'A massive achievement...' - The Sheffield Wednesday season ticket holder leading the Owlesses into a new era
Jodie Stancill has been a season ticket holder at Hillsborough since she was about five-years-old – so it’s safe to say that being made captain of Sheffield Wednesday Ladies was a pretty big deal for her…
“I was proud to wear the Wednesday shirt anyway,” she told The Star. “But for me to get on the pitch wearing the captain’s armband and doing the toss-up before the game… It’s amazing, I’m really proud.
“I’ve been in football since I was tiny… To captain the Sheffield Wednesday first team is a massive achievement for me. Especially with my kids on the sidelines cheering me on as well!
Stancill has been with the Owlesses for over a decade now, aside from a spell away a few years ago, but this season takes on special meaning after she was pulled aside by new manager, Paul Musacchio, a few weeks ago to be told that she was his first choice as his captain.
Musacchio gave everybody a chance in preseason ahead of the 2021/22 campaign, passing the armband around in various games, but ultimately decided to give the nod to his long-serving right winger, with Jess Birtles as vice-captain.
It’s one of many changes in what has been a summer of transition in many ways for Wednesday Ladies… Long-time chairman and manager, Dave Higgins, decided to take a step back and appoint a whole new technical team – with Musacchio at the head of it – in an attempt to take the next step forward in their progression as a club, and there’s been plenty of new signings as well.
Promotion into the North East Regional Women’s Football League Premier Division prior to the pandemic laid a new challenge in front of SWLFC, but – after a strong preseason saw them score 16 goals in five games – their new skipper thinks they’ve got what it takes to consolidate their place there.
She explained, “Dave leaving was a shock, and none of us really expected it and we all enjoyed playing under him. But I do think that, as a squad, we needed this change to take the next step forward.
“We got promoted before COVID, but only managed to play about five games… We knew it was going to be tough, but with Paul and his staff coming in I think we’ll benefit from their approach to the game and do well as a squad.
“This season we just want to secure our spot, and gel together as a group, and then we’re looking at possibly challenge for promotion in the following season… We want to stabilise ourselves here, but we also want to get our names out there, get some backing behind us, and hopefully push as far as we can from then.”
Football has been a huge part of Stancill’s life for many years, from kicking a ball about on the streets of Sheffield to getting picked up by Sheffield United’s academy – but it was through her parents, Karen and Brian Ealand, that her love of the game began.
“I was a bit of a tomboy when I was younger… Always in my tracksuit bottoms and a cap. I just wanted to play football with the lads. My mum and dad got us season tickets as a family when I was five, and we’re still going now – even my little ones have one now. We’ve never missed a season.
“Sadly my mum passed away last November, and I think that’s spurred me on on the football pitch. I want to do well for her, because she’s such a big part of my football story.”
And as captain of the club they loved, she’s certainly doing her proud… And her parents will also be incredibly proud of the resilience that she’s shown, missing just six weeks after the birth of her son, Jenson, and two weeks following the birth of daughter, Heidi. Football, she said, was just something she couldn’t give up.
Stancill did admit, though, that even though she’s happy with where she’s at, there’s a part of her that wonders ‘what if’ with regards to her spell with the Blades’ academy as an 11-year-old…
She said, “When I see the strides women’s football has taken, I do sometimes think to myself ‘That could have been me up there’… I just wasn’t ready at that time, but I do wish I’d carried on. It’s just one of those things though, and I’m happy now. I’m doing what I love doing.”
Now, at 29, the winger has taken on a senior role in the SWLFC setup this season following an influx of new young signings and promotions up from the reserves, and she feels that the experienced players such as herself, Birtles, Emily Higgins, Channy Rymer and others have a big role to play in the campaign ahead.
“We want to set an example,” she explained. “For those of us that were already in the team it’s going to be a challenge in the Premier Division, but we’ve got to set that standard in training and give it our all. Hopefully they see how us girls are and will strive to step up to that level and show the same commitment.
“The young players have already shown that they can fit in, and the fact that we’ve brought in new strikers is important because I think it’s something that we’ve missed. We scored 16 goals in preseason, and we’ve done a lot of work on our fitness – all of that has made us look forward to the campaign ahead.”
So now, after a tight 3-2 defeat on the opening day, it’s onwards and upwards for Stancill and her teammates as they host Wakefield Trinity this weekend. And a first Premier Division point (or three!) wouldn’t go amiss.