by Jess Rees
As the snow came down on the Italian pitch, Jayne Ludlow’s side were ready to put their World Cup qualifying woes behind them. Preparing themselves for a challenging friendly against a strong Italian side.
Choosing a squad mixed with experience and youth, Ludlow named Cardiff City LFC duo Emma Jones and Grace Horrell-Thomas to make their senior debuts. While teammate Cori Williams was gifted her first start.
Aside from the changing of the guard and the opportunity for the upcoming Welsh stars, this fixture made history for a different reason. This game was the first time where the Welsh women were playing with an identity, having their names included on the back of their shirts.
Winning her 113thcap for Wales, Jess Fishlock tweeted about the moment saying, “To many this step for us is a step they probably don’t understand. But for us – a long 12 years of fighting & we finally have our names on our shirt. The fight is hard, it’s long but it’s worth it.”
Having spent years as a professional footballer she has been lucky enough to have her name on her shirt many times before. Including Melbourne City, Seattle Reign and now current club Lyon. For Fishlock, this moment was undoubtedly just as important as all the other shirts she has ever represented, if not more. As she would be therefore known as one of the country’s best ever players, and more than just a number.
A shirt with a lone number compared to a shirt with the addition of a name is different for more reasons than simply its appearance. This slight change can act as a way for supporters to connect with the players in a different way.
A player, supporter connection is something that Katy Hosford experienced just last month. With the introduction of their names at the start of this season, Swansea City players have stood out from the crowd in their league, paving the way for equality in all areas of football.
Through her twitter account, Hosford showed the impact that this change has had, with one young fan going to the extent of buying a Swansea shirt with Hosford’s name and number printed on the back. Inspired by Hosford and the Swansea City ladies this young fan will now be able to look up to her role model aiming to be just like her one day.
A similar experience occurred to former Welsh international footballer Chloe Chivers who was Lucky enough to play for a number of top teams. During her time at Oxford United Chivers was given the opportunity to not only play in the second tier of English football, but to also have her name on her shirt.
“Playing at Oxford was a great experience, but having my name on the back of my shirt was unreal. When a little girl came up to me with my name on the back of her shirt, I felt like a role model. Hearing from kids that they want to be like you one day makes me feel like I was playing for them as well as for myself,” she says.
With rising kit prices and the additional cost of printing, it is understandable why not all teams choose to give their players the identity that they deserve. However, seeing the positive impact that it has on the players themselves and their fans, surely the name is worth more than its cost.