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      Palace Women leaders reveal journeys, achievements & sacrifices in football


      Head of Women’s Football Grace Williams, and Palace Women head coach Laura Kaminski, discussed their lives, careers, sacrifices and achievements in football at the Crystal Palace Business Club last week.

      Over the course of half-an-hour’s insightful discussion with an engaged audience at Selhurst Park, Williams and Kaminski discussed a range of topics about their impressive careers to date in professional football.

      Explaining her career journey to date, Williams said: “My journey in football started at Watford Football Club, where I'm from at home. I worked there for three seasons, and then I left there and had a brief stint at the FAW, working on developing women’s domestic football in Wales.

      “I worked with clubs as to how they could develop their teams, how they could integrate it into their men's club and professionalise certain areas. And then I went over to Bristol City, where I worked for two-and-a-half seasons.

      “I started there upon their unfortunate relegation to the Championship, to help rebuild their strategy and get back into the Women's Super League, which we were successful in during season two – and it was shortly after that that I started my role at Crystal Palace.

      “I've had some brilliant times throughout my career, as well as different challenges which have led to some brilliant highs.”

      On the coaching side, Kaminski surmised: “I think if I go many moons back, I think my career started as most young coaches start: in grassroots football, coaching girls and boys of all shapes and sizes across the game. Hackney Marshes, jumpers down… that's how my career began.

      “I'm a firm believer that those are the fundamentals for any young coach, and if you miss those stages of understanding why people actually play football, and how people learn, I think you might get yourself found out in the end.

      “I continued through Academy structured football, and then finally found myself in senior football at Tottenham Hotspur. I worked with a fantastic mentor in the women's game, Karen Hills, and I spent a long time coaching under her.

      “Spurs got so big, I knew that if I wanted to get better, I had to drop down a league from the WSL into the Championship [with Charlton], so that I could coach every day for long periods of time. And I did that for two seasons solid, before finally, one of the highlights of my career: signing south of the river for Crystal Palace!”

      Discussing their respective moves to the Eagles in the summer, Williams and Kaminski reflected on the challenge of getting their plans for Palace off the ground in pre-season, a spell in which they both joined the club, recruited a number of new players and backroom staff, appointed a new captain and facilitated a move to a new stadium.

      So far, four points off the top of the table with two games in hand on the teams around them, it has proven a significant success for Palace Women – but both were keen to reiterate that there remains plenty of football to be played this season.

      Kaminski noted: “The club had obviously given its ambitions, and its drive of what it wants to achieve, and set out its stall by moving us into the Academy training ground, and changing home ground.

      “All of those things made a statement, and in women's football, news travels fast so everyone is interested Palace, but we had to make sure that we were recruiting the right people, never mind the right players.

      “That, for me, is fundamental, and I think our position in the table would suggest that overall, at this moment in time, I think we've got the people right. We have a very good environment and culture, and for me that's key in the day-to-day grind.

      “You have to enjoy coming to work, you have to enjoy playing football, and the people on the pitch are responsible for making that happen, as well as the staff.”

      For Kaminski, the move to Palace was a particularly significant one, marking her first role as a head coach, having previously been assistant – with impressive results – at Tottenham and Charlton.

      She told the Business Club: “I think I've had a lot of freedom in my career to coach and lead. I've had a lot of responsibility to deliver analysis sessions, motivational sessions. But, you know, years ago I was a teacher.

      “Leading groups of people, I was relied upon as an assistant. Anything the manager wanted me to do, I wanted to be the best number two that I could be, and also understand from a manager's side what they want and need.

      “But nothing can prepare you for how it feels. It is all of us in it together, but ultimately, it is me that says ‘left’ or ‘right’ with decisions, and that for me has been the biggest change. But so far so good!”

      Working in elite sport does not just come with sacrifices for the athletes themselves, as both Kaminski and Williams discussed – meaning both draw strength from the communities around then,

      Kaminski noted: “I think this is a little bit unrecognised actually: coaches, and everything they give up to be the best they can be for the players, and the club that they work for. Every weekend of my life has been spent out in the fields, coaching or leading in some ways.

      “You know, through your 20s you sacrifice all the nights out – you leave early. Birthday parties, you leave early. Everyone there says ‘you never turn up to things’… those things over a long period of time.

      “I've got a great group of friends around me and a great family that support me, a partner that supports me – but understanding the unsocial hours and commitment that staff put in is a real weight, and I have a fantastic group of staff that are absolutely dedicated and committed to the hours that go in to get each game over the line.

      “We're really proud of everyone's work rate at the club and we know we've given everything we've got to try and be the best we can be.”

      Williams added: “I think exactly in the sense that Laura said, it's really important to have that support network around you. Ultimately, the people that you're working with every day are going through the exact same.

      “Thankfully I've got some brilliant families, some brilliant friends around me. A lot of my close friends are not involved in football – so when you can't go to your friend's birthday party, or when you can't go on a certain hen do because you can't take four days off in the middle of the season…

      “I think it's really important that we value that within our staff. We can recognise, and I think hopefully they would say this as well, that we're really good at recognising when we just need to put things down for a second.”

      Both leaders concluded by discussing the rapid growth of the women’s game in recent seasons, particularly through the lens of the Lionesses.

      “The success of the Lionesses was brilliant,” Williams said. “I grew up with three older brothers and a dad who had played football their whole life. As soon as the Lionesses were on, it was on their TV, it was in their papers, they started watching it, and they now come to every other game.

      “It’s a great example for me: they just hadn't seen it [the women’s game]. It wasn't in front of them. The Lionesses were able to put it in our papers, put it on our TVs, and show that if you want to watch it, it's there.

      “Every year it is growing, and it's emotional for me to see. I went to the opening Euro [2022] game – it was sold out, Old Trafford, and I thought: ‘oh my god, all these people are here to watch women's football.’

      “You're trying to drum to people to watch it and be involved in it, and to hear all these people, and a sold-out Wembley as well, it was so emotional.

      “I think that is ultimately where it's growing. The investment is growing and the money is growing, which is brilliant which means ultimately, for me, we can treat and value our players as professional footballers like they deserve.

      “I played when I was younger, and I got looked at so strangely! I loved playing, but I had to travel 40 minutes to be able to go to a training session that my dad had to finish work at 5pm to take me to, whereas now, there's so many more local teams, there's so many more popping up, so the opportunities to play with other girls, and for it to be a cool thing to do…

      “Now they can look at the TV, they can look at people, and go: ‘wow, I can actually do that.’”

      Kaminski added: “A turning point for me was when I was on the London Overground, going into central London, and a game was on at Wembley. The amount of young little girls with shirts on with female names on the back… I sat on the train and I thought: ‘we've come a very, very long way, in a short space of time.’

      “This has been going on for years, with pioneers in the women's game – clever, intelligent, dedicated passionate women, and men, who have given up their time to make this game grow.

      “Now, it's accelerating.”

      Crystal Palace Women return to action against Sheffield United at Selhurst Park this Sunday (12:00 GMT kick-off). Find out more here.