The inclusions of United Women’s RTC graduates Billie French and Alex Ashley on Oxford United Women's bench in last weekend’s FA Cup tie against Billericay marked further success for the club’s Development Team in aiding local talent progress from the RTC.
The Regional Talent Club (RTC) works with players from the U10s through to the U16 age groups and there is a very clear pathway through to the First team, who now prepare for Sunday's FA Cup game at home to Charlton.
Billie, pictured, has followed that pathway and told us about her delight to have been given the First Team experience.
“The feeling was so indescribable,” she mentions. “Getting that email telling me that I’d been selected for the bench last weekend was amazing. Having the experience of sitting on the bench was such a great feeling, you feel like you’re getting somewhere and that you’re part of the team.”
The moment was long-awaited for Billie, who has worked hard for the opportunity.
“Two years ago, I earned my place and became captain of the RTC Under-16s, and I thought that was a massive achievement. I just worked and worked outside of football, going on runs, because I think hard work always beats talent. I always had that mentality in my head, that I needed to be better.
“It wasn’t until I turned 16, straight away my manager said to me that Liam Gilbert wanted me to train with the First Team. I always remember just feeling like my dream had come true, all that hard work had paid off because I’d been chosen to train with the First Team.
“I remember it was the next day, it was a Tuesday, that I trained with the First Team for the first time. The First Team are not just a team, they’re like a family. They welcomed me so much, they made sure I got the ball, they make sure I feel welcome in every training session, and they always include me. From that day, that Tuesday, I’ve always felt part of that team.
“Recently the club have introduced the Development Team and that has been really good; it’s a pathway into the First Team. It’s been a really good experience in the Development Team because you can ask the coaches for advice and get the development you need to get that First Team spot.
“I especially learn from Gemma Sims at the back; she talks to me so much, if she tells me I need to press then I press, she just helps me out and when I’ve got these players talking to me, it helps me become a better player.”
Fellow RTC graduate Alex Ashley also spoke about the value of learning from the more experienced members of the team when she was also selected for last weekend’s squad.
“Last weekend was a good opportunity for me,” she said. “It’s not just about being included on the bench, it’s all the preparation throughout the week. It’s good to be around that because as a defender I’m learning from the older players who are more experienced like Gemma Sims, Cat Beaver and Hannah Mackenzie, seeing how they play. Being on the bench, I’m seeing how they’re doing, how they’re reacting in the game and even what they’re saying, so it’s good to be around that – especially when we win!
“I feel like I’m playing at a high level; after I left the RTC the Development Team was made, so I knew that I could still play at a high level. In the Development Team everything is even more intense than it was at the RTC and games are much more challenging.
“Sometimes you’re brought into the First Team, and the way we play within the Development Team is very much like the First Team. For instance, I’m learning to defend in certain ways which I haven’t learnt before.
“The First Team environment is very good; I feel very welcomed, the team are all really good girls, and the staff are all really nice as well. I feel very comfortable around them now, especially after travelling to Cardiff with the team. It makes me feel included and it’s a great atmosphere as well because we all want to do well in the FA Cup.”
It was another RTC graduate, Carly Johns, who scored the opener for United to send her side through to the FA Cup Fourth Round where they face Women’s Championship side Charlton Athletic at Court Place Farm in the Fourth Round this Sunday, with the winners progressing to face either Wolves or Blackburn Rovers away on Sunday 16th May.