JULIE PATERSON is easily the Welsh Rugby Union’s longest serving senior figure – having been appointed to its inaugural executive board 12 years ago as Head of Compliance and, since, moving on to a second executive position as Head of Rugby Operations in 2015.
She has walked the corridors of power at Welsh Rugby’s headquarters in a variety of different roles over three decades but, still only 47-years-old, she is as enthusiastic as she has ever been about the future of our national game.
Speaking during a period of rapid modernisation for Welsh Rugby and on International Women’s Day, she is confident the first entirely elected female Board member will be voted in by WRU member clubs within the next two years – joining Aileen Phillips who was appointed as a non-elected director in 2015 – in what will be a ‘watershed moment’ for the game.
“There is wide acceptance from our clubs and the Board that it should be the best person for the job regardless,” says Ms Paterson, who was appointed to the first executive board in 2005.
“I think in the next 18 months to two years we will see our first female board director elected by the clubs. We are not about token gestures when it comes to encouraging women to step forward in our game, but we know that there are great women working out in the clubs.
“We work with them all the time, and it’s just about making sure we encourage them to have the courage to take that one step forward and give it a go.”
Her own story would inspire many to do just that. In the 90s she admits she was very much a ‘woman in a man’s world’, but growing up in rugby-mad Cardiff household with her parents, Cliff and Angela, three brothers, Neil, Gareth and Michael – and a grand-father Ted John, who was an archetypal Arms Park club man – she has never felt out of place.
“I don’t think anybody realised that the WRU was the first Union to have a woman on its executive staff,” she says.
“We were the first Union to take that step, other unions have moved that way now, the RFU and the French, but when I was first on the exec board there were no other women at that level in rugby.
“I was an anomaly, I’d turn up to ERC (European Rugby Cup) meetings and they’d think I was the interpreter. I find it quite entertaining sometimes to see those who have known me for a really long time, watch as someone new, who hasn’t met me before, tries and work out what part I’m going to play in the meeting.
“Then you walk into the room and everyone sits down behind their microphones and I sit down behind ‘Welsh Rugby’ and you see it dawn on the faces that I am not the interpreter or the caterer – I get quite a good laugh out of that and then we all get on with business.”
Ms Paterson makes no apology for a forthright attitude, in the right context, in fact she makes an attribute out of it and would advise and positively encourage any woman wishing to track her footsteps to follow suit.
Personally she puts success down to a sense of self-confidence instilled in her at an early age and whilst she is strident in her view that women should – and will – have equal opportunities to men when it comes to joining a modern, forward thinking Welsh Rugby Union, she is firmly against any kind of positive discrimination as part of the process.
WOMEN IN RUGBY WAITING IN THE WINGS
“I’m not into quotas.” she continued, “What we are saying is that it’s about providing the opportunity to women in equal measure.
“I don’t think anyone is entitled to anything in life, you have to work for it, but the opportunity should be there for everyone.
“We’ve advertised for quite a few staffing roles over the last few years, everyone’s been allowed to apply and it’s about the best people for the job. If that person is a man then there is no issue. If the best person for the job is a woman and a man gets the job then I would have an issue.
“I never applied for promotion, not once, but I would still be doing things the same way if I was still finance manager. Not in a million years did I ever envisage I would be at executive board level. Being the only girl with three brothers, my parents both had the same attitude on day one, ‘she is no different to the boys’.
“I never thought I was going to be doing what I’m doing now, but that is something that has stuck with me and stood me in good stead in the wider world. You can’t be precious, you can’t be getting offended when you turn up to somewhere and they think you’re bringing in the catering, those things can be moved passed quickly.”
YOU CAN EARN YOUR STRIPES IN DIFFERENT WAYS
She has two daughters, Olivia who is 20 and studying law at University in Leicester and Jessica, 24, who is an architect.
Given her own experience and her current knowledge of the WRU’s vision for the future, would she ask her own daughters to get involved with Welsh rugby and what sage advice would she offer?
“Absolutely,” she says, “We have to be careful that we don’t put women off getting involved in the game just because they may not have played.
