Breadalbane Finance Community Rugby Story Of The Month … Hillfoots Vixens

“We had six women come down for our first training session and it has grown arms and legs really quickly."

Hillfoots Vixens started the season with six players and wearing the men's team's away strip, but have now purchased their own kit and are hoping to join Scottish Rugby's official league structure next season. Images: John Wilson and David Chapman
Hillfoots Vixens started the season with six players and wearing the men's team's away strip, but have now purchased their own kit and are hoping to join Scottish Rugby's official league structure next season. Images: John Wilson and David Chapman

FROM a standing start just over nine months ago, Hillfoots Vixens, based in Tillicoultry, have built a squad of almost 40 women players and are hoping they have demonstrated through playing regular friendlies over the course of the 2023-24 season that they are ready to be admitted into Scottish Rugby’s official league structure.

As ‘Head Vixen’, Christina Swinton is a passionate and compelling champion for the team, but she stresses that she has been pushing at open door in terms of buy-in from the parent club.

Jordan Usher, the club’s head coach, and I formed the team back in September,” explains Swinton. “Hillfoots has traditionally been a men’s and children’s club, with a male club captain, but we just had our club AGM a few weeks ago and they’ve created a female captain as well, so I’ve been given that title which is a real honour.


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“Since we started this year, I’ve been involved with the club committee and we’ve all said from the beginning that we are not two separate entities, we’re all in together. So, it is really nice that the club has noticed that there was that gap in the way it was structured, and acted to fill it so that there is that equality across the club.

“I think it is particularly important for the younger players to see that – to see how we are making changes – because it sends a strong message that they are really part of the club.

“We had six women come down for our first training session and it has grown arms and legs really quickly,” she adds. “We didn’t really have any expectations back then, we just wanted to roll with it and see what happens. Now we’ve got 35 to 40 women registered and we’re waiting for confirmation but we’re hoping that we’ll play in Caledonia Midlands/East Region League Two next season. So, everything has surpassed what we had ever expected to achieve in such a short period of time.”

Swinton is the first to admit that there was no masterplan or end goal for the Vixens, highlighting instead that whatever success there has been so far has come from creating a positive environment in the here and now so as to provide opportunities for players of all ability and experience to develop their game.

“The majority of the girls who have joined hadn’t played any rugby before, or if they had it was minimal, so we just gauged interest to begin with,” she explains.

“Then we managed to get invited to an ‘Aspiring League’ day in Creiff back in November*, so we went along there, really just hoping to get an idea of what level other teams were at, and we showed up with the most number of players. I think it was 16 we had available that day while the rest of the teams were between six and 12, so it was a really good thing for us to see and really motivated us.

* The Aspiring Leagues provide developing teams a platform to play rugby in a non-competitive environment, to help ready them for formal competitions in future seasons.

 

 

“From then on we were in touch with the SRU asking what we need to do to get ourselves into a proper league, and what the time-line was for doing that,” Swinton continues. “We were told that the normal route was to go through the Aspiring Leagues for a whole season which would prove that we had the numbers and could play games to the rules, but I’d been part of that league at a previous club and it is really hard for players because there is not as much opportunity for game time as the matches are really short.

“So, I just thought we could try something different, and I reached out to a lot of other clubs and said: ‘If you want to play a friendly against us then we are more than happy to have a home and away fixture if possible’. We just wanted to get that experience a little bit quicker and that’s what we’ve done.

“We’ve got one game left on the 9th June and that will take us up to 11 games for the season, so it has given everyone a really good opportunity to just get stuck in and try it.”

Swinton’s enthusiasm and commitment to the cause is impressive – but she is quick to pay tribute to the role Usher has had in getting the Vixens up and running.

“Jordan was looking to take on more of a coaching role rather than playing, so he joined my previous club last summer as an assistant coach and we hit it off really well,” she says. “I really liked how he coached. I haven’t played rugby for long, only three years, and I’d never had much confidence in myself as a player, but he is really good at seeing people’s potential and always willing to spend a little extra time going over details and helping you out, so I really appreciated that.

“He’s been a part of Hillfoots since he was a kid and we recognised that there wasn’t really any opportunities rugby-wise for women in the area so we just thought we’d ask the question and see where it goes.

“It was Jordan who actually took the idea to the Hillfoots committee back at the beginning of September and they were very receptive from the start. They told us that we had their full backing and to let them know what they could do to support us.”

 

Jordan Usher and Christina Swinton have been the driving forces behind Hillfoots Vixens.
Jordan Usher and Christina Swinton have been the driving forces behind Hillfoots Vixens.

 

As ever, the future health of the Vixens will depend on building strong roots, and a similar ‘if you build it they will come’ mentality which has driven the women’s team has been adopted for the small but growing girls section.

“The club already offered rugby at minis level but once the girls hit S1 there was an opportunity for them to play touch rugby but they couldn’t play with the boys anymore,” explains Swinton. “We’ve now made that pathway for them. We’ve got about 14 girls now that come along every week to training, so hopefully they feel there is a pathway developing there which they can play a part in fully establishing.

“It is a challenge. With teenage girls there’s a lot going on and it can be difficult to get them coming back consistently but we’re working on it, and it is going well so far. Creating an environment they feel part of and enjoy being in is more important at the moment then pushing to get games, but hopefully after the summer we can start taking the girls to some game days as well so that they can get that experience.

“The girls team coach [Connor Wilson] told us the other day that whenever we have a game coming up and we are running as a team in training, they’ll run defence for us. The girls have told him that they love doing that, getting involved and helping us as a team, so it is good to hear that they are enjoying it.”

“The club is running a Tartan Touch programme over the summer so we’ve had a real push to get the girls and women sections all coming along to that, which is all part of trying to make sure that they feel part of the club as a whole rather than just a separate entity. We just want everyone to feel part of the community and it seems to be going in the right direction.”

 

The Vixens recently attended Hillfoots RFC's annual dinner dance and awards celebration for the first time.
The Vixens recently attended Hillfoots RFC’s annual dinner dance and awards celebration for the first time.

 

There have been several landmark moments for the team over the course of their short history, from their first training session, to their first home match against East Kilbride at the end of January, to buying their own set of strips at the end of February, to their first ever win against Gala Vixens at the end of March, with momentum building all the time.

“A lot of it has been word of mouth,” says Swinton. “A lot of our team are partners or parents of existing players, while some arrived via social media or posters we put up around the Hillfoots area in local shops and so on.

“We’ve been really conscious that whenever we’ve hit any big milestones, like our first home game, the local paper has a little write-up for us.

“When we first started we were using the men’s away kit, but after getting some great local sponsors on board – such as Appicab, Your Equipment Solutions, Golden Tree Estates, Allanwater Homes, Hamall Process Instruments, Chris Quigly Tattoo and Allan’s Glass and Glazing – we were able to get our own kit, and we made sure there was a piece in the paper for that. So, we’ve been quite proactive about trying to promote ourselves.

“From my own perspective, a big part of taking up rugby was the fitness element. Coming out of Covid I felt like I needed to get out of the house a bit more, and as an adult it can be really hard to make good friends who you have a lot in common with, so rugby in general has such a great sense of community.

“By starting the team, we have shown so many other women that, and it has been really nice to see little friendships forming within the team. You often see three or four players go for a kick around in the park on a night when we don’t have training. I learned that sense of community for myself  when I started playing, and with the team I feel like we have been able to pay that forward.”

 

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About David Barnes 3995 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

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