Fresh off the back of last year’s Women’s World Cup, De Montfort Students’ Union (DSU)’s female footballers have capitalised on the interest that the tournament generated to enjoy their best-ever season.
The club’s first team pipped University of Leicester to the league title, and then compounded their city rivals’ misery by defeating them in the annual Varsity fixture in a tense penalty shootout.
Toni Mallin is the first team captain, and has seen the club go from being a one-team outfit to one that now fields three teams, owing – in part – to an increased participation in women’s football as a result of the World Cup.
Toni said: “When I first became captain we had one team with about 20-odd girls in it.
“We were mid-table and weren’t doing horrendously, but not amazingly, either. We’re now a three-team club, with a first team that won the league and Varsity, a second team that plays in BUCS and a third development team.
“We’ve gone from a club of about 20-30 girls to one of about 70-80 in the space of a year. We’re massive now, and get recognised a lot more.
“It kind of opens it up for more people to come in because they’ve heard of us.”
And after spending summer watching the tournament, Toni says a lot of girls who may not have even thought about playing football before put their names down to get involved. She continued: “The women’s World Cup helped us and gave us a massive boost to our numbers.
“It helped a lot.”
With such a large influx of new players, there was always the possibility that it might have taken a while for the team to gel.
However, any fears were quickly allayed as the team stormed to a season-opening win over Nottingham Trent thirds, as Toni explained.
She said: “Our first game was a 10-0 win, so we started off really well. For our first game, with a new set of girls and such a new team, it was a massive boost and a massive high.”
From there, the side underwent a rollercoaster of a season as they struggled for consistency, before eventually making a late surge towards the top.
Toni added: “It was up and down. It was like last year where we were fighting for third place. There were three teams and whoever won their last game got third place.
“This year, it was ridiculous. It was between us and Leicester, and we had to win our last four games to win the league.
“It was tough, but once we beat Leicester [3-2], I think it was a bit of a boost. Having beaten the side that were fighting against us, it made us think we could go on and beat the rest.”
After such a tough season, culminating in championship glory, Toni was overjoyed with the team’s success.
She said: “I can’t even find the words to explain. We’ve come so far and to say I’m the captain of a team that’s won Varsity and the league is the best feeling that you could possibly imagine.
“You can’t ask for a better end to the year.”
An auspicious year for Toni and her teammates was made even more so with them being able to benefit from the knowledge and experience of both professional football coach Matt Lawson plus Leicester City legend Matt Elliott.
Toni said: “It was amazing. It was such an experience to have someone so big coaching. You’re getting trained by one of the biggest ex-Leicester players.
“He’s done professional work and knew what we needed.”
Toni has also praised the relationship between the club and DSU and the help that DSU’s Sports Development team has given to the club.
She said: “We’ve had more funding and support than ever before. We’ve had such good training facilities and all the equipment we could have asked for and I do think that plays a massive role.
“They also get us media coverage out and tweet about women’s football and a lot more people are interested in women’s sport then.”
Increasing participation in women’s sport is something that DMUWFC are extremely passionate about, and the club has worked closely with DSU in their ‘This Girl Can’ campaign.
Toni said: “We have all the t-shirts which we can wear about, and those t-shirts do actually get quite a lot of people asking about them.
“Getting that message out has given people more of a reason and a boost to be like: ‘You know what, we can do this and we will.’”
And with the winning combination of silverware and an increased female participation in sport, the future remains bright for DMUWFC.