The NWFL Interviews: Ebony Bliss of the Teesside Steelers

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Sportank is back with the NWFL Interview Series, this time with Ebony Bliss who has played for Leeds Chargers and most currently the Teesside Steelers, we talk about the differences between both teams, returning from injury and more.

Who are you and how long have you been playing for?

I’m Ebony Bliss. I play for Teesside Steelers. I used to play for Leeds Chargers. This’ll be my second season at Teesside. And then I had, I’m gonna say one whole season and about two games at Leeds Chargers because I tore my ACL.

What NFL team do you support and why?

Well, this is going to sound really silly, but I support the Seahawks and the way I started supporting them was because I did one of those BuzzFeed quizzes When I first started and said, which team should I support?

Teesside are new to the Prem North Division; how do you think the Steelers are going to fair /are faring?

I think it’s a bit of. Kind of, it’s a gray area, really, because I think people kind of assume that we’re just coming into the Northern Premiership like it’s our first time, but pre COVID the Steelers won it. I mean, I say that slightly sadly, because I wasn’t part of that. I was on Leeds at the time. So, I mean, they won that. So, when they went into the Northern league, I think we kind of disappeared a bit and went off people’s radar.

We’re really enjoying the level of competition. I think the first tournament really hit us, but in a good way, we needed that shakeup to kind of realize, right. We’re back in this high, competitive level of football after about two years off. But I think, I think sometimes people underestimate us.

I think we’ve still got something like that.

 Have there been any major differences in playing for Leeds and then playing for Teesside?

They are two very different teams. From a coaching perspective. When I first joined Leeds, it was very strict. I don’t know what to compare it to, but it was like, training is serious.

You’re there to train. There were lots of people on the team who were like GB players from like four years ago, who’d just come off the back of worlds.

It was a very different mindset, whereas Teesside is very relaxed. And I know when I speak to like Jade who used to play Leeds as well and Hubs, Emma, anyone else you played for Leeds.

Teesside is very relaxed. A lot more about, I think the enjoyment rather than the competitive side, they’re still competitive, but the training was very much a different story.

 You’ve mentioned you tore your ACL in a prior season. What were the challenges in coming back from that?

I think because it was only my second or third game, like ever playing, it could have gone either way.

I could have quit the sport forever, given up playing any sport or I could come back stronger. And I think the mental challenges of ACL reconstructions and things like that are the worst part.

it could have been very easy for me to just stop playing. I think it was about 18 months before I actually played again properly.

I did a diamond series, but I didn’t really do much. I think I came back a bit too early, although it did give me an opportunity to learn more about the importance of strength and conditioning. I hadn’t before that, I was very much a, just a soccer player. I was about a, probably about eight and a half stone playing against these people.

And I don’t think I’ve done any strength training in my life. And now it’s part of my routine. I have to do it. And I learned meeting people like Sam Fossey as well and had a PT that was like female specific in Leeds that really helped. And I think it’s changed how I am as a player completely.

And then what do you think about the tournament style of play in the NWFL?

I don’t mind it because for example, when we were going to Scotland, It was a lot to just play one game.

And for that amount of travel, you have to play 2, you have to get your money’s worth it. The fatigue you get and just the expense as well.

But on the other hand, like last tournament, I think it worked against us because we had 15 minutes between playing Manchester and then the Cheshire and Leeds game had finished slightly before ours. And so, we already had injuries.

We barely had time to go get some food. I mean, imagine running across that Manchester field in pads, trying to go to the loo all like 24 people at one time, it was, it just wasn’t enough time.

So, I think that better rest time needs to be taken into consideration. But apart from that, I think from a cost perspective, it’s definitely more worthwhile.

And then going on to the games that were recently played from Teesside. You beat Manchester 40-35 then lost to Cheshire 28-8 What was your summation of those games and the day?

 It was a really hard day for us as a team.

I mean, we turned up, we were always a small team, last year we turned up with 13 players, every tournament, really. It wasn’t out of the norm for us, but I mean, the second smallest team was probably Leeds that day and they had 19, six players difference.

We only had two coaches with us. One of them had stepped in last minute and it really took its toll, especially when we started getting the injuries because then people’s head started going down.

And I think we did really well to keep going as long as we did.

I mean, Manchester, I think you can pinpoint when the injuries started to take an effect on people. Because in the first half we were winning by quite a decent margin. Then the second half, it just went a bit downhill. We learned a lot as a team.

I mean, we had a meeting as a team the week after where we all kind of like got a few things off our chest and this last week, the team effort to get recruitment up, to make training more intense, to have the confidence and have the place to say to the coaches, this is what we need. It’s been like a complete turnaround.

I’m actually quite excited for the team. And if you’d have asked me that maybe Sunday or Monday, I probably would have, I might have not said that.

And then have you seen an evolution in the sport since you started playing?

To an extent, I think in the north, it’s definitely a different story to probably what is in the south. In the north, we’ve really struggled for coaches and things like that.

I mean, when I’ve been on Leeds and when I’ve been playing for Teesside, I’ve seen how that impacts the team. I mean, when I was playing for Leeds, the numbers were low again, and I know they had a really good development year, last year, and they’ve really picked up this year, but they’ve still not got many coaches.

I know Pilks are stepping in being a DC, which, I mean, there’s a lot of pressure for her, but also, they smashed it at the weekend. So, you can see how players taking on more responsibility can be a good thing, but I do think more needs to be done in the north, particularly because sometimes it feels like the north is kind of getting left behind.

