Their second-ever season starts at Sandwell this Saturday, the Norwich Devils shocked a lot of people last season with a victory over Peterborough Royals last year and Sportank sat down with three players for the Norwich side to go through what it’s like being the new kid at the Div 1 school.
So, who are all of you?
Louie: My name is Louie. I’m team captain and team manager for Norwich Devils women. I started playing when we were Iceni Spears doing both contact and flag back in 2017. I think I started out playing O-Line and moved quite quickly to D-line because it’s better.
Louie: I had to break kind of between 2018 and probably 2020 because I was pregnant and had my son, and with COVID. So came back to the new Norwich Devils team as a D-Lineman.
Talita: My name is Talita, but the team calls me Tali, I’m from Brazil I was travelling to this land, very cold land, as it is now.
I started playing flag with the Iceni Spears and met Louie on my first day of flag and it took me a little while to get into contact, it was mostly like a clash of being able to train and having commitments on the day. So, I joined contact last season as a running back and now I’m retiring as a running back, I’m one of the quarterbacks of the team.
Lucy: I’m Lucy, I am a complete rookie. I joined the team. Was it February?
Lucy: So basically, my girlfriend plays for our team as well on defence, I’m one of the O-line, Center depending on who’s there, if not usually left guard.
So my girlfriend did a rookie session last season and Nathan was pestering her, asking for her to come back constantly, and then she was like, Do you want to go try out? And I was like, Yeah, okay. I guess so and that was it.
So what NFL teams do you support and why?
Louie: The Houston Texans. For me, it’s really daft. But I was in high school when I started watching and my mum’s maiden name is Houston and so that was it.
Talita: Well, I know probably a lot of people might turn off when I say who I support. But I do support the Dallas Cowboys. And as you know, I’m very new to the sport and sometimes used to watch it.
When I wanted to choose a team, I went I didn’t want to choose a team based on who had won most or who was likely the at the top or I would be supporting the Patriots. When I started, they had Tom Brady and were top, top of the top.
I had just adopted a dog called Dallas, and then I heard there was a team called Dallas Cowboys. So, without knowing anything about Dallas Cowboys, about anything, any hard feelings among the NFL teams, I decided to be a Dallas Cowboys, regardless of anything else that goes behind the scenes.
Lucy: I don’t have a team at the moment.
Lucy: This is going to sound really bad. Because I have watched like the making the team of the cheerleaders of Dallas Cowboys, so do I just be like I support Cowboys because I like the cheerleaders.
Louie: That’s true for a few male fans as well.
So, Norwich is a new squad making their debut last year and going 1-7, What was the biggest takeaway from your debut season?
Louie: I think it didn’t quite reflect in the scores, the level of talent that we’ve got in a lot of the players. I think because we were coming into it so new and we were kind of like learning as we’re going on. The coaching staff were all new as well. We were trying to like bounce back from COVID as an entirely new team as well.
It was nice to be able to see the other teams and go, right, well, that’s where we want to be. Like, you know, however far down the line. And actually, we’ve got a pretty decent base, I think, to be able to kind of build on that and get there.
Talita: Yeah. I think when we look back on it now for us it was the journey, wasn’t it? When we looked at our first game, the nerves we had and I remember shaking my in belly was like I was so nervous.
But it’s as soon as you walk onto that pitch and you know, the first handoff I just ran for dear life, you know, until I got tackled. And it was just like, let’s do this again. And when you compare it to video, watching, our games and you see your improvement and I think for me as a running back at that season, I know how much I improved reading and learning to run and learning to be tackled and to avoid tackles.
We grew so much and this season we’ve been able to share with the rookies so much more, like on game day this might happen.
Hopefully, they want this experience then they will be already prepared for what’s waiting for them in the first game.
Lucy: You know, I can’t comment on this part because I haven’t done a season yet.
So in your one victory last season, you beat the eventual winners of the division in Peterborough. How did that feel retrospectively knowing that now that they went on to win the division?
Louie: We have a really good relationship with Peterborough. Actually, we’ve got quite a good relationship with all teams.
And it was nice to hear from them what a kind of fright we gave them really because we didn’t go into it like expecting to come away with a win at all. And they said to us afterwards, you know, we really had to adjust our scheme to beat you guys. And they said the same kind of for every game as well, that we would start very strong and they would have to kind of like quickly rearrange. Having that from like a really, really decent team like that means a lot to us.
