The NWFL Interviews: Lynsey Llewellyn of the Edinburgh Wolves

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We are back with the NWFL interviews, but not with a player this time, instead, we have the chairperson of the Edinburgh Wolves, Lynsey Llewellyn joins us to share her views on the issues in the NWFL, her history in the sport and where the sport can go next.

Who are you and how long have you been involved in the sports?

So, I’m Lynsey Llewellyn and I’ve been involved with the sport since 2014 with the women’s team, that’s when they very first formed actually, some random Sunday in October, 20 of us rocked up in a muddy field, then the rest is history.

More importantly, what is your role within the Edinburgh Wolves?

I’ve had many, I’ve actually been chairperson of the women’s team since the very first year. I keep getting voted back in somehow, probably cause nobody else wants to do it and I don’t have the heart to step away. So yeah, I’ve been heavily involved in the committee side of things organizing, fundraising all the usual stuff.

For playing, I used to play quarterback for the first two years. Then I made the change to linebacker for another two then became a coach and the last three years I’ve just been coaching.

What NFL team do you support and why?

There’s a tiny bit of a story here, when I first rocked up to join the wolves, I have never really watched the game the then head coach basically said “have you ever been to America, or have family there?” And I remember saying I had an auntie near San Francisco

So, he said “Right, you are the 49rs”. I was like aye ok then; I didn’t know anything. So then because I was playing the sport and I started watching it. This was the time the Giants were huge, they had OBJ who was blowing it out of the water, so yeah started leaning towards the Giants.

So, what do you see as the pros and cons of being associated with a men’s team?

Definitely more pros than is cons I would say. Pro being there’s equipment that we share and other resources in terms of coaches or general support. And we need that, you know, they’ve got a wide network of team, contacts and individuals for to find out information and general advice. Just that off and on-field support as well.

The lads are fantastic it’s where you can ask them any questions or for suggestions for pretty much anything, especially in terms of kit. That can be a big challenge for women or smaller players to finding competent equipment.

What’s it like to coach an NWFL team?

It’s tough, I’m going to lie. It’s really tough. We tend to find that a lot of women join having played zero sports, I’m not saying they aren’t athletic or fit enough, but that general mindset you get from being part of a team is sometimes missing.

To be honest, a lot of the people that we have come in haven’t even watched it. Like me when I joined. So, they don’t know the rules, don’t know the basics so you literally have to teach them everything, teach what a first down is, and a fumble and you know, the absolute basics. And it’s not because they don’t watch American Football, they just don’t watch sports. They just want to try something new, get fit, and meet new people.

That’s why I joined. Back then, I reached the point in my life. It’s really difficult to make friends as you get older you know, unless it’s school friends or work friends. Unless you are involved in something outside of that, it can be really difficult to organically meet people to make new friends.

So that’s why I joined a team and a lot of new people that join say the same, they wanted to try something different and make new friends.

And then what are the important aspects that you have to look out for as a General Manager?

Women tend to be the caregiver at home. It’s a fact, so, if you have children. You need to be a bit more accommodating for that in terms of attendance and commitment.

You know, it’s something your coaches on a senior team maybe really didn’t necessarily have to factor in the same that they could have childcare issues. Well not really in the same way I often feel. Also, I’m not saying guys aren’t, but women are also emotional in different ways, which sometimes can be awkward to deal with.

Not necessarily because they are crying, but just show their emotions differently. I mean, I cannae deal with crying not that they do, but it’s just, there are different challenges with women you have to watch, your use of language as well. I mean, footballs rife with innuendo and it can quite easily become inappropriate. Well, most people would probably describe as banter, but you kind of have to be a bit more cautious for that to be respectful.

 What do you think the importance is of having females in management positions in NWFL teams?

I think it’s really important to ensure that all thoughts and opinions are cared for. There are some things which, again, with the utmost respect to the men who have been involved in it for a number of years, maybe there are things that they don’t consider whereas having a woman on board brings another point of view on things.

So, yeah, it’s been able to bring a different point of view to the table. Obviously, we do play a different version of the sport. So, there are things that the senior management and coaches just might not be aware of. It is important to have that representation, we’ve got to have all parties at the table to be able to make the right decisions and choices for the clubs and teams as a whole.

What are your views on the tournament style of play of the NWFL?

