Gillingham Ladies’ Laurel Collins represented the club last week attending the FA Football Futures Awards with the Kent FA Youth Council with whom she is a part of besides her studies at the club’s Girls Academy.
The Kent FA Youth Council received national recognition for their work promoting the Respect campaign within Kent and Laurel was presented with the opportunity to visit St Georges Park to collect the award.
The occasion marked a good week for the Gills youngster who made her first senior appearance for the club against Crystal Palace. We caught up with Laurel to learn more about her trip and life at Gills Ladies as part of both the club’s Centre of Excellence and Academy.
Laurel started by telling us about how she joined the Gills back when she was just 11: “I started at the Centre of Excellence in the under 12’s for half a season and then moved to the under14’s for the next season. I then didn’t get through the next trials so played grass roots for the next two seasons then thanks to Jason Wright I came back to the Centre to play for the Under 17’s and this is my second season with them.”
Reflecting on the opportunities presented to her through her time at Gills Ladies and work with the Kent FA, Laurel beamed: “It’s been a fantastic week, I got to start with the Ladies Reserves and thoroughly enjoyed it and would love to play with them again and would definitely like to play for them once I finish at the Centre.”
“Then I had a brilliant two days with the members of the FA Youth Council, who won an FA Football Futures Respect Award, at St Georges Park. It was such a privilege to be apart of this and it was amazing to be at St Georges with such a great group of people. I would love to be able to go to St Georges again in the future.”
Laurel added; “It is great to be apart of the Gills and the Kent FA I am getting such great opportunities from both and its due to my coach Jason Wright encouraging me to apply for the Kent FA Youth Council that I am in this position. Also I feel it’s a privilege to be able to represent Gillingham within the Kent FA as we are the only centre of excellence in Kent and they have given me the opportunity to do both and gain so much more out of football.”
Laurel is not only part of the Gills exemplary Centre of Excellence but also studies at the club too as part of the inaugural school of students making up the Girls Academy. She explained, “This year the first Gillingham Girls Football Academy was set up and I am fortunate enough to have a place there. Being at college at Priestfield is great and is such an opportunity to study whilst being coached and being with people who have such knowledge and experience in the football world. It has been a great experience to be about to see what happens around the club on a day to day basis and being involved around the club.”
And as the club further strengthens its links between the girls’ and women’s set up, Laurel believes the club have got what it takes to lead the way for the women’s game as a whole; “Women’s football is really taking off and with the opportunities they are being given by Gillingham Football Club can only to a good thing. And I think that’s really positive that the men are supporting the ladies. Also the pathway for the girls into ladies football that wasn’t there before really helps the women’s game as there is now a link and we have some where to go and the jump in to ladies football isn’t as hard and daunting.”
Looking ahead herself, it’s clear Laurel’s passionate about giving back to the club she feels so at home with: “In the future I would ideally like to move into the Ladies Reserves, continue the sports course at the Academy hopefully achieving top results in the BETC, if possible to play for the Ladies First Team and eventually become a coach or physiotherapist within Gillingham.”