With the Welsh Premier Women’s League kicking off in just a few weeks time, SCFC2 headed off to Landore to interview long-serving Swans Ladies manager Ian Owen, ahead of his side’s 2019/20 campaign.
Q: How did you get involved with Women’s football and the Swans in particular?
I was working for the Community Trust, known as Football in the Community back then, as a delivery coach about 22 years ago. The ladies team hadn’t been going that long and they weren’t playing in a league or anything at that time. About a year afterwards the ladies team was officially formed and I helped them out a little bit, but only on a casual basis and then the guy who was running that ladies team at the time, who had nothing to do with the Swans, finished. The girls came knocking on the door of the Community Trust asking, what can we do? And my boss at the time, Linden Jones, said, “Ian, you can do that”. So I did and I’ve been here ever since! So we’re in the 21st season now. But I’ve really enjoyed it, it’s been great. Although it is totally different now to what it was back then!
Q: Having been a coach with the Swansea City Ladies team for over 20 years – what are your favourite memories during this time?
Qualifying for the Champions League was a big moment for everyone, the players, the coaches, everyone. So we’ve done that 3 times, so having the opportunity to coach in different countries, against different football teams and different types of football people, has been absolutely amazing. But I think the best memories I’ve got are just seeing some of the players growing up and evolving, not just into the good footballers that they are now, but the types of people they are. The majority of the girls that are with the squad now, I’ve known since they were in primary school! So we’ve seen them coming through the girls’ development centres, community trust, schools and we’ve been with them all that time. I’ve seen them grow up and become really good young people and that’s probably the best part of it all. And of course, when they achieve, like when they play for Wales, or they’ve become regular members in our first team, then I’m pretty proud of that.
Q: Having coached so many players – are there any in particular that stand out?
There have been many good players and in the current group, we have some fine players, but to name one would be really unfair. There are the likes of Alicia Powe, who’s been captain of the Swansea City Ladies team for 13 years and other good players, such as Emma Beynon, Katy Hosford, Kelly Newcombe, Sarah Adams, the list is endless. But I think going back to the earlier days, the old captain, Kelly Melville, was one of the best players I’ve come across, she captained the team for a long time and I think she helped me lay the foundations in those early years for us to become a long lasting club and team that were always competing for something. There are others that have gone on to bigger and better things, like Rachel Rowe, for instance. Rachel was a youngster who played in our junior set up and then came through into the senior team, and then she gained a professional contract with Reading in the FA Women’s Super League and played for Wales. To see one of our girls going on to achieve something like that is fantastic.
Q: Do you have a coaching philosophy and what is it that inspires you to coach?
The easiest one for me to say is that “I want to win”. I like winning things and we’ve won our fair share of silverware. But to be honest, I just love the coaching side of things, although managing can be a headache sometimes! At the end of the day, I’m a football coach first and foremost, so just to coach the young players and help them to become better footballers and people is the most rewarding thing. That’s what I’m in it for and when I see some of those come to fruition, that’s where I get my kick and my incentive to carry on. Losing isn’t something that de-motivates me, it makes me hungrier. But all I ever set out to do was to be the kind of coach and manager that I wanted to have when I was a player but never had. That’s going back a few years now mind and things have changed a lot! I’d like to think that I’ve done that on the whole, but we all sometimes make mistakes. The most important thing for me is to just have a good, safe, fun, enjoyable and educational environment for the young players to play in.
Q: Has your reaction to defeat and approach to games changed with the help of technology, such as video analysis, over the years?
No, I still don’t like it. I don’t like losing. Sometimes you have to hold your hand up and say OK they were better than us, but I don’t admit that too often. So I’m not fussed on losing, but I do take it on the chin. Always be respectful in defeat and say OK – but we’ll get you next time! I think we’ve got to such a stage with the coaching and philosophy of how we try to play at the Swans Ladies, that there’s an understanding from the staff and the players of exactly what’s required. We find that most of the time, that if we lose, it’s down to us, not down to the other team. There’s very few times that we’ve been played off the park. There’s very few occasions when we’ve come up against even really good teams and we’ve lost, but there hasn’t been something in the game that we’ve made a mistake or something like that to cost us. This to me is really positive, because it shows that we don’t have many bad performances. Yes video analysis is a big part of the game now, it’s tremendously helpful to a manager and I’d say it’s pretty invaluable.
Q: What is the most difficult part of being a coach?
I’d say that the most difficult thing about being a coach or managing any team, is trying to set up some clear guidelines and boundaries for each player in how involved you can be. To be honest with you it’s been a 24/7 role now for as long as I can remember. And of course we’re all volunteers, so I’d say the most difficult part is knowing when to switch off. Being on the field during games and coaching sessions is why I’m here, I really love that, I like to have an interactive relationship with the players. It’s not just about football, some players performances can be indifferent due to personal things going on or changes in their lives. As I said, the hardest part is knowing when to switch off from everything and have a bit of me time. To be fair, my wife has been long suffering when it comes to football. But when you are as passionate about this as I am, it does take over family life sometimes, and that’s why I say that the most difficult thing is knowing when to switch off. Because you know that if you want to make a success of something, you’ve got to do it to the best of your ability and with football management, that’s like around the clock. I have to say that my wife has been a big help and support. You know when you are spending a lot of time away from the family, but in fairness, she always keeps me on the straight and narrow and she comes up with some good points too!
