Beth makes her mark

Thunder president offers regional voice on women's football advisory body

LEADER: Bendigo Thunder president Beth Taylor gets a kick out of being involved in women's football at club level and further afield. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

LEADER: Bendigo Thunder president Beth Taylor gets a kick out of being involved in women's football at club level and further afield. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

BETH Taylor was born a generation too early to play football, so she did the next best thing and became a trainer on the field and a club president on the sidelines.

The 53-year-old has been at the helm of Bendigo Thunder since the women’s club was established three seasons ago, having earlier been president and head trainer at Dunolly.

She now also helps steer the future of the game as a member of AFL Victoria’s Women’s Football Advisory Committee. 

“Part of me always wanted to play footy,” says Taylor, who was born and bred in Rheola. 

“I grew up in a rural area where everyone played football in winter and I was the only girl in a grade of four boys at school, so I wanted to play, too. But you just couldn’t do that back in the ‘60s.”

Instead, Taylor played A-grade tennis and a couple of seasons of netball - but her passion for football remained.

When sons Robert and Andrew were still in junior teams at Dunolly, she finally got her chance to be more than just a footy mum.

“In about 2002, I was sitting watching Robert play and his team didn’t have a trainer. I decided I’d go and do a course and be the trainer for the under-17s,” she says.

“But the club said they’d pay for the course if I became the head trainer at Dunolly, so I did.”

Taylor spent two years as club president in 2007-08.

She has been involved with Thunder since the team was just a seed in the minds of a group of passionate Bendigo people working on a Women in Sport project, who recognised that youth girls football was growing so fast in the region that a senior side would eventually be needed.

As Thunder’s inaugural president, she’s watched on proudly as “her girls” have exceeded all expectations since kicking off in 2011.

“We sat down at the beginning and said, if we can win a few matches and finish in the middle of the ladder in our first season, we’ll be happy. Of course, we went on to make the finals that year, then won two premierships.

“That first one was my most memorable moment - it was like confirmation we had made it. Not that we had knockers, but we were a novelty for a start and it just proved there was a group of young women here who were serious about football and were prepared to go out and fight and come back with a premiership cup.

“It gave us some credibility within the football community in Bendigo.”

Thunder unfurls its 2013 premiership flag at the first home game this season. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Thunder unfurls its 2013 premiership flag at the first home game this season. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

In 2014, things have come full circle for Thunder and they are minnows once more.

The club has been promoted to the elite Premier division of the Victorian Women’s Football League, though the step-up is proving tough and the side has lost its opening two matches by a combined total of 471 points. 

It tried also fielding a second side in the entry-level division five competition, but struggled for numbers and had to pull the plug two weeks into the season.

While disappointed that things have not run as smoothly as hoped, Taylor remains extremely upbeat about the future. 

“This is the biggest year since our first, and in many ways it is very similar to that first season because we are starting out all over again,” she says.

“We always had aspirations of making championship division, but in about year five or six, so this has happened a little faster than we planned. It’s probably a transition year for us.

“The VWFL has told us our challenges are not uncommon for teams stepping up into the top league and it usually takes a few years to consolidate.

“We know things will get better.”

One of the main challenges as the club moves forward is to continue to provide for girls and women who are not quite at the Premier league standard.

Those not selected in Thunder’s match-day team can still train with and be part of the club, and will have chances to play games against development squads from other Premier division clubs.

Plans are afoot for a six-week development program for under-12 girls in Bendigo and Thunder has committed its support to that. Players will be involved in skills sessions and as role models.

The club is also in discussions with AFL Central Vic about a local girls-only Auskick centre from 2015, and it intends to help run July school holiday skills sessions for girls in partnership with Bendigo Gold.

Taylor’s regional links were a major reason she nominated to join the seven-member women’s football advisory committee, chaired by AFL Victoria general manager Grant Williams. 

The committee meets up to six times a year and was formed last year to support the transfer of responsibilities from the VWFL to AFL Victoria.

It aims to retain the traditions of women’s football, advise on the growth of the sport and devise a strategic plan for its future.

This is our biggest year since our first, and in many ways it is similar to that season because we are starting out all over again. - Beth Taylor

“I wanted there to be a rural voice on the committee,” Taylor explains. “When you look at women’s footy on the map, the majority of teams apart from Ballarat and Bendigo are centred around Melbourne.

“Youth girls football is growing in rural areas like Wangaratta and Shepparton, so women’s football in regional Victoria is a real growth opportunity and I thought it was really important to have that voice.

“Plus, I just love to get involved.” 

She says the committee includes current and ex-players, female umpires and administrators, and representatives of state government sport.

“There is a good range of skills and a good understanding of the game as it is today, and where women’s football has come from. It is important that we don’t lose sight of that.”

Thunder will be involved in several exciting initiatives in 2014.

These include two premier division matches at the Queen Elizabeth Oval - a curtain raiser to the BFNL inter-league match against Gippsland this Saturday and a curtain raiser for Bendigo Gold later in the season.

Its last premier home-and-away match is expected to be under lights at Dower Park, after a game in the women’s International Cup series being hosted by Victoria.

President Beth Taylor and secretary Chris Coughlan at Bendigo Thunder's 2014 season launch. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

President Beth Taylor and secretary Chris Coughlan at Bendigo Thunder's 2014 season launch. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Taylor, who works at the Country Fire Authority as a volunteer support officer, is not the only member of her family with a hands-on role at Thunder.

Youngest son Andrew, now 24, is a club runner and has been at the club since its inception. 

They both relish their involvement.

“I really love the club atmosphere and sense of belonging,” Taylor says.

“It’s the camaraderie around the place - everyone is mates and it just makes me feel good.”

Taylor says she has always been passionate about sport in general and supporting women to achieve their goals, and Thunder provides the perfect opportunity to combine the two.

“We have never turned anyone away. If someone wants to be involved, we say ‘yes, we can fit you in somewhere’.”    

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