The NFWL Interviews: Molly Bryson of the Cheshire Bears

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One more from the Prem North, Molly Bryson sits down with us to discuss what is next for the Bears after their impressive 2021 season along with all with everything else in the NWFL.

Who are you?

 I am Molly. I play for the Cheshire Bears. I only started last year, so I just completed my rookie season. I originally found out about football. A couple of my friends play in the league abroad and I’ve wanted to join for years, but I think until you’re in the circle of American football, you would never really know it exists in the UK.

Like, unless you’re actively in that community. I don’t think there’s any real advertisement outside of that, which is, you know, rightly so. But yeah, so I actually sent a message a few years back about joining the bears. I think there were mid through the season. So, this was 2019, so they just said, you know, message on the next rookie day.

I think I attended two rookie days and then obviously COVID hit. So, there was like an eight-month hiatus from that. But yeah, so I went back after eight months, did a few rookie days and just absolutely loved it. I think, you know, I’ve tried a load of different sports throughout my teen years, my youth years I think American football has that aggression that I like in sport.

I was always a bit aggressive in other sports. So, I liked that side of it, but yeah, I played for the Cheshire Bears, I’m in my second year I played, I kind of played like a hybrid last year of linebacker slash defensive end. This year I’ve just moved completely to D line defensive ends so I can focus on that.

But yeah, really enjoying it and looking forward to the upcoming games, which first one is in two weeks, I think. 

What NFL team do you support?

I actually have two that I support. I support the Seahawks mainly because I have a friend that actually lives in Seattle. And that was just kind of how I actually first became aware of like the NFL.

And also, my girlfriend is an avid supporter, so I kind of wish just was drafted into being a supporter. Anyway, I didn’t really have a choice and the second one is the Steelers just mainly because the uniforms make them look like bumblebees.

It’s hard when you don’t know much about football, you kind of have to go off. What other people say, and then obviously, maybe Jersey colours.

The Cheshire Bears went four and four last season, but how did the season go in your eyes?

I actually think it went really well. Our first game was the lions.

Again, it was my first ever game. So that was very, I think, overwhelming. And then we lost our only game to Manchester but even after losing. I think we had so many rookies, half the team was rookies because obviously after COVID, every team is struggling to get players in. I actually was really happy with that first tournament.

I think everyone played. We balled out really well. No one kind of just gave up and was like, it’s the lions. We didn’t have that mentality. We still kind of gave them a good game. I felt. And then the rest of the season, obviously we had, we got a walkover win because Leeds had to pull out one of the tournaments.

We’re looking forward to playing them. And the first game we played, we lost what we were kind of came away from that we studied we came back with a vengeance. The last game was probably the best game. It was so close I know. Just remember it, the young, not wanting to take my helmet off because I was like, something’s going to happen.

We’re going to be back on. But now I was really happy with the season. Obviously, I don’t have many seasons behind me to compare it to. But in my view, I think it went very well.

And then what was it like playing Birmingham?

So obviously we’ve been a complete rookie I’ve only ever heard about Birmingham. And I was very nervous for that first game, but I think all you can do against Birmingham is just take away from it, learn from it, you know, study the film, see what they do really well. What other teams also do well and just kind of put it all together of, obviously they have some really good players in GB players who, you know, people can look up to.

We only played some tie, so I would have liked to maybe play them a bit more because I felt our second game. We really improved and gave them a good game. Especially defensively. I think we did really well. But yeah, I think the lions are just another level, but I think it’s really good to go against them and learn from it.

Okay, does being a premiership ship side add more pressure. And how do you think the Cheshire Bears will respond?

So, I think obviously again with it being my rookie season last year, it was my first season in the premiership. I think this year there is a bit more pressure just because we can be a surprise package, but you know, coming up from division.

And kind of be the underdog. I mean, we came second in the division last year. So, I think this year we really have that pressure to maybe perform as well. Obviously, it’s, we’ve got a new team in the division. We don’t know how other teams maybe have drafted rookies or coaches. But we’ve been working really hard behind the scenes.

We’ve got some new elements that we’ve added in. We’ve got a few surprises, so I think, yeah, we’re really gonna surprise people.

So, on that, a new team coming in, what are your views on Teesside Steelers joining your division?

I’m really excited to play the Steelers just because obviously last year we didn’t have them in our division.

