Paolo Iantosca sat down with The Posh Women General Manager Bobby Copping and Academy Manager Kieran Scarff earlier this month to discuss the current situation of the women’s programme, the backing of the owners, and what is the future for the club.
The Peterborough United Women have had a whirlwind eight months or so, falling under the football club umbrella in June of last year after a successful five years as part of the foundation. The team reached the highest-step of the women’s football pyramid by securing promotion to the FA Women’s National League in the summer, and even progressed to the FA Cup First Round proper for the first-time in the club’s history.
The journey on the pitch has been remarkable, and that doesn’t look like it’s slowing down. After an impressive start to the second half of the season, the team are looking to secure a mid-table finish in their debut season. Off the pitch, plans are slowly being put in place to create and further the long-term vision of the women’s programme.
The work has already begun to develop the women’s programme, and that started by introducing a General Manager who would oversee the commercial activity of the club, while maintaining standards on the pitch. You might recognise the name from all the impressive work he already does at the club, including the School Initiative, but Copping was handed the new role last month, stepping up from the operations manager position he took in the summer of 2021.
He has been in full flow since being promoted into his new role, securing sponsorship with Urban Penguin to be the back of the shorts sponsor plus XPROP as back of shirt sponsors, while also securing multiple player sponsorships. Scarff believes the introduction of a General Manager to the women’s set-up is important to improving the structure of the club.
“It does help the women’s team progress even more as it gives real focus in terms of allocating time to the role and a prime example of that is the commercial activity as we have seen over the past couple of weeks. The support and finances Bobby has created within that side of the role is helping develop the women’s programme and I know there’s plans to look at further funding opportunities and discussions on how we can further develop the programme even more.
“So, in terms of replicating an academy set-up for the women’s side and a real pathway from younger age groups into our first-team. It’s a real long-term plan but what Bobby has now got is a real structure and allocated time to the role, which is really important.”
Football clubs throughout the country have begun to create a women’s set-up due to the ever-increasing popularity of the sport, as shown by the substantial success of the Lionesses during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Posh followed that exact route last summer by taking Peterborough United Ladies under their football club umbrella after it spent over six years under the foundation.
One of the main reasons behind that was the backing of the owners, notably, Jason Neale who has a daughter that plays football at a high-level in his native home, Canada. Scarff praised the success of the foundation to deliver a successful women’s team over the past few years, but felt the club was better suited for growth over the long-term by being under the football club umbrella.
“It was driven by Jason Neale, one of the owners of the football club, who spent many years travelling around Canada watching his daughter play at a very good level,” Scarff said. “He took real interest in the profile of the women’s game, and we had a good structure here in terms of a successful women's team at the time thanks to Jenna Lusk and Kathryn Lusk, who started this team a few years ago from pretty much nothing and turned it into a real success story.
“But it was also about raising the profile, and then for a long-term plan, it was about allocating them further resources for growth and by bringing them into the main part of the club I feel that what we could do. There's an example of that already in terms of the stands going up at the training ground in the last year for spectators, the role Bobby has now been handed and the increased commercial aspect of the game. It is a gradual process, but there’s a real long-term plan to allocate further resources.”
Copping commented: "So, to be a part of it in a growing game was important, and to have the backing of not only the Academy Manager on the men’s side of things, but also the three owners was really good for everyone involved.”
Whenever a team is promoted to a new league, there’s always uncertainty about how the season will pan out, especially if the club has never reached that step of the football pyramid before. That was the case for Posh Women as they began their first-ever campaign in the FA Women’s National League in August, and they have certainly adjusted to life at tier four level (which would be regarded as League Two level in men’s) as they sit mid-table and looking further up the table rather than down.
Copping is pleased to see the progress on the pitch over the past few months but was even more ecstatic about the improvement away from the pitch, with the club averaging the best attendances in their division plus the exciting commercial opportunities that have been coming through the door in recent weeks.
“At the start of the season, when I first came into it, I think we had around 30 spectators coming down to watch,” Copping said. “However, one of the games we have had this season we have had over 200, so the scale we have come from to where we are now is great and let’s not forget reaching the FA Cup First Round Proper, plus we are in the County Cup Final.
“The aim at the start of the season was to stay up and we are currently mid-table, and as we have mentioned, commercially we are starting to push on. So, everything is looking positive for everyone involved in the women’s programme.”
With the 2021/22 campaign close to completion, eyes will be focusing on next season and the further long-term plan of the women’s programme. Growth has been a prominent feature all the way through, and that continued into the final stages of the discussion as both Scarff and Copping reiterated that as they outlined their long-term visions for the club, with eyes of another promotion on the pitch alongside creating a real infrastructure for future generations of players.
Scarff said, “Growth - that’s always going to be the aim. So, the next 12 months and each following year it will be about growth. For example, commercially, increase opportunities for females in the local area, increasing the structure to build a pathway for young footballers and create a route through to the first-team. Then, from the perspective of the football on the pitch, it will be looking at least one more promotion in that period of time.”
Copping commented, “A big idea that both me and Kieran want to implement is a girls’ academy and a talent pathway. If we can look to start introducing that, it would be great. Obviously, a promotion in the next five years is something that would definitely happen with what we are now putting into the structure of things. Overall, everything is going really well at the moment and continued progression is what we need.”
The Posh Women return to FA Women’s National Division One Midlands action on Sunday 13th March as they welcome Leek Town to the idverde training ground before facing Doncaster Rovers Belles at home two weeks later.