but equally looking forward to a Cup Semi Final against Cardiff. Covid-19 arrived and stopped us in our tracks, but it did us a bit of a favour in some ways as it allowed us time to reflect on the season and learn lessons on and off the pitch. It sounds silly but the lack of football made us all appreciate the game and that in turn galvanised our squad. In lockdown we appointed a new manager, coaches and support team, made lots of zoom meetings, text and telephone plans for when football would return. We had some useful help and guidance from Ianthe and Lowri at FAW with regards to making the ground safe and reassuring for visiting teams. There have been some enormous changes in the way we do things on match day, but I do feel privileged to be able to carry on playing.
O: What did you do to overcome it?
S: To be quite honest, lots of hard work. Early mornings spent scrubbing and cleaning, and a lot of preparations and planning but the key to our success has been without a doubt our club friends and family. We have fantastic support at the club and most of our regulars agreed to fill out the daily Covid-19 checks and perform match day tasks - everything from cleaning, red and amber security, ball retrievers and helpers. In return, they get to watch the home games and again, it's just helped us underpin our family club values.
Pre-season we organised two away friendly games followed by two home friendly games. The away games gave us the chance to see how other clubs were doing things and pick-up useful ideas. The two home friendlies let us practice with our volunteers, so we were well prepared for the start of the season. Having said that, there's always room for a bit of drama on match day when the batteries run out on the temperature gun, or the wind keeps blowing all the Covid-19 stickers off.
O: What do you hope for the future of Abergavenny Women FC?
S: The main ambition has always been simple - to keep women's and girls' football alive in our area, to provide players with a good standard of football and coaching without too much travelling, and to continue to run a family based friendly club who produce great players. This season - we hope to finish in the top 3 or 4 in the League and have a Cup run - probably within our capabilities if we can keep players fit and well. Letting my imagination go wild for ten minutes and thinking in the longer term, it would be to win the League and take part in the Champions League. Can you imagine little old Abergavenny Women in the Champions League? They would probably make it into a Disney film.
Congratulations Stuart and all the best for a winning season!