In 1999, Wigan Latics Ladies F.C. was formed by Florence Mather, so that her daughter Michelle could play competitive ladies football.
Michelle had always loved football and played for a mixed team from the age of 7 as a member of Wigan Junior Latics. When she reached the age of 11 league regulations prevented her from mixing with the boys and she found herself without a club and unable to play the game she loved so much. The only option open to her at this time was to attend a Saturday morning Soccer Club at Rose Bridge High School, which had been started by the Council after the Youth Games. It was here that Flo met Karen Platt and together they agreed that girls should have the same opportunities as boys to play football, at all levels.
Karen wrote to Lancashire Football Association to see if a girl’s league could be formed in the area and after months of hard work the team ‘Wigan Girls’ was formed and Flo began her first secretarial role.
Michelle played there with a number of other girls until the age of 15 when she along with the majority of the team became too old to play under 16’s football. At this point Flo approached Wigan Ladies, to propose the possibility of them starting a reserve team which the girls could play for, but unfortunately it wasn’t feasible at the time although they would be happy to sign a few players to their first team squad. The prospect of the existing team of 16 girls splitting up and the club folding left them devastated after working so hard for 3 years, so they asked Michelle’s mum to help keep them together.
Acting now not just for her daughter but on behalf of all the players, and more importantly for the team that she had created, Florence phoned the North West Women’s Regional Football League with trepidation to discuss the possibility of registering a brand new team.
Flo was told by the league that the following day was the deadline for new teams, so rather than doing what most people would have and wait until the following season, she threw herself into motion and an idea was turned into a plan, and that plan put into action. The very same day, an application to the North West Women’s League was submitted and accepted and subsequently Wigan Latics Ladies was formed in May 1999.
Flo took on the responsibility of running the club as manager, coach, secretary, fundraiser and several jobs besides. As the girls had no kits, nets, balls etc, Flo and her husband Brian decided to dig deep into their own pockets to purchase the necessary equipment. They realised however that without monetary support from elsewhere they would not survive, so they wrote letters to many local companies and found a sponsor in Greggs Bakery who provided the money to buy home and away kits and continued their support for the next five years. This was an incredible gesture of commitment and generosity and without it the club would not have survived those formative years.
At this time ladies football was booming all around the country and starting to gain recognition and financial backing from local authorities, and as a result avenues began to open for well organised clubs like Wigan Latics Ladies.
One of the first to become available was the Community Chest Fund which enabled the club to get more equipment and crucially employ a fully qualified football coach to come and train the girls. The coach Gary Pilling was so infected with Florence Mather’s enthusiasm, and so impressed by her dedication that he is still with the club some 6 years later; he now assists Florence as first team coach and manager and is proud to be chairperson of the club.
In 2001 history threatened to repeat itself when Flo and the club were forced to face a similar dilemma to that which had brought about the founding og the club 2 years previously. Due to the successful running and reputation of the club younger players were applying to join so it was decided to try and set up an under 16’s team. Unfortunately the venture wasn’t successful at this time but Flo was determined that she would expand the club in the future.
A year later Wigan Latics Ladies adopted a local Under 12’s team who were looking for a club to play for, and upon realising that this age group would need a younger team to feed them in the future, and an Under 14’s for the older players to move up to at end of the season, a further 2 teams were also formed. A mass advertising campaign was started to bring new players of all ages into the club and all 3 teams were entered into the league that year. The previously absent Under 16’s team was started the season, along with a second under 12’s team to cope with the number of registered players in that age group.
With so many teams now operating Flo realised that something else was needed to ensure that the club continued to move forward, so she set about finding volunteers to go on FA Coaching Courses to gain recognised NGB qualifications. The response from parents and helpers was more than could ever have been expected and every team consequently enjoyed the advantages of having fully qualified coaches and managers in charge.
Following the appointment of FA qualified coaches throughout the club, Wigan Latics Ladies became one of the first all-girls clubs in the country to apply for, and be awarded, FA Charter Standard. Not content with this reward, Flo set her sights even higher and decided to attempt the next rung of the ladder and move the club up to become a Charter Standard Development Club. This meant a mountain of paper work, including attaining CRB disclosures for all helpers, but this was completed with earnest and the award was duly accomplished.
Incredibly Florence oversaw the administration for all the teams; her role as club secretary, which carries the responsibilities such as providing all teams with fixtures, referees and contacting opposing teams, was combined with the continuation of her position as manager for the team that started it all.
The 2003/2004 was the most significant in the club’s history to date. Wigan Latics Ladies had talks With Wigan Junior Latics and Abraham Guest High School to go into partnership to develop the playing fields at Abraham Guest into a community sports centre with astro turf, floodlights and a pavilion. This would have meant that the club could have moved on to prestigious Charter Standard Community Club. Unfortunately this fell through when 2 of the younger teams broke away from the club to join forces with Wigan Juniors on their own, which forced the committee to take the decision to sever their ties with Abraham Guest and Junior Latics, and set up their new base at Kingsdown High School.
Despite this early season setback, Wigan Latics Ladies received the good news that they had been waiting and working for; confirmation that they would be linked to the town’s ever more successful men’s club and play under the name of Wigan Athletic Ladies. This was something that Florence had worked very hard to achieve and the feeling in the club was one of great pride.
The club now wear their kits and are the official ladies section of Wigan Athletic football club
The future is looking good for Wigan Athletic Ladies.
They have formed a partnership with St Cuthbert’s Rugby Club who are currently having pitches drained and a club house built in the grounds of Kingsdown High School, and the Charter Standard Community Club award is within our sights once again. We are confident that a prosperous working partnership can be put into action and both clubs can benefit, along with the community as a whole.
Many people would want to be applauded and given recognition for achieving so much in such a relatively short period of time, but not Florence. She has always, and continues to be, forever humble and thankful to the people who have helped her along the way. She recognises that the club could never have achieved so much without the hard work and dedication of the club’s managers and coaches, past and present, and all the parent helpers who have given up their time to raise money and play their part in the development of Wigan Athletic Ladies.
Ultimately Florence wants Wigan Athletic Ladies football club to be the biggest and the best all women’s club in the country. Football is now the fastest growing girls sport in the UK and the possibility of a Women’s professional league in the future will accelerate this even further. Will Wigan Athletic Ladies Football Club ever be a Professional Club and take part at this elite level?
Well it just might, with Florence Mather at the helm. Everyone at the club is in total agreement nothing so far would have been possible without her.
And one little girl who asked her mum if she would help her find somewhere to play football.