‘People have realised that women can play’ – Town skipper Crump hopes season that wasn’t will still count for something
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town Women have seen an historic campaign wiped from the record books. STUART WATSON spoke to long-serving skipper Amanda Crump.
Amanda Crump is uncomfortable discussing football at a time when Bill Shankly’s oft-quoted words about the game being ‘more serious than life and death’ feel way off the mark.
“I don’t really want to talk about the season being declared null and void if that’s alright,” says the Ipswich Town Women’s captain, speaking from her home in Felixstowe during the coronavirus lockdown. “It doesn’t feel right considering what’s going on in the world right now.”
For someone who doesn’t class herself as ‘an inspirational speaker’ in the role of long-serving skipper, that’s a pretty good start to the interview.
She’d have every right to feel crushingly gutted. Joe Sheehan’s fourth-tier outfit were top of the table and confident of taking a major first step with bold ambitions of quickly climbing to the Super League. Their historic run to the last 16 of the FA Cup, which ended with defeat at giants Manchester City, has been scrubbed from the record books.
Indeed, the number 200 printed on the back of a shirt to commemorate Crump’s milestone appearance for the club back in January should, technically, now have an asterisk next to it.
It hasn’t, I suggest, all been for nothing though. Experience and memories can’t be taken away. Neither can the huge growth in fan base. The true success of the campaign that wasn’t, is that it has inspired a generation of girls to play the game.
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“I hope so,” she replies. “We get a lot of young girls coming to the games at Felixstowe. Some of them bring pictures for me, which is nice. We’ve definitely inspired a few which, as you say, is something that shouldn’t be underestimated.”
Looking back on her own football journey, Crump didn’t have the role models that today’s schoolgirls have. The 30-year-old, who is married to Mildenhall Town goalkeeper Danny Crump, had to go against social norms to play the game she fell in love with.
“I remember walking out onto the pitch at school and this boy going ‘girls can’t play football’,” she says, with a smile in her voice. “A minute later, I took it round him, scored and walked back past sticking my tongue out!
“I do think there was a stigma, a stereotype, to girls playing football back then. It was hard actually. There was a certain image, people make assumptions about you, that you had to be a tom boy or you’re this and that. Thankfully, that perception has massively changed.
“In recent years it’s been a completely different conversation I’m having with people when I say I play football. Now, when I say that I play for Ipswich Town, the response is ‘wow, that’s amazing!’ They want to know if you get paid (she doesn’t), what position you play, who you’ve played against... There’s genuine interest.
“I think I probably started to see the perception really begin to change around four or five years ago. The World Cup obviously made a big difference in terms of exposure. I think, in general, there was a collective realisation of ‘oh, women can play’.”
Not that it’s mission complete in that regard.
“‘It’s slow, isn’t it?’ is the one you always get,” says Crump. “Yes, it is slow if you compare it to the men’s game, but the skill level is still high. The other one you get is ‘what level of the men’s game could you compete at?’ It is annoying when people constantly make that comparison because, physiologically, men and women are different. You wouldn’t expect a female sprinter to run as fast a men’s sprinter would you? It’s a different game and people should just enjoy it for what it is.”
Research has shown that, by age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at approximately twice the rate of boys. You sense that could all be about to change though with so much more coverage of women’s elite sport and powerful campaigns such as Sports England’s ‘This Girl Can’.
“I never thought about stopping sport,” says Crump. “For me, football and exercise is my release from day-to-day life.
“I was up for doing any sport at school, trying any club going, I never missed PE. Some of the girls would always come in with notes excusing them from it – they just didn’t want to do it. I don’t know why that was, whether it was an image thing, I guess you’d have to ask them. I do find that a lot of those girls who I’ve stayed friends with on Facebook are now all massively in to going to the gym though. I get the feeling the perception of girls doing sport and exercise has changed now though, that’s it’s cool or whatever.”
Recalling how she first started out, Crump says: “I got the bug after watching my older brother Tom play. When I was old enough to join a team I did. I started at the Colchester United Centre of Excellence and then moved to Ipswich Town when they first started a girls’ programme. I was in that right the way through from Under-10s to Under-16s.