“We’ve got some really good women working throughout our clubs. Aberdare and Mold are two great examples where women are at the centre of the clubs and they are very much involved in every aspect of managing things.
“There’s two different things, there’s pushing participation – and I agree everyone should be given the same opportunities, boys or girls – but I also think that women getting involved in the game, regardless of whether they played or not, is something we need to concentrate more on and indeed we are, because you can earn your stripes in different ways.
“You have to be in it to change it and don’t ever think that you are not good enough to put yourself forward. It is about backing yourself and just having the courage of your convictions.”
So how did one of the most powerful women in Welsh sport arrive in this position, how has she stayed so long and what are the attributes that will allow others to step out of the shadows they may be in at club level, or elsewhere, and follow?
Ms Paterson has overseen some historic moments in the Welsh rugby in her time, from the implementation of National Dual Contracts to the drawing up, revision and day-to-day working of the Rugby Services Agreement that currently serves as the bedrock of the professional game in Wales.
She represents the Union on a variety of World Rugby committees, Olympic committees, in Europe, on PRO12 matters and sits on our own rugby management board and PRGB which deals with issues at regional level – but has being a women made a difference to her professional working life?
“I think its fine to ask the question, I honestly think that being a woman in rugby or sport, I can work with coaches and players on sensitive matters,” she says, “Because I’m not seen as someone who is directly competing with them. Because I’ve not been an international rugby player or an international coach and because I’ve earned my stripes over time, I would like to think they just accept me and trust me fully.
“The Regions, for example, have never had an issue with me representing their interests, they’ve always very much been about ‘the best person for the job’ whether it’s a woman or a man. I think that is where we are now.”
TRY, TRY, AND TRY AGAIN
Finally then, the WRU has been very public in its ambition to promote women throughout the game and in particular, increase diversity on its Board.
But Paterson, often the champion of clubs – as you might think – has always been an advocate of the good work done by both sexes on and off the field throughout the game, so what is different and does she welcome a new approach?
“Of course it’s welcome, but I’ve always been that way myself,” she added.
“Like I say, you can’t be too precious, because you’ve got to be in it to change it. You can’t change it from the outside. You can sit outside and keep getting frustrated about things that aren’t happening but unless you just step up and say ‘well I may have to swallow my pride on this one, but if it gets us to the end goal then so be it’ – only then over time will you earn people’s respect and start to affect change.
“You might fail on the first time of trying but just keep going. If I’d given up on the first time of trying I wouldn’t have got past 1990.
“Don’t let your own nervousness get in the way of allowing that opportunity at any level. We want our workforce to grow not reduce. We don’t want anyone to be replaced or women to take the place of a man, we just want everyone to have the opportunity to come to the fore, man or woman. That’s all it is.”
Aber see off Blues in thriller
ABERYSTWYTH Town secured their place in the Fourth Round of JD Welsh Cup draw as they battled to a 4-3 victory against a spirited Cwmmaman United side at Grenig Park on Saturday afternoon (Dec 8).
Rio Ahmadi’s (20) first half volley was cancelled out by James Bryan (37) as the sides went in level at the break, but a 13 minute second half hat-trick (47, 55, 61) from Ash Ruane put Aber in a commanding position, before the hosts pulled two goals (64, 90) back late on to give the Seasiders a scare in the final minutes.
Manager Nev Powell named an unchanged side from the one which drew 1-1 with Carmarthen last weekend, as Aber started the game on the front foot against their Welsh League opponents on a difficult playing surface.
The first chance of the game fell to the visitors on 12 minutes as Ash Ruane rounded home ‘keeper Chris Curtis before firing his shot wide from a narrow angle. Soon after, Declan Walker found space in the penalty area but was denied by a fantastic save from Curtis, as the Black and Greens upped the pressure.
Then on 20 minutes, Town found the breakthrough as Mathew Jones whipped in a great cross for Rio Ahmadi who volleyed the ball into the roof of the net with a composed finish to make it 0-1.
