It is with regret – though also some relief – that I am calling it a day and closing down Sent Her Forward.
It’s been a rocky road, with plenty more ups than downs, but in the end, the downs win.
Some of you will already have an idea of the toll that two years of single-handed coverage of an ever-expanding women’s football scene has had on me.
I estimate that I devote between 20 and 30 hours a week to my website, which has always been about far more than just covering a game and writing a match report.
When work allows – and I do have to try to fund my passion – I have endeavoured to put together detailed, meaningful round-ups featuring clubs from Plymouth to Gillingham, Shanklin to Coventry, as well as writing informative articles about clubs, players, organisations and developments that affect – or are of interest to – the growing number of supporters of women’s football – and not just at élite levels.
In short, I have tried to provide a medium that was not there in this form before, providing impartial, independent news and features about a host of issues and individuals – many of whose efforts would never otherwise have been known about outside their own club – at all levels of the game, with a degree of dedication and quality of writing that I hoped would earn it respect as well as a loyal following.
But something has changed.
Unfortunately, I cannot continue to devote as much of my life, neglecting my home and family and compromising my health, to a hobby that has turned into something slightly different from what I initially envisaged.
Fantastic, ultra-professional. You give the ladies coverage that they wouldn’t otherwise have got
It would have been easy just to write the fluffy, puffy, upbeat stuff that portrays women’s football as a perfect entity. Indeed, I have always tried to see the positive in any negative and reflect that more prominently in any story or match report.
But my integrity as a journalist, indeed, as an independent observer, makes it impossible for me to pretend that other stuff doesn’t happen.
I always wanted Sent Her Forward to be an example of decent-quality journalism and more than just a PR machine (which would have been so much easier, so much less troublesome and stressful – and yet dishonest and an insult to the intelligence of you, the readers, who are extremely knowledgeable about the game for which we share a passion).
I always look to be positive, but for my writing to have credibility, I cannot ignore the uncomfortable truths that often arise in the febrile world of competitive women’s football.
I’ve tried to approach them with fairness and understanding, keen to establish what has happened but rarely going into the sometimes uncomfortable detail.
And until recently, my efforts – while inevitably not always welcome – have been understood and largely respected, even by those at the centre of the stories.
However, there are times when players, managers, even on occasion a chairman under pressure are reluctant to accept that the increasingly high profile of the game brings with it increased accountability, interest and scrutiny.
We really appreciate your coverage. You’ve been absolutely fantastic since you’ve started
Club representatives are understandably keen to protect not only their clubs’ images but also their players.
Most of the time, the stories I pursue do not clash with the clubs’ best interests.
Occasionally, though, they do.
In the most recent controversies, I have delayed publication of any story – or of commenting or retweeting on Twitter – until I’ve been satisfied all parties have had the opportunity to talk, if only to give off-the-record guidance, and that I have at least an understanding of what has gone on.
In the intervening periods, during which I have neither written nor tweeted anything, there has been plenty written in other media and plenty of speculation, comment and downright unpleasantness towards some of the parties caught up in the incidents that should have no place in football – and most probably, a couple of years ago, when the women’s game had a lower profile, would not have done.
None of that has had anything to do with me, on social media, or the Sent Her Forward website.
When I have published, it has been after trying to establish a clear picture and to give all parties the opportunity to provide a balanced picture.
I’m so under-confident with my abilities, and reading that really has boosted my confidence. It means a lot, thanks
Where some parties have chosen not to co-operate, I have endeavoured to provide that balance myself.
I realise that even then, publishing at all – no matter how fair, accurate or impartial it is – is not going to satisfy everybody.
The stakes are so much higher now at the upper end of the women’s game. And managers and chairmen are left largely to themselves to deal with not only difficulties within their camp but the attention they attract outside it.
I don’t blame any of those participants, all of whom have generally treated me decently – in the case of a particular chairman, extremely so.
But it is clear that as the game develops – largely for the good – and the prizes become greater, along with the cost of failure, these incidents are going to crop up more frequently.
It has come to the point where to those involved, impartiality is no longer enough. Merely doing my job as a journalist – regardless of whether I get paid – offends people whom I have no wish to upset.
I have no desire to endure those sorts of encounters any more and risk losing more friendships just because I remain loyal to my principles.
Far better that I call it a day now and leave the game to develop without my observations and chronicling.
Just wanted to say how nice it is to see someone appreciate all the hard work that goes into running these grassroots clubs
I am immensely grateful to everybody who has supported me, helped me and commented constructively over these past two years.
I hope to stay in touch with many of you and still intend to watch women’s and girls’ football at all levels – at least at those grounds where I am still welcome.
I shall continue to tweet from my personal account and from the Sent Her Forward one, from where I shall be happy to continue spreading the word – and participating in discussions – about women’s football, so feel free to invite me to retweet relevant material that helps raise the profile and image of the game.
I’m not sure whether it will be for ever, whether one day I’ll feel I’m missing it so much that I restart Sent Her Forward (maybe I should call it Extra Time).
But as things stand, that moment is an extremely long way off.
If there’s one wish I could see fulfilled it’s that true supporters of women’s clubs and their players channel that massive support, which I know means so much to the people they are cheering on, into positive backing for those they follow rather than negativity towards those they don’t, or with whom they disagree or have fallen out.