“I did gymnastics at Pipers Vale back then as well, competing at regional level. My poor parents were taking me out to some sort of training almost every night of the week. Eventually it got to a stage where I had to choose one or the other and I chose football.
“Back then, the only opportunity of getting a football scholarship was in America. I considered it, but not that seriously because I get too homesick! Now there are opportunities for girls to do that in this country. Maybe I’d have gone down that pathway had it been an option for me back then.”
She continues: “Ipswich had a reserve set-up back then, so I started out with them before getting into the first team when I was 17 or 18.
“Back then we were just run as our own club that just happened to use the Ipswich Town name really. We had blue shirts, but they weren’t the same ones as the men. I had to buy my own kit, we had to find our own sponsors, had no permanent home ground. It would literally just be the players’ parents who’d come and watch the games at Ransomes, Whitton, Achilles...
“The change over the last decade has been massive. Now we train at Playford Road, use the same facilities as the men, wear the same kit as them. We play at Felixstowe every game and had 700-something in attendance to watch the game against Norwich this season. That shows you how far it’s come.”
Ipswich Town boss Paul Lambert has embraced the women’s set-up as part of a ‘one club’ approach. The Scot showed them the same powerpoint presentation about his preferred style of play soon after taking charge and has often been at training sessions and games.
“That’s not just for the senior team, but the Under-21s as well,” says Crump. “He gave us a little bit of a team talk before the Norwich game, telling us what it’s like to play in a derby, and made a real effort to get to the Man City game the day after the first team had played at Portman Road. He came in the dressing room beforehand, telling us how well we’d done to get there and to make sure we enjoyed it. It’s a big boost having some one of that stature in the game taking such an interest.”
Reflecting on February’s 10-0 defeat at Man City, new boss Alan Mahon naming a star-studded side for the Super League leaders, Crump said: “It was all a bit surreal. It wasn’t the result we deserved on the day, but it was the experience we deserved after the season we had (beating three higher level opponents along the way, including a 4-1 victory at Huddersfield).
“The game at City showed us how far we have to go to reach those elite standards. For me, it was just the pace of the game and how quickly they moved the ball which was an eye opener. It was an unreal experience playing in that stadium and against world class players though and will probably go down as the highlight of my career.”
Crump missed the majority of the 2016/17 season after falling pregnant with her now three-year-old daughter Lily-Ella.
“She was born in March and I was back training six weeks later,” says the midfielder. “I played a game towards the end of that season and was back playing regularly at the start of the next one. I look back now and think ‘how did I do that?!’
“As soon as I fell pregnant it was always a goal of mine to get back as soon as I could. Everyone is different, but for me I needed that target. I was still exercising and running until 30-odd weeks of the pregnancy. My husband was really supportive of that. He was the one urging me on and out running with me.
“To start with I found it quite hard to get back to the levels I was at before on the pitch. Your balance is all over the show, everything is effected is by the hormone changes, but I got there in the end.”
So what next? Crump is in no doubt Town will rise through the divisions, but uncertain as to how far she’ll personally go on that journey.
“When Joe (Sheehan) took over he got everyone buying into a clear vision,” says the Blues’ No.8. “That’s when I started to believe. He’s given us all something to strive for.
“The aspiration is to get up to the Super League within the next four years. I do believe it could happen. We’ve already shown we can compete higher with the cup wins this season. Each promotion will bring different challenges and the level of funding required will change.
“I haven’t had time to think about how long I’ll go on for yet. I have to consider my family.
“Now life has slowed down a bit with the lockdown (Amanda has been placed on furlough leave from the electrical company she works for in Newmarket and husband Danny continues to work as a teacher), I do kind of think ‘how on earth were we fitting everything in before?’
“I have a long commute for work and some of the away games are quite far away, so that’s another long day spent away from my daughter. We’ll see. I’ve enjoyed every single moment of my career and the club certainly has some exciting talent coming through now. Long may that continue.”