As the first half wore on, the visitors continued to stamp their authority on the game as Ryan Edwards went close after a neat one-two with Walker, before Ruane rounded ‘keeper Curtis once more, only for his effort to be cleared off the goal line.
Then, on 37 minutes the hosts equalised against the run of play after Terry McCormick produced a fine save from a corner kick, only for Cwmamman defender James Bryan to head the ball into the bottom corner on the rebound and make it 1-1.
Aber very nearly went into half time with an advantage after Ryan Edwards curled an effort inches over the crossbar, but it was to remain level at the break.
Aber started the second half attacking their loyal supporters who’d positioned themselves on the grass bank above the goal at the far end of the ground, and were back in front just two minutes after the restart when Mathew Jones delivered another inch perfect cross towards Ruane whose flicked header beat Curtis and made it 1-2.
Soon after, the Seasiders extended their lead as they began to really put their foot on the gas; Ruane found himself in behind the home defence and cut inside, before unleashing a powerful strike that Curtis was unable to keep out, as the ball trickled over the line for 1-3.
The Aber target man wasn’t done there though, as just six minutes later he completed a perfect hat-trick (header, right foot, left foot) when he pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area and struck a left footed effort into the top corner of the net to make it 1-4.
To their credit, Cwmamman continued to battle and fight, and pulled a goal back on 64 minutes when Christian Allen found space in the penalty area and directed a powerful header beyond McCormick to make it 2-4. As playing conditions worsened, Aber continued to play in sensible fashion, turning the home defence with balls in behind for strike pair Ruane and Ahmadi to chase down.
On 70 minutes, Jack Rimmer and Joe Phillips replaced Ryan Wollacott and Ahmadi, before Declan Walker almost added to his recent goal tally with a long range effort.
The hosts continued to attack when they could, and Allen forced a fine save from McCormick on 85 minutes with a powerful strike inside the area, before right back Bryan ghosted in behind the Aber defence in the final minute of normal time and struck the ball beyond Aber’s ‘keeper to make it 3-4.
Despite the scoreline, the Seasiders never panicked, and saw the four minutes of added time out without much difficulty, as they secured their sixth win in eight games and ensured their name will be in the hat for Monday’s Fourth Round draw at 7pm on S4C’s Heno programme.
It was a professional performance from Neville Powell’s side to secure victory, but credit must also go to hosts Cwmamman United, who never gave in and provided a tough battle right to the final minutes.
Town’s attentions now return to JD Welsh Premier League action, as they travel to face Caernarfon Town on Friday evening (Dec 14) at The Oval hoping to take one step closer towards securing their place in the league’s top six.
Top awards for Welsh coaches
WELSH coaches have claimed three awards at the 2018 UK Coaching Awards.
The showpiece annual event, which is seen as one of the most prestigious by the coaching community, took place at The Honourable Artillery Company, London on Thursday, November 29, 2018.
Included in the list of winners are Swansea’s Francesca Lewis and Aberystwyth’s Lee Coulson BEM.
Lee Coulson BEM has been named as Community Coach of the Year, recognising his great coaching achievements in 2018, following a 26-year stint coaching basketball and 15 years coaching disability sport.
The Aberystwyth coach is helping to raise the profile of disability sport in Wales exponentially. As a Disability Sport Wales national performance pathway coach, many of his participants have won international gold medals and this success has enabled Coulson to grow the performance pathway. Even more children and young people can now take part in, and excel at, disability sport.
Multi-sport coach Coulson said: “It’s crucial that everyone gets the chance to participate in sport – no matter if they are disabled or not. This is what I am trying to help people recognise across Wales. Great coaching ensures that sport is accessible for all.
“After coaching for 26 years, it’s a huge honour to have been recognised at the UK Coaching Awards. Here’s to the next 26 years.”
Tennis coach Lewis won the Talent Development Coach of the Year award after an incredible 12 months which saw her also shortlisted for the British Tennis Coach of the Year award.
Lewis has been responsible for bringing through a huge number of players from entry level into the local academy programmes, with her players winning five national singles titles.