I don’t mind the tournament style.  I suppose there’s an element that it’s all I’ve ever known. Yeah, it can be tough. Playing two games back-to-back, or especially where if you’ve played the in the first and third game because that break can zap all the energy out of you

I understand why they have it like that because of the format that we play. Obviously, if you’re playing for 2 forty minutes of football you get a good enough amount of game time on the day to make it worth the trip, which can be costly in terms of like transport costs.

Given the Northumberland Shieldmaidens made their debut this year, were you surprised by the score lines in their games with the Wolves and the East Kilbride Pirates?

I’m not gonna say I was surprised by them because one thing you should never do is underestimate an opponent whether they are new or not.

In terms of expectations, we had none. We just needed to go and execute because we couldn’t afford to do otherwise.

Edinburgh won the division in 2019 and then in 2020 a situation occurred where you did not compete and in 2021 a non-competitive side was put forward, therefore scores for those games weren’t counted. How has that affected the Edinburgh wolves 2022 division?

At finals and we ended up finishing fourth in the country and then after quite a few of the girls retired, moved away, or went to have kids. It was the perfect storm really. So yeah we didn’t field a team in 2020 and 2021 was a rookie-heavy side playing in the COVID/regional type leagues.

We really had high hopes that in the 2022 season we’d be back to playing competitive football with different divisions and matchups and that was looking promising in the initial schedules.

We had three teams playing nines, and then three divisions of six and five teams drawn up so we were looking forward to that, you know, it felt really competitive. But then unfortunately one of the teams pulled out of nines which threw a spanner in the works.

BAFA thought that having two prem divisions and three division one was the way you go. But that’s just piss poor because we ended up in a division with three teams, there’s not that we don’t want to play Shieldmaidens & East Kilbride but ideally, it would be nice not to play them four times all season especially since has already faced East Kilbride, I think we’ve played them every single season.

And when we challenged it, we kinda got a bullshit answer. I felt we got penalized for not having participated in 2020 because nobody seems to remember anything before then. You know, we’ve always been a strong, competitive team, but apparently, that didn’t really count. And then also when you look at, even though in our division we unofficially finished five and three, officially four and four, which is actually a better record than some of the other teams who went up to prem, but we got put down to Div 1.

BAFA has just been shit in my personal opinion this year I mean, we kind of felt insulted by that decision. We felt our division, in general, the division one teams, we’re not getting put in any proper competitive match-ups really.

So, with that, do you think that BAFA are looking too heavily on location instead of the performance of the team?

Yeah, I would be inclined to think that. For whatever reason we’ll just keep the north in the north and teams in the south in the south maybe it’s because teams have said, oh, I don’t want to go to Scotland once or twice, you know, because there’s two teams in Scotland. So, I think there’s an element of BAFA, perhaps bow down to teams who make a noise about the travel.

Whereas we have always been to be like “We off to Leeds- great”, “okay fine Birmingham next yeah”, okay, we’ll go. I don’t think that could be the same could be said for all teams.

You’ve discussed the potential move to nines earlier. What do you think needs to happen for the NWFL to reach the standard in which nines can be played?

If BAFA want to push for nines, it would be good to see them working with clubs to achieve that. Nines is not a format that is played widely in UK that I know of, only U19s which there ain’t many up here so from an education point of view, it’s not like I can go to a local team and shadow easily. So, I think they need to help in terms of development, with the players and development with the coaches to be able to achieve going up to nine.

Then there’s special teams, perhaps speaking for myself, but there’s probably a whole team in the same boat, I never played 11’s so special teams are alien to me.

What do you think could aid coverage and recruitment of the sport? Both at a player level and at a management level.

We got to see more individual players singing their own praises. I mean girls of gridiron do a great job, but that’s just one small outlet. And I think more of our ladies make their friends, family and network aware this sport exists will help.

At least once a year, someone on rookie day will say “I didn’t know there was a team here”.

That also goes the same for the clubs and I think clubs somehow need guidance on how to find the time or resource to go out help with that local education and awareness piece.

There are lots of little ideas we’ve got that we hope to do in the off season, but we’re not paid to do this, it’s trying to find this extra time and then go ahead and do it. Whether it be taster sessions at other sports clubs. Just getting about in the local area, going to local gala’s stuff like that. Just ways to promote us. But again, it’s all time-consuming, which could be difficult when you’ve got full-time jobs and other things taking up your spare time.

