With the Swansea City Ladies currently enjoying an unbeaten start to the domestic season, we caught up with head coach Colin Staples, who was appointed during the Summer, for his views on the campaign to date and Women’s football in Wales.
Q: How did you become involved in Women’s Football?
I was coaching a male team in the Swansea area, Gowerton Sports, plus I was just starting off as a Coach Educator with FAW, when the people in charge at the original Swansea Ladies approached me to help out with their team in the English league.
Back in the 70’s, my cousin in North East England played football, but always had to play for a boys’ team, and she used to tell me how hard it was to be accepted, even though she was one of their best players. She went on to coach at her school and I thought I would love to do that when I grow up (coaching), so it was in honour of her too.
Q: What are your memories of managing the Swans Ladies during the early 1990s? Do any players stick in your mind?
I remember well the training nights on the “rec” next to St Helens rugby ground in Swansea, limited equipment, streetlights for floodlights and a very bumpy surface. Playing games usually involved travelling all over the south west of England and home games at the Elba in Gowerton mainly.
I remember some great clashes against local rivals BP Llandarcy who were run by Christine Green (mother of Michelle), quite feisty I recall. Players wise, all the girls have a special place in my thoughts, purely for their dedication and desire to play.
However, it must be said, the Knuszka sisters Dawn and Tracy, Mandy Armstrong and Julie Lowe (later to become secretary of the current club) were all the driving force of the club. A very young Ali Vickers scored goals for fun, as did Trudie Williams and girls like Jen Croucher and Linzi Palmer have become lifelong friends. Although as I said, I have great memories of all players who were part of the squad.
Q: What are the biggest lessons you learnt considering the Swans Ladies UEFA Champions League campaign back in November?
The biggest take home message for me will always be to be organised and focussed as any team you face at that level are a challenge. Playing against full time professionals who train daily and do not need to have second jobs gives them the edge, therefore as a team you have to have a defensive strategy which is worked on, rehearsed and stuck to.
I believe our players executed our plan extremely well and if you ever get the chance to see the game you will see the fine margins which make the difference at a higher level, although we lost 3-0 the players should be proud of their display and can look forward in anticipation of hopefully another opportunity next year.
Q: Given your vast experience in Women’s football from the Women’s Super League, Welsh Premier Women’s League and Wales U17s/U19s, what are your favourite memories?
I have so many, but the first one has to be the experience I gained during those early days with Swansea Ladies (1990’s) which set me up for all that came later.
My invite to become Head Coach with Wales Development squads (Under 14s and Under 15s), which led to the Under 17s and Under 19s, including the first ever UEFA Under 17 qualifiers in 2007.
The Women’s Super League (WSL) was another great experience, even though most games were lost, the amount of experience and learning I gained is priceless and again making friends for life with so many players and staff such as Jamie Sherwood and observing top WSL coaches first hand, pitting your wits against them was again priceless.
It is also great to see how many of the current Wales senior squad came through the U17 & U19 squads, plus seeing how many of them now play in the WSL.
Q: What people have been the greatest influence in your life and coaching career, and why?
In life, It will always be family, my parents support, my wife’s total support and tolerance of my desire to coach and my children who I just wanted them to feel proud of me.
As a youngster back in the late 60’s and early 70’s my biggest influencers were the Swans team and the Vetch Field, I loved those days and just totally fell in love with football, even then interested in team shape and formations. The white kit with the background of the pitch (sometimes green) under the floodlights – heaven!!
In coaching, I have been fortunate to work and study under so many great coaches and individuals who remain as friends, Osian Roberts, Mike Smith, Jarmo Matakeinen, Kevin Thellwell, Rob Sherman – all superb coaches with great knowledge and ideas. Plus, all of my former colleagues at FAW Trust (past and present) during my long association there as we all learned together.
Then there are people who have become life mentors and close friends for more than 30 years Terry Boyle (former Pro & Wales player) and Roy Thomas (former Wales Ladies Head Coach & Swansea City FC Academy Head Coach), and then latterly Tony Pennock (former Pro and Swansea City FC Academy boss), all of whom had a great influence on my development and coaching career.
Q: Away from football how do you relax and unwind?
Not sure anybody who knows me will say I unwind but my other passions are music (large vinyl collection), writing, watching quiz shows and whenever I can, being with my five beautiful grandchildren (4 girls and a boy).
Q: What is your best starting XI and 5 substitutes from all the players you have managed in your career to date?
I am a very fortunate person who has had the pleasure of coaching so many players, both male and female, to just name eleven plus five would be impossible, as all have contributed to a very happy career for me personally.
Many have gone on to represent their country, others have hugely contributed to the development of the game here in Wales, some have sadly had to leave the game but in my eyes and thoughts, any player who has given their best is the best (they can possibly be).
Even today at Swansea City Ladies, I believe we have the best players because our squad members inspire our starting eleven to perform at a high level because they know if they don’t their place will be taken.
Maybe when I eventually retire, I will name names 😊
Q: Given the growth of female football in Wales, what changes would you like to see to develop the Women’s and Girls’ game even further?
Firstly, for Women’s and Girls’ football in Wales to become fully recognised as a sport in its own right, not just an addition to the men’s game.
More availability of facilities, not just Sundays (“because that’s when the girls play”) so plainly attitudes towards the game in society.
Continued support of FAW Coach Education and getting higher qualified coaches into the clubs at all levels, definitely developing many more female coaches (all the way to Pro Licence level), but not to the exclusion of fully committed, qualified and capable male coaches, we need everyone’s input and support.
A stronger commercial development to pinpoint the right businesses to financially develop, improve image development and support Women & Girls football in Wales to achieve its full potential.
It is important the likes of Sgorio and current Welsh Premier Women’s League sponsors Orchard are recognised for their huge support of our game and again the priceless exposure they offer.
Q: What advice would you give to any young female footballer wanting to make a career out of the game – either as a coach or as a player?
Don’t be put off by any doubters, stick to your dreams, listen to all advice offered, keep an open mind but make your own decisions based on what is best for you to achieve success. Count setbacks as learning curves and follow your journey to where it takes you.
Q: Where you would like to see the Swansea City Ladies, both on the field and off, in 5 years’ time?
Playing in a flourishing Welsh Women’s Premier League (which is full time) and recognised as the elite nationally, with players in the National Squad. Playing with a full squad of professional players and reaching the “Round of 32” within the UEFA Champions League, playing against high level opposition at the Liberty Stadium.
If you’d like to keep up to date with all things related to the Swans Ladies, then make sure you follow the Official twitter account @swansladies and Facebook page, as well as keeping an eye out on the Swansea City Official website for regular updates and articles.