Talita: Definitely and there is so much talent on both them Falcons and Peterborough, we learned so much from just watching them play the game.
Each game was a victory when I managed to pass the line when I managed to pass through. So it was, of course, for us. As we said, we weren’t expecting it. It was a good taste. And hopefully, we will give them a good competition this season as well. But we have a lot of respect for the hard work the girls put in and they are really brilliant.
Louie Yeah. It Kind of gave us a higher expectation going into the second tournament. And then we were like, “oh wait we are new” like maybe could readjust the expectations there, but.
Talita: We dream high.
What has being associated with the Norwich Devils men’s team done for the Norwich Devils women’s team?
Louie: They’ve been really good to us. They were generous enough to kind of like pool resources with us. So, in terms of like kind of having that branded kit, having their following on social media that we had access to, they could then share that. Helped so much.
Very often when we went away to tournaments as Iceni other teams said oh, “we didn’t realize there was like a women’s team in Norwich, we didn’t realize it was a women’s flag team in Norwich”. And I find that’s been happening less now that we’ve got that association.
Talita: It’s I think it’s extremely important, you know, for men’s teams to start supporting women. We’ve found that on the senior team, they’ve been helping us with social media. They’re helping us to grow all the time.
Women already deal with a lot of trouble trying to get into a sport and that is the truth. We aren’t crying wolf and not we’re not trying to play the victims here. It’s just not a sport that many people associate with women.
The more that we can have senior men’s team supporting and then cheering on the women’s team, the more we’re going to make women’s sport a bit more interesting, and people are going to realize the same effort and the same passion, the same sacrifice by a women’s team as a men’s team.
Lucy: It’s support as well, we know that when we’re going to have our home tournament that there’s going to be a decent amount of them that turn up to it as well.
So, you know, and I know they might bring it a couple of mates or like their partners and all that kind of thing.
It seems silly sometimes, but just turning out for stuff like that. I know from rugby you go to a men’s game and there’s like twice the amount of people watching, if not more, that you would get at a female game. But the more of those men’s players turning up at those female games, even them just being there at that match is like such a huge thing.
Talita: And even on our last game day last season, we had t-shirts to sell for the women’s and senior team and a lot of them, wanted to buy the women’s t-shirts to support us.
So that is so important. it’s just the way we need to support regardless of gender. We need to support each other in the sport. And they’ve been very supportive of us.
You are a new team going into your second season. Have there been any growing pains for the Norwich Devils?
Louie: Yeah. So I think that’s kind of standard. And from what I hear from other teams, it’s kind of standard across the board.
A big thing for us is that a lot of people kind of outside of the britball community don’t know that it exists for women and it’s kind of tapping into that market, that’s a challenge for all of us.
What we’ll normally end up getting is this kind of dedicated squad of, I don’t know, like maybe 15 to 20 people and then extras are a bonus. But then when we get injuries, it’s like, so we’re going to have to try again. And I think that for us, it’s recruitment. It’s the numbers I think all around.
Lucy: Think it’s getting people as well, because we had I know there’s a couple of people that came to Rookie Sessions and they like they seemed to really enjoy it. And then they were like “oh no, it’s not for me and I’m not going to come back”.
It’s like frustrating. You get those people that are awesome, who are going to come. They sit there for like a couple of sessions and then like you haven’t seen them for ages.
Talita: There is always a time commitment isn’t there, we get a good turnout on rookie days but. Reality hits. You know, as you said, Louie, there is shift work and then they need to have time for family because they know their husbands might work the whole week and want that dedicated time for family and it is really difficult.
And sometimes our players they’ll come with a little tent, you know, for their kids with their tablets to play and the teams take turns to help to watch them. You know, we will miss a rep out to go and spend time with them just to help so the others can take part.
This is more than just a team, it is a big family and it’s trying to get people to be part of this big family and the worries with injuries, time, and life commitments.
This is not a cheap sport as well. If you think about all the gear that you need to buy, once you start the sport, you know, you sometimes have to make the decision. Do I spend money paying my bills or getting something for my kid? Or do I play the sport? There are several factors, aren’t there?
What do you think could be done to aid recruitment and coverage of the sport?
