Bristol City defender Loren Dykes speaks to Jessy Parker Humphreys about how the Women’s Super League has developed and advice for young players coming through.
Loren Dykes has a perspective on British women’s football that few other players can claim to have.
With more than a decade’s worth of experience in the game, she has participated in one of the most significant shifts within women’s football.
At Bristol City, she has made over 100 WSL appearances, as part of a club that faced periods of financial uncertainty but still maintained its place in the upper echelons of the league. As the Women’s Super League has established itself, its requirement of professionalism has led to distinct material changes for players like Dykes.
“Previously I’d work in the day teaching and go straight to football in the evenings three times during the week,” she said. “I’d get into bed gone 12 and be up at six. I wasn’t able to function properly in teaching or football. Now I can focus on being a full-time footballer.”
Yet Dykes’ experiences show how wide the gap between the top and the bottom of the Women’s Super League can be.
“We occasionally train at Falland (the men’s training ground) which is a fantastic set-up and makes such a difference from having to share the college facilities,” the 32-year-old added.
That experience contrasts with that of players at Chelsea or Manchester City who train full-time at Cobham and the Etihad Campus respectively. The resources available for players within the Women’s Super League depend on which team you play for, and how much your parent club chooses to make available.
Those differences extend to remuneration too. After all, the professionalised aspect of the Women’s Super League license clubs are required to obtain to play in the top division of women’s football only requires 16 contact hours a week. In reality, this doesn’t necessarily correspond to full-time work as a footballer.
“There are still players such as myself who work, not just because it’s something I enjoy doing outside football, but because I need to for financial reasons,” Dykes said.
“I know it’s the same for others also, but hopefully the changes will keep happening for the better.”
And after all, few players are as aware as Dykes of how much change can happen.
“When I look back at my time in the WSL, it’s quite astounding just how much it has changed,” she said.
“I have seen a boom in the game in terms of professionalism, clubs just taking things to new levels and pushing each other to keep getting better or risk being left behind.
“The league has become more competitive, teams fighting it out across the league table.
“The standard is so much higher than ever before from a technical aspect, physically and also tactically with the calibre of managers.”
Despite overseeing such significant developments within the league, there remains a wariness about the impact that rapid growth can have.
“I feel privileged to have played in an era that has seen such change but whilst we all want to keep seeing changes, we have to be careful also,” Dykes added.
“We need to make sure that, as the game grows, we are in a position to support players and staff along the way. If we get too carried away with the game growing, and the attention, we forget about things such as increased risk of injuries because of increased demand and fixture schedules.
“We need to look after the integrity of the game and that starts by looking after the people first.”
That increase in demand and fixture schedules has never looked clearer with delays resulting from COVID-19 pushing the international women’s schedule into potentially back-to-back years of Olympics, Euros and the World Cup.
As a Welsh international, Dykes has yet to appear at a major tournament, but she is certain the quality is there.
“If some of the youngsters coming through understand what it is to become an international player and are willing to push themselves then the future will be looking bright,” she said.
“We need a bigger pool of Welsh players playing at the highest level they can, so our squad strength is also bigger.”
One of the youngsters coming through who Dykes points to is Carrie Jones, who made her Wales debut at 15 years and 359 days, before she was even eligible to play a senior match for her club.
“She is technically fantastic, but more than that, she is a good kid with a good head on her shoulders,” Dykes said.
“I’m very interested to see how her career progresses and the decisions she makes along the way. Keep an eye out for the name!”
For players like Jones, Dykes has plenty of advice on how to have a footballing career as extensive as hers.
“Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t think about how that player is better than you or think you’re not good enough,” she added.
“Equally, never think you’ve made it either.”
“Nobody can do anything without each other so just concentrate on being the best you can be for the team.”
“The other thing I will say is you will hit bumps in the road. In performance, injuries, confidence. It’s inevitable and part of the game.”
“Those moments are there to test you, to see how much you want it.”
“In those moments, I’ve found it’s always good to keep perspective. In light of everything that’s happening in the world I think it’s safe to say that whatever happens in football, whatever mistake you make, it is not the end of the world”
“Do not let it eat you up inside. Learn from it, move on, and talk.”
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph