Interview: Plymouth Warriors’ Melissa Curtis

Impetus editor Ben Gilby spoke to Melissa Curtis, coach of Plymouth Warriors Ladies, a club who are doing extraordinary things with a group of extraordinary players.

Melissa began our conversation by outlining the incredible story of the club. “Plymouth Warriors was founded in 2018. One of our Co-Directors Luke Childs, who formed the club along with Simon York, has two children diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, after he found out that only 1% of children with additional needs take part in active sport, he felt it was something he could help the community with.

The Warrior Ladies team actually started as a team of Mums and carers with disabilities, who were dropping their children to training. Instead of standing on the side watching, the ladies started their own team. From this, the club started advertising for new players, and when we had enough we joined the Devon Disability Counts League. As our first year as a team we weren’t expecting much, so when we won the league and the Devon Cup we were over the moon. Our next focus was on the F.A. People’s Cup, so you can only imagine how amazed we were to get in to the finals at St Georges Park! We wanted to take everything in and our main aim was to try our best and enjoy ourselves. It still doesn’t seem real now that we lifted the FA Peoples Cup Trophy.”

Unlike many clubs, there is no separation between the men’s and women’s teams at the club, as Curtis explains: “The club in general is really close. Everyone knows everyone from the children’s teams to the adult teams, families, friends and supporters. The club last year voted for the ladies team as ‘Team of the Year’. Another trophy to add to our collection for the 18/19 season!”

The fantastic achievements of Plymouth Warriors in such a short space of time is something to be extremely proud of. I wondered what Curtis identifies as the keys to their success: “Enjoyment and support are the two qualities I ask for from the girls with everything we do. We never thought we would have the opportunity to be in a National Final, so to make sure the girls enjoyed the day and took in the experience was just as important as supporting each other in the process, whether it was on the pitch or off.”

Plymouth Warriors have players experiencing a wide range of disabilities, and for Melissa Curtis one of the most important aspects of the club is “getting the players along to training to help them to forget everything for an hour or two and enjoy themselves.” She explains that their players have conditions such as “Anxiety, Depression, BPD, PTSD, Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Autism, ADHD and Crohn’s. This is alongside such things as metal plates and screws in body parts due to primary and secondary curvatures. Getting out of the house for some of our players can be so daunting on days that they don’t come to training. Always being in pain and taking constant medication doesn’t always make the ladies feel like they can do a lot of running around or focus. Having a good support system with each other really helps push each other to do things they don’t always feel they can on that particular day.”

Many clubs in the National League set up often cite sponsorship or access to facilities as their biggest challenge, but for Plymouth Warriors, Melissa Curtis feels, it is: “Without a doubt, the ladies disability is obviously our biggest challenge as coaches and for them as individuals and in the team.”

The knowledge and understanding of disabilities is still a big problem in this country. ‘You don’t look disabled’ is something we’ve heard plenty of times. A lot of our ladies have invisible disabilities, but if you could see how they are affected before a match and how much they can suffer after it, people wouldn’t be so quick to assume. Being female in football also has its own comments; on an assessment day last year we were trialled in a men’s league, we were winning against a team and their coach shouted from the side-lines ‘Come on lads, they’re just a bunch of girls’. Unprofessional to say the least.

The Women’s World Cup last summer served as yet another boost for Plymouth Warriors, coming as it did on the back of their incredible 2018/19 achievements, as Curtis underlines: “Last year’s World Cup was one of the greatest things to happen for female football. For us, we had four new players join our team for the 19/20 season which meant we had enough girls for two teams. We also have another three lined up to join us in September for the 20/21 season already and it would be great if we could recruit some more so we could potentially get a third ladies team. All of our sponsors stayed with us for the 19/20 season, and some have already signed up again ready to be printed on our new club kit for the 20/21 season.

It’s far from just being about senior women’s football at Plymouth Warriors, indeed Curtis highlights the fact that: “We currently have a number of girls in our under 12’s and under 16’s teams which we would look to progress in to the next teams when they get to the age bracket. We had a girl from the under 16’s team come up to our ladies team this year, and we will have another ready to join us as of next season too. We would love to have more players in all of our teams, but our focus is on extending the ladies and reaching out to our local schools next.”

Our conversation ended by looking ahead to the future of Plymouth Warriors, and not surprisingly, Melissa Curtis was very optimistic: “If we go by how the first two years have been for Warriors, I can only continue to see success within the club. As for aims, we look to recruit more players by advertising wherever we can. We know there are plenty of people out there with disabilities who love football, and we would love for them to come and join us. We are the only disability club in Plymouth to have a ladies team, we need to let the people know that we are here, and we are here for them.”

A number of the stories and features that we have run on Impetus have contained the word “inspirational”. I think all readers would agree that the story of Plymouth Warriors is one of exceptional inspiration. In these difficult and different times, it is tales like this that we all need to become aware of and celebrate.