Q: What people have been great influences in your life/coaching career and why or how? To be honest, I just try and look at all of the pros and cons of other managers. The same as I do with coaching. I’ll observe a lot of coaching sessions, pick up ideas and adapt them to ourselves. Sometimes you think I wouldn’t have said it that way or I’d have done it this way, but each to their own. So I like the coaches that try to develop a positive style of play, a good possession based game, but not just keeping the ball for the sake of it, try to score. Obviously with some of the managers and styles around at the moment, they pass the ball so much and the speed of the game is so much quicker, with not as much tackling, which would have been no good to me at all! The game has changed so much from when I was playing. So I think Pep Guardiola has got it spot on at the moment. I also like José Mourinho, because he found a way to help players using a psychological approach. I think we can run around a training ground as much as we want sometimes, but the things that you say to affect a player’s state of mind can be far more productive.
Q: What were your observations of the Women’s World Cup in France this year?
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the American team play, but also Sweden and the Netherlands. England had their moments, but I think to be honest with you they are still a little bit behind some of those countries, but they have progressed immensely. Looking at the bar the USA has set, I think everyone is still behind and we have a lot of catching up to do. If you looked into those American players eyes when they went out on the pitch, and they were there to win. As we were talking about the fact that I don’t like losing, I’ve worked within the Community Trust now as a development coach for years and I’ve spent many hours developing players with lesser abilities, you know helping them along and things like that, but I guess in the UK sometimes you forget about the elite players a bit, and we should concentrate equally on our elite players as we do on our grass roots. We will always need grass root players and we should always support grassroots and that’s been the main part of my job for over 20 years, but I think sometimes we forego our elite players knowing what they need to become like the Americans. We played out in New York about 2 or 3 years ago with our team, we didn’t play the highest level of opposition out there but we were found wanting. Their attitude towards winning the game was immense. That’s just their mentalist approach to the game and I think we have a lot of catching up to do.
Q: What would you like to see happen in Wales to develop the Women’s and Girls’ game further?
Well at the moment, I can’t really comment too much about the National set up. I think that people outside of that set up don’t have that much insight into how they go about their business. Obviously, some recent results have been encouraging, but you know once again when we come up against the better teams, like England, in World Cup qualifying, you can see the gulf. Although Wales managed a very good draw against them in the first game, you know there was still a gulf. I think funding is always a problem and the female game is always down the pecking order. Although it’s getting better with the more high profile teams, professional leagues, in Wales we haven’t quite got that yet. I hope it will come to Wales, but that will probably be after my time! I think funding and a real buy in from the FAW in promoting what goes on in women’s football in Wales would be a big help.
Q: How is preparation for the 2019/20 Welsh Premier Women’s League season going? How are the new signings settling in?
Very good, we’ve made a couple of experienced signings and a few youngsters have come in as well. They are showing a lot of promise. So in terms of training and those types of preparations, we are pleased of how things are coming along. A big disappointment has been the cancellations of two pre-season friendlies. But if you look at social media last week, we can see that everyone is having the same problem. That’s infuriating, because if we commit to something we will carry it out. But we do have another game this week, which will be another step in the right direction. The season is still another month away, with a lot of work to be done in between. We’ve lost one or two experienced players to Cardiff Met. But things go in cycles and those girls have been with us a long time. There are no bad feelings, they have to do what they have to do, but now we move on. Although we’ve lost 2 or 3 really experienced players, we’ve gained 2 or 3 really experienced players too, International players. So it’s not doom and gloom, we’re heading in the right direction, everyone’s positive and hopefully we can do a little bit better than last season.
Q: Who are the Swans Ladies players to keep a look out for this season?
That’s a tough one as we’ve got a really talented squad. I think the players that have been with us for a number of years now, we could just reel them off your tongue that they’re all quality, top standard, some of the best players in the league. I mean Shaunna Jenkins winning WPWL ‘Young Player of the Year’, Emma Beynon, our top goal scorer, Katy Hosford, Kelly Newcombe, Sarah Adams and Ellie Lake. But I think within the younger group Brooke Llewellyn, who joined us from Landore Colts, has certainly shown a lot of promise in training and we’ll be her first senior team. So we’re really looking forward to seeing what she can do out on the pitch, but then again, there are like 4 or 5 others like her as well that have come in. As for the senior players that have come in, Chloe Chivers, is a well-known name in the Welsh Premier Women’s League. Chloe’s fast approaching her full fitness levels, after her ACL operation and she is an experienced international player at a young age, so we’re looking forward to her taking part.
The Swans Ladies start their Welsh Premier Women’s League campaign against reigning champions Cardiff Met on September 8th, before welcoming newly promoted Aberystwyth Town Ladies at the Llandarcy Academy of Sport a week later.
Entry to all Swans Ladies games at Llandarcy is FREE, so why not pop along and support the club’s Ladies team in their quest for the league title.