And I think you can see that as well when you look at the teams that were ready to probably go to nines this year, there’s not many in the north considering we’ve been stuck on about 13 players, I’d say for the last two years. And you know, we lose coaches, and we get people, they come down, they can’t commit as much time as they need to.

And it has had an adverse effect. I’ve had a few conversations like the weekend in particular with a few people from different teams down south. And I was explaining the situation. With our coaching and they were kind of bit shocked. And I think that really shows the bit of the, I think there still is a bit of a north-south divide.

 So, you’ve made the GB practice squad, what does that entail and how do you feel about your chances are of making the playing squad?

It’s been a really good experience especially from like a player aspect, getting to play in the position I want to play in and learning so much, not only from the coaches there, but from like the players, the amount of experience on that squad is ridiculous.

Everyone helps each other, everyone competes, but you want to make the person next to you a better player. I think that’s really had a good impact on me. It’s made me a more confident player and I think, I think they’ve definitely got a great chance at worlds. I back them all the way.

What would you are say the pros and cons are of not having that team name association with a men’s team?

I’ve not really seen much of a difference because I don’t know what it’s like for the teams with a men’s club.

I’d say when we were associated at Leeds with Leeds Beckett, for example, there were some perks, but there weren’t a lot like sometimes some of the men would come and help us with game footage. Obviously, they had access to quite a lot of equipment and kit, but I don’t even know if that was just owned by the club.

Yeah, I don’t really see much of a difference to be honest, somebody who’s probably on a team that’s associated with a men’s would probably say different, but you know, there are some teams around us, like our coaches, quite a lot of them were from like Darlington Steam flag. But we’re not associated by any, means.

I think we could probably borrow some kit if we need to off someone that would be about it.

has there been any issues in getting equipment?

Because we have quite low numbers, we don’t really have to have that much kit and Teesside is quite unique and the number of players. For example, were on like the GB practice squad or made the GB practice squad is quite high and we’re all quite committed and have our own kit.

I think a number of our players. I mean, we’ve got a high amount of returners who have been very loyal to the club.

So, the kit we’ve got hasn’t really been used to the maximum. As we get more recruits, maybe we might struggle, but I think we would be able to borrow some kit off of local teams if necessary.

And then what do you think could aid coverage and recruitment of the sports?

I think getting more men involved in trying to promote the sport, you see it when.

The number of likes and comments and shares come when a men’s team does something compared to a women’s team. I think it’s definitely improved a lot, especially with like girls of Gridiron and like yourself doing these interviews with players, it’s really brought women’s teams to the forefront.

I don’t didn’t even really not pay attention to, but they weren’t really on the radar because they weren’t being covered. I mean, going to Peterborough Royals and streaming that game, fantastic.

That’s the kind of thing we need. We also need more coaches to maybe step forward. And even if it’s just like every other week, have a go, like, just give some knowledge.

If you’re a returner player, it might seem that maybe an hour of your time isn’t that much to you. But that hour of experience and knowledge to somebody, for example, who plays on the line, who’s not had a proper line coach all season could make so much difference in their playing

What do you think should be showcased about the NWFL?

I think the games in itself, I think, there’s an assumption maybe those women don’t hit as hard, but I think if anyone watched a women’s game, they’d see, we hit just as hard we play just as hard. If we train just as hard. It’s kind of been in the shadows for a while.

We’ve got some real athletes out there that are going to be going out to Finland, to play against America, Canada, Mexico, hopefully all those teams getting through. And they’ve kind of just been in the shadows treated as though, you know, it’s kind of just been on the bit of the back burner or for the last few years, but I do think a lot more is going into women’s sport, and you can see an improvement this year.

What are the best things about playing for the Teesside Steelers?

The sense of family is really, really strong at Steelers. Like I said earlier, there’s the loyalty that people have to each other. The returners we have, I’d rather play for example, with four of them or the people that return year on year out than have a massive squad full of people that aren’t really committed.

That’s the thing that really shows, I mean, on, on Saturday, on that first tournament, when we had to fold halfway through the game, I started crying because I was just so frustrated because. I know that they all work really hard, but they don’t work hard for themselves. We work hard for each other, and it upset me to see how much effort we’ve put in and to not be able to play because of numbers that really hurt.

But I think we’ve come together, and I think people are really stepping up on the team and it’s lovely to see that it’s really great.

Any closing remarks?

Oh, I’m not sure. I just think that this year, from the start, we, we’ve kind of, because of COVID there’s been a bit of a shift like last year. I think the fact that the north maybe isn’t taken as seriously as other leagues kind of got highlighted. I mean, Teesside is spelt wrong on everything.

It’s T E E S S I D E they always forget double e, double s every time I like they do correct it, but it’s just so frustrating because from the perspective of a player it’s not like we’re a brand-new team, you know, we won the Northern League. Well, they did just before COVID and even when our scores got posted last year for our league, I felt bad for Edinburgh because they were classed as a, a scrimmage team.

So, their points didn’t get counted. But also, the points we had weren’t counted properly. We had to put on that like comment and say, our scores were a lot higher than this. This is not correct. And it just felt like, you know, we pay our fees, we love this sport just as much as any of the team, but why, why is such a small thing, not being taken into consideration.

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