Having successfully gained a Tier 1 licence, and earned a promotion with its 1-0 win against Briton Ferry Llansawel in April, Wrexham AFC Women has gone semi-pro. This isn’t just a historic step for Wrexham and its fervent fans, but for women’s and girls’s football in Wales and the wider world. This is the first semi-pro women’s team in North Wales history. Its first season in the Genero Adran Premier starts here.
Ten tremendous players signed their contracts this week. So much has changed in Welsh women’s football, so fast. Not so long ago, many of these players had to start their football journey on boy’s football teams because there was no other path for keen and talented girls. They hope that young girls in Wrexham, and everywhere, will see the strides they’re making and know what might be possible.
Wrexham AFC Women
Formed in 1864, Wrexham Association Football Club is the oldest club in Wales and the third oldest professional team in the world. It won the Welsh Cup a record 23 times, and beat some of the biggest clubs in the game in the English FA Cup and UEFA European Cup Winners Cup. The team’s home is the Racecourse Ground, the oldest extant international stadium on Earth.
And now, more football history is in the making in Wrexham. Here, in alphabetical order, are the first-ever semi-pro women football players in North Wales:
⚽️ Phoebe Davies, right-back defender, has signed a one-year deal. She was the third member of the original Wrexham Ladies team and 2015 FAW Women’s Cup semi-finalists to re-sign for the Club when she joined in the 2022/23 season, playing her part in clinching the Genero Adran North title and promotion. She previously played in both Liverpool and Everton’s youth set-ups, and captained TNS Ladies and Wem. With a young daughter, she’s the sole mother on the team.
⚽️ TJ Dickens, midfielder, scored a superb long-range goal in the team’s March match against Connah’s Quay Nomads in front of a record FAW crowd of 9,511. She has scored eight goals for Wrexham so far, and was named Players’ Player of the Season in her first season there. This was for both her general performance standard and her great work as emergency goalkeeper in a crucial 3-2 win against the Nomads.
⚽️ Mari Gibbard is a Welsh-speaking central midfielder who signed for Wrexham from Llandudno Women. She was one of the starts of the Genero Adran North 2021/22 season, playing for Bethel Ladies. Runner-up in the Genero Adran North Player of the Season awards in 2021/22, Gibbard played twice against Wrexham for Llandudno before making the move to the Red Dragons in February. She featured in five games to help seal promotion and the title.
⚽️ Rosie Hughes, Genero Adran North Player of the Season and Top Goalscorer for two years running, has signed a two-year contract. This prolific striker first played for Wrexham in 2021 and has scored an incredible 90 goals in 39 matches for the Club, with eight hat-tricks last season. She previously played for Llandudno and Denbigh Town. She scored the winning goal in Wrexham’s 2-1 win in March, which would have taken the roof off the Racecourse Ground if it had one.
⚽️ A former Wales Under-17 international and lifelong Wrexham fan, Lili Jones made her Wrexham AFC Women debut days after her 16th birthday in 2021. She captained the Under-19s to the Genero Adran U19s North title in the last two seasons, and played a key role in the first team’s success. A versatile defender and midfielder and fluent Welsh speaker, who has spent time at Everton, she’s the youngest player to sign a (two-year) semi-pro contract.
⚽️ Attacker Amber Lightfoot, who was Wrexham AFC’s Young Player of the Season in 2021/22 and Genero Adran North Young Player of the Season in 2022/23, was one of the first players to progress from Wrexham AFC Women’s new Under-19s to play senior football last season. She’s scored 37 goals in 39 matches since 2021, and helped Wrexham AFC Women Under-19s take the Genero Adran U19s North title.
⚽️ In 2021 defender Erin Lovett returned to Wrexham, where she’d played at junior level, from Crewe Alexandra. The centre-back represented Wales at youth level. She was named Players’ Player of the Season for her performances at the heart of the Wrexham defence during the 2022/23 season. She has now signed a one-year semi-pro contract with Wrexham AFC Women.
⚽️ Goalkeeper Del Morgan is from a family of Wrexham supporters and represented the original Wrexham Ladies, who reached the FAW Women’s Cup Semi-Finals in 2015. She went on to play in the youth set-ups at Liverpool and Everton, appearing in the latter’s match-day squad in the Women’s Super League. Morgan returned to Wrexham in 2021 and kept ten clean sheets in 20 matches last season. She recently became the first Welsh woman to hold the UEFA Goalkeeper A coaching license, and will be working full-time as a goalkeeper coach in Liverpool FC Women’s Pro Game Academy. Her skills were key to Wrexham’s promotion.
⚽️ Rebecca Pritchard was a member of the Wrexham Ladies team which reached the FAW Women’s Cup in 2015, and returned to Wrexham in 2021. She’s a former Everton and Aston Villa youth player, and represented Wales at Under-17 level. This tenacious winger scored the match-winning goal in last season’s play-off final to secure promotion to Genero Adran Premier: the win that allowed the team to realise their ambition of turning semi-professional.