Louie: Think BAFA are doing a lot more this year. Rory, who works in the marketing department, he’s quite big on promoting the women’s game, and he’s kind of like making sure that we’ve pretty much got even coverage with men’s as well.
So they’re going to do like those game of the week and that sort of thing and highlights in the run-up to, all stuff that we’ve never really had from them before consistently.
Because they’ve got a massive following, much more resources than we do to promote that sort of thing.
It’s good because they’re kind of actually following in the footsteps of people like you guys and people like Girls of Gridiron who have done more for promoting the women’s game. And it’s nice to see them kind of… I can’t help but feel like they’ve spotted that and gone, Oh yeah, maybe we should do that as well, you know?
Talita: It is something that if you look at every women’s sport today, there is a massive lack of investment and advertisement for women in sport.
Today, you might watch women’s football on a Sunday. But when you look around and you look at the public attending, it is very few and far between. I think we have a long lot of ground to cover, but it doesn’t mean we are not covering some of it.
But I think there needs to be everyone involved in a sport, individuals and companies. They need to start supporting us and making this sport known and helping the teams to grow.
Lucy: It’s exposure as well. Like, I know there are a few people that I’ve spoken to, whether it’s part of my rugby team or my girlfriend. She plays some football as well and then a couple of people on her team didn’t even realize that women’s American football was a thing.
The question I get a lot is “are there many teams?”. I’m like, yeah, go to Instagram, go to girls of gridiron.
Like I didn’t even know it existed either, I had no idea. It’s definitely something I would have tried out a lot sooner had I known about it.
That’s what it is with a lot of people as well, especially rugby people. it’s quite an easy transition for half of it. It’s just the more it’s spoken about it, the more crossovers I think as well with other sports.
Have there been any issues with equipment?
Louie: Oh, yeah, there has. It’s like an ongoing thing. So there’s kind of one manufacturer that makes pads for women. And the sizing is… you know, they’re great, they do the job if you fit into that size range.
Louie: If you are a bit more chesty it’s unreal. Like they end up sitting like right up on your chest if you’re playing on the line. They’re up there immediately up in your face, helmets coming off, and that kind of doesn’t work. So we could really use, like, more options and more kind of like tailored options, and for lowers as well. You know, they’re kind of crafted with men in mind. So they are all straight up and down with very generous room in the crotch. I mean like maybe a little too much.
Louie: But it’s awkward for us it just doesn’t quite sit right and yeah, it’s hard to find people that will kind of see the demand for it. I kind of get it with numbers maybe not being such a regular influx of new people coming in that might then order new kit. But still, yeah, we could use more options now.
Lucy: Well, like people forget sizes and stuff. They think, oh, female team, we need like small stuff. I know full well there are people on our team that need large helmets.
Lucy: But then again, you probably have the other end of the spectrum that you think. Charlotte, for example, on our team’s absolutely tiny and like for her probably to try and get something that fits well is she’s going to have to have kids’ equipment all the time because realistically the men’s stuff isn’t going to fit her because she is that small.
Lucy: The kid stuff doesn’t fit either because it’s made for boys. And then you’ve got people like my girlfriend Sinead who is five foot and a bit curvy, so all the boy’s stuff is just incredibly long on her
As a new Team, do you have any advice for Swindon and Northumberland, who are making their debuts?
Lucy: Just go for it, have fun.
Louie: Yeah, absolutely. Have the best time doing it. Like make good relationships and have good friendships with the opposing teams as well. End of the season last year we all went out for drinks in Peterborough, which was the last one.
Such a good time. So good to get to know them. Just like everyone kind of back and forth, complimenting one another on how they were beating each other up during the day.
And it’s so handy as well when you’re then trying to like organize things for next year if you’ve got a really positive relationship with them. So yeah, great for us.
Lucy: Feel free to ask as much as you want. Like, ask how people got started, ask what their relationships are, all that kind of thing. I think that’s what really built it was a lot of people as well.
Talita I think it would say focus on the journey you know, and take each step as a learning experience. Sometimes we are so keen on what we can become that we forget the process, we forget to learn with each step.
We forget about enjoying each stage of your journey and every single step, every single game, every single practice, every time we are together as a team, that is a building block into who we are now, even when sometimes we’re having a banter, we’re having a warm down.
