By Leigh Bailey
It has been a busy summer for Billericay’s Female Section. Appointment of a new First Team Manager, pathway extension into further age group teams, and influx of coaching resources, are evidence of progress being made.
At the heart of these developments, former manager, Kim Coster, is leaving the dugout behind and putting in place a strategy to secure a bright future for all involved as the club’s new Head of Women’s and Girls Football.
A combination of Coster’s extensive background in the Women’s game and astonishing longevity at the club make her ideally qualified for the top job. Joining Spurs Ladies at the tender age of 14, a playing career of 20 years ensued. A defender by trade, shortly after hanging up her boots, she turned to management at Town almost two decades ago.
She recalls, back in 2001, when she first took on the management of the Women’s Team, “They were at the Essex County level so probably tier seven of the female pyramid. I think it’s such a testament for the time and effort that has been put in to get us where we are today”.
Now competing in the Women’s National League, at tier four level in the Division One South East section, Coster has seen progress come slowly but surely over the years.
She notes that, having been appointed by former owner, Rod Moore, every custodian of Billericay has provided support in their own way. Not always of a financial nature, she admits, but the encouragement and willingness to let the team use the pitch has endured.
She recalls, winning the 2004 Women’s League Cup, as underdogs, against a strong Chelmsford City side providing Steve and Sharon Kent with their first silverware as owners.
Coster acknowledges the support of Glenn Tamplin, who also allowed free access to the infrastructure, but feels that the Women’s team now have the strongest backing of all.
“We’re very fortunate to have Greg Lake on board. Greg is our main sponsor and he’s one of the co-owners and he has been a great support that has helped to drive the club forward.”
With investment forthcoming and, with surrounding infrastructure and facilities at the Women’s section disposal, all teams are able to train in-house with professional coaches.
Structural changes at the Women’s Section this summer have been put in place to extend the reach across a wider age group range. Coster outlines that a pathway from the youngest U-10 age group level leads all the way up to the three senior teams. Plans are also afoot to go even further as she admits to wanting to take in Girls as young as the U-8’s in the future.
Expansion in Girls football has been matched by an extensive off-the-field supporting infrastructure to ensure that parents can be reassured that children are in the right hands.
The club now employs a Child Welfare Officer, Clare Burrell, all coaches are fully qualified and subject to stringent checks, and necessary safeguard provisions are put in place.
Within the Girls teams, Coster has also encouraged extensive co-operation at coaching level as she explains, “Part of the pathway that I’ve introduced is that in the Girls Section the coaches can all cover one another. The coaches can go and work with younger age groups and vice versa. They are all helping one another to develop.”
She adds, “They’ve all got a really good bond and that’s important to me.”
At Senior level, Coster uses her own experience to assess the best coaching and management infrastructure set-up for the three senior Women’s teams. She explains that for each she has set up a management infrastructure of “a minimum of three coaches/manager”.
Having been solely responsible for the first team for many years, she realises the importance of a coaching team to share the workload and generate ideas.
In terms of senior Women’s representation, Coster explains “We’ve got the first team that play in the Womens’ FA National League, we’ve got a Reserve side that play in the Womens’ FA National Reserve Development League. You normally find that the teams are U-23’s. Our average age is round about 18 to 19. You’ve then got the Development Side.”
A noteworthy, if little publicised detail, is that the Development side has upped its standard with new players attracted this campaign strengthening the quality of the team. All three Womens’ squads are now assessed as viable stepping-stones within the overall pathway.
Coster emphasizes this, stating, “For me, the three senior teams are very important because then you’ve got the abilities to play through to get to the top.”
Coster admits to shedding a tear on stepping back from the manager’s role. However, she acknowledges that, as the Section pursues its growth path, it was time for her to bring in reinforcements.
She explains, “With my full-time job down here as Operations Manager, I’ve been doing three roles to be honest, including Head of Womens’ and Girls’ Section. But, as it is growing, I need to give my time and energy across all the teams, not just the first team.”
If you include her other role as the manager of the Essex County Women’s Team, which she has filled admirably for the last 13 years, it is clear that Coster is the ultimate multi-tasker.
Coster has chosen well in selecting Scott Chickelday as her successor as first team manager. With 25 years of experience in coaching, and over a decade spent at the QPR and Spurs Academies, Chickelday is the man entrusted to deliver success.
Completing the first team management trio, he is assisted by Men’s first team coach, Ruudy Yusuf, and former Blues player, Karen Stefanou.
The transfer of duties does not mean that Coster will be at home sipping coffee on matchday. Quite the opposite as her new role will see her present at even more matches across the younger age groups.
She explains, “It’s important to get out to see the other teams playing and that is what a pathway is all about. They’re being watched, they’re being seen, they’re being recognised.”
With a keen eye, and forty years of experience, it’s unlikely that Coster will miss any opportunity to spot developing talent at its earliest stage.
Any Girls making the transition to the First team can expect to see familiar faces this season as Coster reflects, “We’re delighted that we’ve retained so many of the players because they are quality players. A number of them could be playing higher but they choose not to.”
That potential step-up is carefully managed as Coster notes, “We encourage the age groups that can to train with the First team, the Reserve team, and the Development Team. This is organised to aid development and to allow the Girls to get to know the relevant Senior coaching team and understand the club’s playing philosophy”.
At Senior level, a number of development and reserve players are also training with the First team. Fixture dates permitting, players are actively encouraged to come and watch each other’s matches.
With attendances growing for Women’s matches before the advance of COVID, it is not only the players that are spectators. Bowers & Pitsea’s new stadium still owes its record attendance of over 600 to the 2019 Women’s County Cup Final won by Billericay Women.
Fan numbers have risen at New Lodge to respectable levels. With no restrictions on Women’s match attendance as yet, and a new season now beginning, there is a great opportunity for the Blues to build their following even further in the coming months.
As for the objectives this season, expectations within the club are high. Coster smiles when asked about targets, offering only, “Scott is a good coach and me and Greg expect a lot.”
With a little changed team compared to the squad that went so close last year before the campaign was disrupted by lock-down, fans at the Essex club can expect an exciting season.
Beyond that, the future is bright and the infrastructure in place looks well able to provide sufficient opportunities to nurture a production line of young talent into senior teams for many years to come.