Upton Park Ladies: “Inspiration can be found from grassroots level”

“We are in no way affiliated to the Men’s side so this is a completely new club, but we choose as an organisation to recognise the history of the men’s side” were the words spoken by Upton Park Ladies chairman-manager Daniel Merrix.

The men’s side had a great history. They were one of the first 15 teams to play in the FA Cup and won a gold medal representing Great Britain at the 1900 Olympic Games, beating France 4-0 in Paris. They also played a key role in rule changes that are recognised in today’s game. But when Daniel brought the club back in the form of a women’s team, it was on the basis that they’d be independent.

Daniel Merrix leads trials for the upcoming season (photo: @MeghaniOfficial)

“The reason behind the women’s side was to establish a female club that was not dependent on the financial and commercial structure of a male club which means all our finances and resources sole use is to increase participation and inclusions of females in football whilst offering the best facilities for our players and coaches to play the game” he said.

Although it gives women the opportunity to play football in the local area, the club’s mission is to stand for what they believe in. “without question, we want to stand for and with the diversity of our city here in London and as a leading example of what a football club for women should be like.”

“I hope over the years to come, the success for us as a club is a reflection of the develop of myself and everyone involved as individuals. We believe and stand for personal development and will continue to push our members to dedicate part of their off-field lives to developing themselves along with the help of some of our key sponsors. We feel developing people before players is our mission.”

The club signed sponsorship with Charities and organisations that help people in the community. Mind charity had become the clubs main sponsor whilst Food4All and Newham music were made technical partners to the club. The work of getting a sponsorship would often be difficult for a women’s side, especially without the help of a men’s side but Daniel felt he had done well with the lack of resources. It certainly proved what an independent women’s side could achieve. “I believe we have brought an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm to the sponsorship negotiations and have seen no difficulty in securing some great sponsors and I believe that to be on the back of there being no men’s side involved at all so in actual fact I think it has been extremely positive. The developments and progression we have seen. I think the issue is more noticeable when you try convincing the inconvincible that female football has a place. I would rather utilise my time with potential sponsors that already have a willingness and openness to the conversation of equality. I believe in life we find what we are looking for if we search hard enough, that through my own experience has how it has been and so with that I believe this club can manifest great things with the right energy and attitude.”

Equality has played a big part in where women’s football is today. Women’s football was popular around the time of the First World War but that soon changed in 1921 when the FA banned women from playing on their member’s pitches, bringing a halt to the progression of the game. As a result, women’s football faced many challenges including getting girls involved in the sport. Still, Daniel found a way!

“Encouraging girls to get involved is simple. It’s all about positive reinforcement. There is one thing being aware of the challenges and then there is another being consumed by them. That old saying ‘Those who say I can and those who say I can’t have one thing in common. They are both right.’ We as a club will always have our glass half full and no matter how much of that affects us negatively, we will navigate through with more optimism. We are not blinded to the challenges and are happy to discuss with our players, staff and community, however, if you were to ask anyone at the club including players who recently attended trial their thoughts I can grantee the feedback will include our energy and enthusiasm for the game is high and I think that is shining through in every step we take. We reinforce that positivity in every session with every player and give them enough room to make mistakes and learn. Often people do not taken chances in fear of failure but it’s the persistence during failure that brings on the wins and positive results both on and of the pitch. So, to summaries. Positivity always wins!”

The positive energy didn’t stop with getting sponsors for the club, they also wanted to use their energy on engaging with the local and wider community.

“One of the most important parts of running a club is its community not just locally but wider community also. We will support in whichever way we can to introduce local people to this local club and support its growth through various roles.”

We believe it adds to the enthusiasm and positive energy when it is done correctly. They are the life and sole of grassroots football, imagine being a young player and getting people you have never met before come and cheer you on despite the results, incredible.

Despite the challenges faced by women in the game, there are always teams to look at for inspiration on their journey. “There are so many that are doing it right and it would be very easy to point to the top teams who have the financial structure and backing but as a club I believe we take more inspiration from those who’s challenges are greater yet find a way” said Daniel.

“I have enjoyed over recent weeks looking into the likes of Millwall lionesses for example and the way they are building on and off the pitch. Our friends over at Bowers & Pitsea are doing a fantastic job that is worth recognising and non of this comes with the riches that you see at WSL level so it’s truly inspiring for me personally that we are connected with such great clubs as friends that we can learn from on how to develop people and players whilst being competitive on low budgets and some even self-sustained. Inspiration can be found from grassroots level and the incredible work the kit men and women do along with the grounds staff. I think we all put too much pressure on people to turn us into a West Ham or Spurs and not enough recognition for the smaller clubs doing it right.”

It would take Upton Park several years to reach the level of football played by West Ham or Tottenham, but that wasn’t their target. On top of developing players, it wouldn’t go a miss to get their players to the top clubs to showcase their talent. “We are positive but remain realistic. With that in mind the first season for us is getting our house in order so to speak. Meaning we are looking to go into the season with a fully strength squad and good numbers that will not leave us short come matchday. The hardest year for new clubs is the first what with the financial outlay being higher but we have our incredible sponsors to thank for making that possible and that has allowed us to supply our players with better conditions to play this season which in turn will help with numbers and the ability of players we will attract. The club has the ability to go big but we must walk before we can run. We must also appreciate we are a grass roots club and a lot of sides think too big too soon so our ambitions at this point is to see through the season while challenging and we would ideally like to become a feeder club for those bigger sides so we can help develop players to have careers in this beautiful game.”

You can follow Upton Park Ladies on their journey by following them on twitter (@Uptonparkladies) as well as chairman-manager (@Danielmerrix) and club photographer (@MeghaniOfficial)