She is also recognised for delivering individual coaching packages and inspiring participants to achieve their goals. She works with parents and players, on-and-off the court, supporting her players at tournaments and looking after their physical and mental development.
Her achievements were also instrumental in Swansea Tennis Centre being awarded both Regional and Local Player Development Centres in the LTA’s new High-Performance Strategy, which will provide even greater opportunities for children in the region to receive high-performance coaching.
What’s more, she has set up a foundation through which she raises in excess of £10,000 annually to help support players at regional level or above to train and compete.
Francesca Lewis, after receiving her award said: “To win at the UK Coaching Awards is the greatest honour for any coach – and I can’t believe I have managed to win this award against such incredible competition in this category.
“I am still a young coach with many years of coaching ahead of me, so to be recognised at this stage in my career gives me a huge boost.”
Additionally, after an outstanding year for Welsh cyclist Geraint Thomas in which he won the Tour de France, his coaches were named as winners in The Coaching Chaincategory. Maindy Flyers’ Head Coach and Founder Debbie Wharton and Welsh Cycling’s Head Coach Darren Tudor were named alongside Team Sky’s Tim Kerrison, Matt Parker and Rod Ellingworth for the contribution they have made throughout Geraint’s life.
Emma Atkins, Director of Coaching at UK Coaching said: “The UK Coaching Awards is a way for the nation to praise the great coaching that takes place, and a chance for us in the coaching sector to reflect and celebrate the effect great coaching has on society.
“We are privileged to be able to recognise more great coaching again, especially, in a year where we’ve worked hard to help the public understand what great coaching looks like following the launch of the first ever Coaching Week.
“I am also thrilled to see that more women coaches were recognised for their great coaching expertise, which is testament to the hard work and dedication of many partners who work tirelessly to ensure we create a culture in the coaching sector where everyone can thrive.
“I would like to congratulate all of this year’s winners – as well as the finalists – for their incredible achievements and for benefiting the lives of so many. Well done.”
The UK Coaching Awards is a celebration of great coaching. The best way to access every #GreatCoaching film, interview and podcast we make is to sign-up at www.ukcoaching.org/JoinUs
Six in a row for Aber Ladies
ABERYSTWYTH Town Ladies earned their sixth league victory in a row on Sunday (Nov 25) as they beat Dafen Welfare 3-1.
Following last weeks’ Welsh Cup exit, Aber’s attentions turned back to the league with the hosts determined to pick up another three points.
Following a quiet start, the match suddenly sparked into life in what was a crazy few minutes which began with the hosts breaking the deadlock.
Ffiona Evans’ cross was spilled by the visiting goalkeeper Caitlin Forrester and Naomi Evans was the quickest to react to give Aber the lead.
That lead didn’t last long at all though as straight from the restart Dafen went onto the attack and Stacey Webber found the back of the net with a fantastic strike from just inside the area.
46 seconds after conceding, the home side very nearly re-took the lead. Helen Evans’ header looked to have found the net only to be denied by a brilliant save from Forrester.
Despite not playing at their best it was the team in green who looked most likely to score the game’s third goal: Helen Evans saw her long-range strike go narrowly over whilst Caroline Cooper hit the post directly from a corner.
Aber Town started the second half well and eighteen minutes in they were ahead once more when a Caroline Cooper corner was headed in by Kelly Thomas.
Two soon became three when Lisa Cowdy found the net just four minutes after coming on as a substitute, firing the ball past the goalkeeper from near the penalty spot after Josie Pugh’s superb long-range ball over the defence.
Town were causing Dafen Welfare all sorts of problems as the hosts looked for a fourth. Tania Wylde, Naomi Evans and Cowdy were all denied by Forrester yet again whilst Dwynwen Davies had an effort cleared off the line.
Aber Town Ladies now have two big away games coming up, including a trip to face Barry Town United Ladies on December 9. Before then they will hope to make it seven league victories in-a-row when they travel to the capital once more to face Splott Albion on Sunday, December 2.
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