It’s a building block on who we are as a team is not an individual sport is a team sport. So focus on the journey to where you want to get to.
It’s amazing to get there, to get to the victories and to be the best team in your region. But, you know, it’s the journey is priceless. It’s absolutely priceless. I focus on that and celebrate each individual victory as a team even if it’s not a winning issue. If you worked hard and you had improvements in your team, celebrate them, celebrate the wins. You know, they will come with effort, but celebrate each step on your journey and make the most out of the journey.
What are your views on the tournament style of play of the NWFL?
Louie: Oof it’s a kind of case by case thing. Well, this year I’m looking forward to more because we’ve got two games running simultaneously. So, we’ll actually get to go from one straight into the other.
Last year and certainly when you’re the host team, you’ll have one and then this really long gap and then another one. And that is the absolute kicker because people want to rest you get a bit deflated, a bit stiff, like maybe not everyone’s kind of like aware of what to eat to keep themselves energized or how to move to keep themselves energized.
Then you kind of have to struggle to like get yourself back into the swing of playing. So yeah, I think that’s kind of that’s helpful on the day to kind of go from one straight into the other.
Talita: It’s quite spaced out as well, they are roughly the same gap in between games which allows us to train and work on things. It’s changing a little bit because the seasons before COVID, used to be around January time, So I think we’re getting used to playing with pads in the heat and enjoying the sunshine instead of rolling in the mud and the rain.
Louie: Why they did that was to let us kind of use rugby teams as well. So, because we were playing at the same time as them, we didn’t get that like influx and that’s been a huge difference.
Lucy: I think space-wise as well, like knowing who we will play in like it’s too few hours to each like tournament and stuff as well, but like when I play rugby, a lot of my matches are not much more than an hour away.
Yeah, it takes the whole day because once you’ve done your warm-up played your match, your after-match food and drink, done players of the match and then go home. It’s like a whole day thing.
But when you’ve got to travel those like three, 4 hours or whatever it might be is so much better to do it in a tournament-style because it’s, it’s always more worth it because you’re like, okay, well that’s fine. After all, yeah, I’ll go travel 3 hours, but I’m getting like two-three games.
What are your best playing moments so far?
Louie: The game where we got the win ended up being this real, like, defensive stand where because the score so, so close and we were so knackered. It was just so much like, will from the players – like we’re not giving this up and we were just getting turnovers on downs each time and the energy around that was amazing to me as well.
In the last two tournaments, we had Vicky Ware who’s a GB player mostly, she plays D-Line as well and she’s also my best mate, so that helps. But like getting to play side by side with someone who’s like that level of talent was amazing. Absolutely amazing.
Talita: I have a few small wins and you would think that at my position, I would count the, you know, the touchdowns. I’ve got three or four massive pass protections, you know, when I had all those splits coming and I was able to make my quarterback safe and get good plays out of it. For me, that was like, hell yeah.
Talita: So I think for me the areas where I contributed to the team as a whole, pass protection, helping to make those important plays, you know, the people we were playing going against, they were amazing, amazing girls, very talented. And to be able to hold them back, it was just like, hell yeah, bring it on.
What should be showcased about the NWSL?
Talita: What should not?
Louie: think one thing that women’s teams do really well is the way that we kind of carry ourselves on game day. I don’t know about other teams, I don’t see it from them. There’s not a lot of like unnecessary, like ego and bravado and like s*** talking and like giving s*** to the refs.
That’s something that we set an example within the sport, you know, of like that kind of sportsman or sportswoman-like conduct and respect. I always like to think of us as being a bit above.
Like, you know, when you watch soccer and you can see like them, like shouting and swearing at the refs, like, it’d be good if we could kind of, like, showcase our professionalism in that respect.
Talita: It’s incredible when you come out of a tackle and the girls are like “what an amazing tackle” but that friendship, that camaraderie in this sport, we know we are playing against each other and something about. But, when the whistle goes like, “well done, you know, that was brilliant”. So that resilience and that friendship and the encouragement we get from each other in this sport is second to none, honestly.
Lucy: In Training as well, I know we’ve done a few drills, we do some of them and we’re bashing each other hard during the drill. We’re so aggressive and then we stop and say “You alright, I proper got you there didn’t I?”
What Is the Best Thing About Playing For The Norwich Devils?