And I always love playing new teams because it’s just, it’s just that something different. You don’t know what to expect from them. And they have a lot quite a few plays on GB. So that’ll be interesting to see how we fair up against them. And we do have a couple ourselves I think it will be a really good game.

I’m not going to do any predictions at the minute because I really don’t know how it will go.

And as it was your rookie season last year, what were the issues that you faced in being a rookie?

I think the main issue, again, if I bring up COVID is just everyone kind of getting back into being healthy. Obviously see, as a rookie, I was just wanting to learn as much as I can, but I think, you know, people were just coming back from injuries.

We had to maybe draft a few new coaches in I wouldn’t say there was any particular hardship in the coaching that I had, but it was just more knowing what to expect. Some games, obviously people were just, we would literally just trying to recover from having two years off. So, I think that was the main issue.

I’m finding rookies again is an issue because I just don’t feel like the sport is. Yeah, it’s out. enough I know people are trying and it’s on the uprise. I’ve definitely seen a growth in it, but and we’ve got a lot of youth teams with girls on, so hopefully there can progress into being rookies for the women’s league as well.

And then how have you grown as a player since your first season?

So, I think I’ve grown as a player. I always go into any sport. I don’t really think about it. I just act on what I see. And I’ve really had to take a step back to share, especially being defensive ends and just read what’s happening. I need to study plays a bit more on just think if I go into this play, you know, my, without thinking about it, some something can happen.

But I really, really have to take a step back and study the playbook. I’ve had to learn new skills. So, I think, yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how I do compared to last year’s footage.

And then have you seen any evolution between last year and this year in terms of the game itself, but then also coverage and recruitment?

Yeah. So obviously you mentioned that I think unless you’re in a sport that isn’t that much out there, however, since joining last year, I feel like there’s so much more coverage and hype around the women’s games this year, which is great to see, you know, my social media, especially this week has just been covered in, you know, the games that are coming up and it’s nice to see the scores up straight away.

Cause I think last year it took, you know, it was quite a while before the women’s game scores got uploaded and then even then some of them were wrong, but it’s lovely to see it this year. Everyone’s picking up on it. Everyone’s hyped and we’re getting support off different pages. And it’s really nice to see.

And then what do you think could aid recruitment and coverage going forward?

So, I think definitely, obviously keep spreading the word. I think there’s a couple of new platforms that have picked, you know, like yourself covering the women’s game. I think maybe going into schools or universities and people that already play sports, getting the word out there, that there is this sport that they can play.

You know, a lot of people say, oh, let’s get rugby players, but. You can pick up any element from any sport you’re playing kind of bring it over to American football. Yeah, so I think just actively recruiting on social media is always a big thing. Tik Tok is really big at the minute, so there’s American football all over there.

So yeah, I just think actively recruiting and keep, you know, driving the women’s going forward. We’ll be good.

And then what are your views on the tournament style of play?

Yeah. So obviously we play, we play a tournament style of, play two games, 40 minutes. I don’t know. I think I quite like it at the minute, because of the women.

We do train differently to men. We’re kind of not really built for the sport. We need to kind of warm our muscles more and have that lesser game. But I think also with the only plays sevens, we don’t have the plays on the field to maybe run a bigger field or do more plays. I think if we, if we go to nines and we may be developed into just having one game on the day with the men’s.

Also again, but it’s just recruitment. We don’t have as many teams. I think obviously BAFA have maybe put more games on, but in less time. There’s less traveling and obviously you’ve got like the likes of Portsmouth, which are the furthest team and then Edinburgh. So, I think it’s hard to just kind of make colleagues similar to the men’s league or the senior league, I should say.

But I do think it works at the minute, but I think if we go to the nines, I think, you know, it might have to change or hopefully we might get a bit more games.

What do you think should be showcased about the NWFL?

So, I always think it’s really interesting to see kind of behind the scenes, you know, how women train and, you know, equally as the men, I’m not taking it away from them, but the fact we are just normal people. We have jobs degrees, you know, we work on stuff outside.

It’s not a professional league. And I think for women to really dedicate time and it’s great to see that women have a passion for the sport and the way we can play. So I think, you know, maybe a bit behind the scenes would be nice to see, or more sort of player interviews, get to know the players on each team, or even just seeing the teams in a bit more depth, because I know some of the women’s teams are only available on social media through the men’s pages.

And I just feel that maybe I’ll say the focus isn’t always on the women. I think that would just be nice to see, but again, it’s just all about developing it.