⚽️ Tall centre-back Katie Sharp, who turned 28 this week, is the longest-serving member of the current Wrexham AFC Women squad to have been offered a semi-pro contract. The defender joined the club in its first season after reforming, in 2018, and went on to become a key part of the defensive unit. It was her headed goal against Connah’s Quay Nomads, deep into stoppage time, that helped put Wrexham on the brink of the Genero Adran North title.
Gemma Owen, Head of Women’s Football Operations, said: “This is an historic moment, not just for the football club but for women’s football in North Wales, and shows just what young girls in our region can aspire to. All ten players signed up so far have proved themselves on and off the pitch, not just as fine footballers but as great role models too, and are fitting pioneers.”
An historic moment
Wrexham AFC Women manager Steve Dale, said: “These players have proved their ability on the biggest stages we’ve played on, and we are delighted that they have signed up to become Wrexham AFC Women’s first semi-professional players. The preparation has already begun behind the scenes for our first season back in the top flight, and this is an important step as we look to finalise the squad for the challenges that lie ahead. Each of the players have been a credit to the Football Club, on and off the pitch, and I am delighted to be able to continue working with them as we look forward to this next chapter together.”
Your Bylines Cymru was able to meet some of the players on the day of their contract signing, and those who work so hard to support them, such as Steve Dale and videographer Amy Davies. You can see some of what these tremendously talented and dedicated people had to say here, including how women’s football in Wales has come so far so fast, and what it means to go from being a Wrexham fan to playing on that beloved pitch.
Since 2021, Wrexham AFC has been owned by American actor, comedian, producer, writer, podcaster, and sports executive Rob McElhenney and Canadian-American actor, film producer, purveyor of gin, and businessman Ryan Reynolds. Their goal is to grow the team and establish Wrexham AFC as a Premier League club in front of increased attendances, and in an improved stadium, while making a positive difference to the wider community in Wrexham. This goal is being pursued through four guiding principles:
- to reinforce the values of the community
- to protect the heritage of Wrexham AFC
- to use Rob and Ryan’s resources to grow the exposure of the club at home and abroad
- to create a winning culture
Bylines Cymru also had the opportunity to pass on our idea that Ryan Gosling should buy Cefn Druids AFC, adding a duelling-Canadian-Ryans subplot to North Wales football. As every Wrob needs a Wryan, so too Gosling cannot go it alone. So we respectfully recommend his movie buddy Russell Crowe, whose grandfather was born in … Wrexham. Make it so, Wrob and Wryan! The battle would be both epic and amusing. And Welsh football, for men but particularly for women, needs far more investment and engagement still.
The future of Wrexham AFC: actual magic
As noted, a number of Wrexham AFC Women team members started out playing on boy’s teams, as there were no other options. Team videographer Amy Davies used to play, including for Wrexham, when players had to pay for their own kit and training. All of this is very recent history. The Women’s Football Association was founded in 1969, but brought within the Football Association in 1993. UEFA recommended in 1970 that national teams be established for women as well as men. England’s women’s team was founded in 1972, and its first match in that November was played against Scotland: exactly 100 years after the first men’s team match.
Prior to this, there was a ban on women’s football, lifted in 1970 in Wales and 1971 in England. Yet it took another 20 years for an official women’s team for Wales, put together in 1973, to be recognised by the FAW. Pioneering Karen Jones MBE, once goalkeeper for Wales, played for a decade before first receiving coaching at the age of 25. The kits worn to play the first women’s match against Ireland were a loaner from Swansea’s men‘s team. Players for Wales’s men’s and women’s football teams only saw their pay equalised earlier this year.
Some have said that “Hollywood magic” has changed the fortunes of Wrexham football and the town itself. There’s no question that North American investment and support have made a tremendous difference to all the different activities at Wrexham AFC, and will continue to do so. And as Wrob and Wryan’s stated goals and documentary demonstrate, they’re genuinely in it for the community. Which is both perfect and necessary, strange though it can be for a local seeing Ifor Williams Trailers pop up in a Netflix ad.
There isn’t actual fairy dust involved in football, even at Wrexham. There are time, money, talent, vision, and sheer hard graft day after day after day, year after year. The little girls watching the new, brilliant Wrexham AFC Women’s team, holding up fan signs, should know this. These players work, study, parent, travel, and nurse injuries, on top of countless hours of practice. That there is women’s football at all is thanks to pioneers who gained nothing but their love of the sport and their teams. There may have been a recent explosion of interest in and support for girls’s and women’s football, but it’s still not a level playing field.
However, they should know something else, too. Like Erin Lovett, they may watch and cheer from the stands with their families then someday find themselves running and scoring and saving on that pitch they’ve always loved. Like Rebecca Pritchard, they may have a photo somewhere of their dad standing on the pitch, holding them, when they were a baby. The dad who’ll watch them excel on that same pitch not so many years later. And, in doing so, inspire other little girls to give their all for The Beautiful Game. And for the people of Wrexham. Forget movie magic: that’s true magic.
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