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beckenham ladies | sports

2019 wasn’t short of bad news but then again it’s safe to say that every other year we’ve heard some troubling stuff on all ends. Some of my favourite types of news to wake up to usually consist of three things:

1.    Sports

2.    Badass Women

3.    Badass Women in Sports

Lucky for us, 2019 didn’t fall short on delivering this kind of news either. It was an exciting time where gender equality was the agenda and evidently progressed tremendously both on and off the screen. Whether it was more funding, better pay, healthier advertising or simply more screen time, we’ve had it all. We’re not quite there yet but there is no harm in admitting that it has been a bloody good start. Either way, we love to see it.

With that being said, 2019 treated Women’s Rugby fairly well. While the history of Women’s Rugby can be traced way back to 1887, the first professional Women’s Rugby Cup didn’t really come about until 1991, which is not too long ago and might I say, it’s been quite a journey since then. We’ve gone from players being stopped due to social unacceptance and playing in secret to avoid public pressure to female players being paid the same as their male counterparts for the first time almost a quarter of a decade later.

And so, it only seemed fair to capture a true essence of what this really meant for female rugby players and the sport. For that, UNSETTLED met with Beckenham Ladies, a team that is a part of a 125-year-old club currently disputing for first place in their league.

Training twice a week and always with a big smile no matter what the weather brought in, we were lucky enough to chat with Captain Lucy Hooton who claims that joining the team was the best thing that ever happened to her.

“Joining this team has helped me grow in terms of confidence, public speaking, just building a sense of camaraderie and of course looking after other people.”

The sense of sisterhood is undeniable and evidently so with the tiniest of things such as fixing each other’s hair before a game, taping piercings and even looking after each other’s kids, which without a question translates on pitch with them bagging a big, big, win of 70-0 like in their last game.

The road hasn’t been easy and while female athletes have triumphed over some serious societal backlash, the struggle to establish a female presence in the middle of a male-dominated sport surely couldn’t have been merry.

“When we first started, it was definitely a male-dominated environment. This is coming on my 22nd season, maybe even a bit longer. So we had to kind of claw our way in slowly, slowly, slowly and win the affections of the men. It had to be done by playing and playing rugby, constantly improving because we weren't going to win their affections with anything else, except showing that women can do the sport to a good standard really, really well.”

What’s changed?

“Now, I would argue that in our club at least, we are actually a well-loved and cherished part of the club. It’s because we've put that effort in slowly, slowly, slowly over years and years. And now, we can show them that we are doing well in the league and hopefully, depending on the score of another team, we might be second in the league at the moment. We're showing them that we can do it and once you've got the backing of your own club, then it's a lot easier going into the wider sort of community so into Kenton County Rugby. That’s why the support is so important. It definitely is still a male-dominated area, but the women's sport, in general, has been a lot more nurtured and welcomed.”

In my humble opinion, the most commendable aspect of being a female athlete is undertaking the journey of motherhood and coming out of it to resume being a full-time athlete all over again. I’m not saying this with personal experience; I’m saying this because we have witnessed some incredible female athletes return to the game as if they have never left. Especially after childbirth, it’s no shock how difficult it can be to find your way back to your body and this is only and will be only something a woman endures.

Yeah, you can cross that out. Cross the hell out of it.

Serena Williams. Check.

Candace Parker. Check.

Sydney Leroux. Check.

Sania Mirza. Check.

And indefinitely, it was no surprise that Beckenham was already home to a couple of Mums.

“They set a massively good example for the younger girls and shine that light where you can have a season out to have your baby, breastfeed but also return to the game. My sister at halftime would come off the pitch and while we would all be getting water, she would be taking care of the baby and then come back in. People will look and be like, ‘gosh, she's just amazing!’ She’s doing this while breastfeeding a baby and, you know, being a mom and stuff. She's a real inspiration. It shows that your body's a lot more resilient than you think it is.”

So Lucy, what’s your message to girls who want to play sport or maybe just rugby?

“Just do it. If you are not playing any sport at the moment, I would say rugby would be an excellent first choice because it doesn't matter if you're tall, short, big, small, fast, slow or powerful, there will be a space for you. Rugby has always been a place for oddballs to come. Rugby is the one that I would say is the most inclusive. It doesn't matter if you're gay, straight, black, white.”

“We will take you. We will look after you.”

A massive thank you to Lucy Hooton and Beckenham Ladies for allowing us to crash your practice and bombard you with questions. We had a lovely time.

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