If there was the ability to showcase the NWFL, what would you showcase about it?

Literally, that’s just it just showcase us anywhere and everywhere, just literally let people know that there’s a women’s league and how competitive it is and that it doesn’t matter what shape, size or age you are. Because there’s literally a position for everybody in American football and especially in the NWFL because all the teams are just screaming for players.

We just want everybody to be involved and we just want the sport to grow and the teams to grow and people share in that. So just showcasing in general you know, strike up relationships with other governing bodies and sharing and asking them to do an article.

Take NFL London. Back in a few years ago, 2016, maybe 2017, the year the women’s national team was going to Canada, there was actually a double-page spread in the NFL official game thing. It was amazing! Why aren’t they doing that every year? Why does it have to only be years they are going to Canada?

And then since you have been in the sport, have you seen an evolution? And if so, what is it?

Probably controversial and I’ll get a bit of flack for this, but I don’t think I have seen a huge amount of progress at all.

I have been involved in it for eight years. I would have thought Hopefully we’d be playing nines by now, if not elevens, you know, it’s been not a huge amount of growth at league level in the sport and some teams have folded. Other teams have re-appeared. But yeah, it’s being sustainable, but I think most clubs have to fight really hard to be sustainable.

It’s been mentioned that the NWFL isn’t taken as seriously as other leagues, do you see that as the main reason why there’s not been an evolution in your eyes or are there other factors?

I would say it’s a factor, using this season as an example. Yes, we are playing a very condensed calendar, but the women’s dates were thrown in randomly because it was the only other dates available. So, we got squeezed in, after everybody else had been scheduled. So yeah, it does feel very much like, oh, well that’s just a tick box exercise.

And that can often feel like shit, and the lack of communication as well, from BAFA, with the clubs.

Like, we’re halfway through the season, I have no idea what our playoff structure will look like for this year, if there is even going to be one and if there is going to be one, clubs need time to plan for that.

You can’t just turn around and go “there are playoffs by the way, get your arse to Milton Keynes”, that’s not sustainable or practical.

There’s just not enough coverage and communication. Like the first of BAFAs social media was like the week before the league kicked off. There’s not enough communication. As I said, we’re halfway through the normal season and it’s been poor.

We 3 weeks away from our regular season-ending and we’ve not heard if there are going to be playoffs. But by October, November, there’ll be a random email saying about who’s playing next year. That’s great. You’ve got to tell us how that season is going to look so we can plan a budget, so we can commit, there’s none of that. They think year to year, rather than have a five-year plan I feel.

If/when playoffs are happening, how would you like to see them look?

I mean it doesn’t affect us, but for instance, hypothetically for the Prem, the two teams from north and south, one and two seed facing each other for national 1, 2, 3, 4. The bottom two teams play each other to get punted down to division one.

Then because Division 1 has three divisions they play in a round-robin tournament to find out who is the best between the 3

Anyone who plays in the prem next year has to go into nines, if not they go back down.

So, the Sealand Seahawks have developed a Women’s side now, nicknamed the “Shehawks”, how do you see that turning out?

I come across them on social media and I followed them recently. I think the whole concept just seems great, seems like a lot of fun and I think it’s fantastic.

Especially because again, don’t know if it’s planned because nothing’s been communicated, BAFA used to do like diamonds development type stuff during the off-season. We don’t even know if that’s still happening.

So, on the chance it’s probably not, this is a great opportunity for everybody who wants to continue their development or something a bit different, to band together and play a different version of the sport, I’m assuming that we’ll get the numbers to clear limits, but this might be the only opportunity we get to play 9s or 11s and just an opportunity to meet other players and coaches from other teams around the country and come together, let loose, and play ball.

And then what are the best things about being on the Edinburgh Wolves, even on a management level?

The best things are nothing to do with the management level. If I’m honest, the best part is just literally the friendships I’ve made. I’ve met my partner through Edinburgh Wolves, I’ve made some really lifelong friends. You know, these guys have got my back and if I called them up needing to hide a body I know they’ll say, I’ve got shovel type thing, so that’s the best thing.

So, with that, any closing remarks?

Well, the questions this is the first time any social media wanted to speak to players and coaches so credit to you and Sportank for giving us this platform to speak about the sport.

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