Up the Left Wing

by Jay Baker

This will be a true test of character for even the best of players: We now have the toughest stretch of our whole season underway, a six-week period of cup and shield games alongside league matches against top teams, while our squad is still finalising the process of starting to gel after having had just one pre-season friendly.

Despite this, we still started the season playing our best football yet against every league opponent but one; those games we only took one or less points from were games where we knew we played the better football, and had to stick to a longer-term plan.

Having said that, we can be better, and will be better, and we know we must be better to overcome the odds we’re up against in a league full of boom-and-bust teams who throw everything they have at every game for short-term results, build a squad or system around one player, or win at all costs. It’s an epic challenge for us, and that’s why we have to work even harder than these other teams in order to succeed.

We want to do well on the field so we can do more off the field, as well. Our profile has skyrocketed in just under five years; we’ve been in local, regional, and national press, been covered in books and talks, and achieved a heck of a lot in the community. But we still need more support. I realise people want to support a team that wins every week, but with us, regardless of the result, there’s an opportunity for purists to watch truly beautiful football when we’re on our game, and we can’t truly succeed if that support isn’t in place on the side of the field as well.

As a not-for-profit limited company as well as a socially progressive, independent women’s football club, it’s harder to get that support, but it’s also more important for us too. That’s the irony. So a massive thanks to everyone who has attended games so far this season – it means a lot!

The players deserve such support. They work so hard and they’re involved in the football club more than they have ever been; they organise socials, fundraising, and all kinds of events; they take on coaching roles at Solidarity Soccer, where there’s a wonderful link formed between first team players and other participants at those sessions (some Solidarity Soccer players have been amongst those attending games to root for the first team players, their Ambassadors at those sessions!)

Those who have attended a few games will have noticed how the captaincy changes almost every time. It’s another unique Unity approach to empower players throughout the squad.

But more than just lead, players have to want to learn and understand the whole football philosophy. Not yet everyone truly grasps the inseparable link between our ethos and the Barcajax approach – that is sacrosanct, in my view. When we fail badly, it’s because we have deviated from those principles, it’s no more complicated than that. So players must have a full comprehension of that.

It’s a learning process. It’s a long-term project buoyed by the immense talent emerging at Solidarity Soccer from players learning the fundamental elements of the Barcajax style from scratch, players who are starting to bang on the door of the first team, a door I’m eager to kick open for them if the opportunity arises!

However, the first team roster is now officially full, since I signed our twenty-fifth and final player last week – like the other incoming players this campaign, another addition who fits our culture and playing style perfectly, and again having attended Solidarity Soccer first.

And this is important: players wanting to play for the first team really must attend Solidarity Soccer beforehand, because it doesn’t matter how good you think you are, our playing style is very different to other teams, as is the ethos it’s designed to fit. It’s also a real test of character for players: by them biding their time in Solidarity Soccer, working hard, going over concepts again and again, absorbing information like a sponge, they demonstrate the commitment to our club while also tooling up on the skills and knowledge of our approach to football. If someone wants to just play any old football for any old club, they have lots of options out there for that!

Solidarity Soccer is also a great way for me to scout players and see if a rapport can be built!

during The FA Community Shield match between Leicester City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on August 7, 2016 in London, England.

I’ve never missed a match in our history, nearly a hundred of them in just under five years – I’ve been there for the record 1-13 win and the record 17-1 loss; I’ve accompanied a player to the hospital in the back of an ambulance; I’ve taken on clubs and committees over a nine-month painstaking process because I challenged bullying against my players; I’ve been to Wembley to accept the national Respect Award for women’s clubs in the country in a rare recognition of our club and its integrity in practice.

But, at the end of the day, it’s voluntary, it’s tiring, and traditional clubs with men’s teams and several other tiers to their system have more support networks for head coaches and managers, and it can be tough at times, I’m not too proud to admit – more so when you’re trying to do something so very different. The women in this club are important. I’m a feminist and I believe in what I do, and what this club is about. That’s why I’m committed to this season.

Yes, we’re trying to do something different. We’re determined to play a certain kind of football that, despite borrowing from developed concepts from the past, is years ahead of its time in many ways. It’s why every game is a struggle – when we win, there’s no doubt we deserved it, and there’s no doubt it took a collective effort from everyone, not just one key player. We’re trying to reflect our ethos of collectivism on the field as well.

We believe in a way where everyone is unique yet has their part to play in equal amounts. A way where everyone must stay positive to help the team get ahead. A way where we stick together. A way where we root for each other.

A better way.

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