Louie: The Girls. We’ve got just like this unbelievably lovely, supportive little community. And people come in and it’s the first thing they say, I can’t believe how welcoming and kind and fun you guys are.
But also, I think it’s nice how much our coaches are on board with that. Like what used to be the case, back in the day, you would run into coaches like, well, they tend to be male coaches who will either treat you like women, so not like players, or kind of not have that nuance where they don’t realize that they don’t need to kind of take part in like a pissing contest to get us to listen to them.
And I think our coaches have just got this absolutely brilliant balance of like being so on board with us as female players, but also, like, pushing us to be competitive and not treating us as lesser. That’s yeah, that means a lot to me.
Lucy: Also, how supportive everyone is as well. Whether it’s just some like you don’t practice that day or like I know I was having I was like I don’t know what’s up with me and my coach then will ask “are you okay?” and I was like “I don’t know what’s up with me today”. And he’s like, “Is everything alright outside of football?”.
When he created the chat for O-line he was like, “These chats are for anything. It’s not just about American Football. I mean, the majority of it is American football, but he’s like, If any of you have any problems, always feel free to message me.” If you have a shit day, we’ve had days where people are just in their own heads and everyone is like “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. It happens. You’ve got this.”
Talita: When I talk about our team when I’m trying to recruit or just talking, why I do it, for me, it’s like we do life together.
We don’t just do football together. We do life together.
I know some of the women that they joined know they were having family problems, health problems or even mental health problems and found in the sport, the support and the help that they needed. I found at that time, you know, a network of support that I could do life with. And they became a very important, integral part of my life. I’m not just a football player, I am myself because I do life with my teammates.
How do you feel the 2022 season will go for the Norwich Devils?
Louie: Yeah, it’s going to be an interesting one. I still personally feel like I think there’s a lot of kind of pressure, it’s like “you’ve had your first year, now it’s all go”.
And it’s like, well, no, because we’re still recovering from COVID. We’ve had a drop off from injury from last year and this season in particular, there was such a short turnaround from when we finished out to when we had to start training, that we had to, you know, kind of do similar things last year in terms of like recruiting, in terms of like letting people recover, in terms of results.
I can say it’ll be interesting to see kind of where Sandwell are at. They, unfortunately, pulled out last year. I’m hoping that they might be in like a similar position to us and have like, you know, really good talent and maybe not having had that year of practice behind them, give us a good challenge. I’m looking forward to that I think.
Talita: The only thing we can say for sure, we’re going to put up a good fight regardless of the result. You know, we don’t go out of the field without a good fight and giving the best of ourselves. So, if that brings in the result of a win, amazing. If that doesn’t bring the result, we know we’ve done the best that we could do. We didn’t give up. We didn’t surrender.
Louie: It’s a big learning curve as well, I think. I would like to see that kind of the same sort of trajectory of knowledge and adjustments that we had between tournament one and tournament four last year
Lucy: Yeah, I think we’ll just have a progression over the season. I know what you mean about being a new team in their second year. But I feel like such a massive part of the team are new to the sport this year.
Lucy: Look, it’s just we are almost starting over again. You’ve got a couple of people like you guys that have been doing it for a while, but there are so many of us that are new to the side who look up to the players who started last year as more of a senior player but they still see themselves as a rookie. Yeah. So I think that’s such a big thing as well, just having no expectations of ourselves, we go in and play our game.
Louie: Yeah. I have faith that the talent will show and there is so much talent on this team, so I’m confident that they’ll show up.
Any closing remarks?
Louie: I just want to say it’s such a huge thank you to you guys, like, firstly for having us, but also for all of, like the work that you’re putting into promoting the game. Like, I know that we’re all kind of volunteers. And thank you as well to girls of gridiron if they see this for all they’ve done like this, it makes such a difference to the sport. And it’s really kind of like, I think, helping our girls to feel, you know, respected and like they are part of something.
Talita: A massive thank you to guys. It’s those steps that help us into the sport and help us grow this sport. And sometimes people may think, oh, I’m not doing enough. Anything that helps us promote the sport helps us to promote the amazing women that take time off their days in their lives to walk on a pitch and smash it. Thank you very much to support us.
Lucy: Yeah, that’s what it is. It’s nice to kind of do these things and like obviously having my perspective from a different sporting background and everything.
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