Bethany Pilkington who plays for the Leeds Chargers has said in her interview that Cheshire, were their biggest rivals. Would you agree with that?

I mean, I would agree again, that last game against Leeds was, it was a really fun game. It was probably one of my favourite games, but with the score being so close as it was, I think, you know, it could go either way.

I think they’ve got a lot of new rookies and coaches. I think she said they’ve had a few new changes. We’ve had a couple of changes. So, we’ve had a few new players come in. So yeah, I think there’ll be a bit of a really tough game and I’m excited to see what happens.

Have there been any issues with getting equipment?

So, we were quite lucky to have, someone dedicated to that. We have a sponsorship recruitment. So, they kind of get sponsorships for us. They get grants of which we can buy equipment. We all quite lucky. We have sleds, we have everything that we can. You know, possibly need to train. So, you know, shout out to it changes each year on who it is, but we have someone dedicated to that because again, you know, it’s an expensive sport.

You’ve got to buy all your kit; you’ve got to travel. So we do, we don’t really have many issues. I think the only issues would be if we do approach someone about sponsorship, they might not know much about it, or they might not even know that women play the sport. Again, that’d be great in coming years to see maybe bigger companies sponsoring the game.

And what is your best playing moment so far?

So obviously I only have one season to go off for. I got a defensive touchdown last season. I think it was against, Manchester. Again, I just picked up the ball and started running with there, but I didn’t have far through when I was already in the end zone.

But yeah, that was probably one of my best moments.

And how has being a PT helped you in playing American football?

I get asked this a lot and honestly, I think if I didn’t lift, if I couldn’t lift the bar, I don’t think I would be able to tackle the way I do. Like I do think I am quite a good aggressive player

and I think as soon as you’re able to go into the gym and feel confident in lifting weights cause there’s a stigma that, you know, women shouldn’t lift or they don’t want to get bulky, but it’s not, it’s not about that. It’s about mentally improving yourself also physically as well. I would advise everyone if they can to try and get into the gym or even get a PT.

What is the best thing about playing for Cheshire?

When I first was looking at a team to join, I’ll see the, there wasn’t many around, but the first team that kind of popped up was the bears.

And I just loved the whole ethos of being a team. I love the fact that they went associated with a men’s team. I felt like all the coaches were just there for the women. All the focus was on us nothing was kind of taken away. Which again, really drew me to the team. I went down to the rookie day.

Everyone was so inviting with a lot of people there so yeah, I think that was the two main reasons that really drew me to the bears, but we’re just, it’s just great to get to know people. I’ve made some friends, probably friends for life. I’ve met my girlfriend at the bears as well. So, yeah.

How do you see the 2022 season going?

Cool. Well, that’s a tough one. I think. It’s definitely a more hyped-up season because last year as one, again, was recovering, trying to recruit players and COVID, and I think everyone’s had that year to kind of level up now and I’ll see with the prospect of going tonight and hopefully, that will happen. I feel like teams are really stepping up.

I know when I’m in a very tough division, The north division, from what we have seen yesterday, that will be a good division. You know, you’ve got the top teams, kind of the warriors, Birmingham they’re all in with Wembley and the cheetahs and stuff. So, I think it’ll be a really, really good division. And I’m quite excited to see who kind of comes out on top.

And hopefully like with warriors and Birmingham being in the same division that it’ll give another other team, a chance to get to that final and possibly play one of them.

And what are your thoughts on the score lines for the Northumberland shieldmaidens games that have just happened this Saturday, given that they are a brand-new team.

I was very impressed, you know, from what I have seen on social media that came out, they gave a good game or, you know, for. Starting out, especially if they have a lot of rookies, it’s hard to kind of establish that presence on the field.

And even though I know they lost those games; however, I feel like if that was me, I come away proud of putting some scores or especially against, you know, people like the Wolves, and you’ve got the pirate to also gave a good game. So yeah, I think they did really well. And I’m actually really excited to see how they develop and see who comes out on top

Have you got any closing remarks?

I just would say again, like I’m very, very excited to see how the division develops. I’m really excited that the women’s game is actually getting coverage. You know, people are picking it up. It’s exciting to get to connect with different players from different teams.

We’ve got the GB national women’s program and we’ve got the world champions in Finland, which a couple of the bears are planning on flying out to watch it. That’d be quite cool. But overall, I’m just really excited for the season and to get to see a good few games.

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