THERE are many ancestral spirits behind the London Bees, but the club’s earliest roots date back to a group of ladies working on Transport for London’s District Line.
In the 1970s the women, looking for a team to play football, banded together and entered the Hounslow & District League – forming the platform for a remarkable rise.
Named in honour of their workplace, District Line Ladies FC appeared in leagues across Greater London before tasting promotion to the Women’s FA National League Southern Division in the early 1990s.
Soon afterwards the squad merged with Wembley FC – becoming Wembley Ladies FC and reaching their zenith - an FA Cup final defeat to Millwall Lionesses in 1997.
Meanwhile Barnet Ladies FC, established by Barnet director Graham Slyper in the mid-80s, had become officially affiliated with the men’s club.
It prompted another merger in 1998 after Wembley’s FA Cup finalists began to leave the club, including teenager and eventual England legend Kelly Smith.
Barnet FC Ladies have been a virtual mainstay in English football’s top tier since before London Bees, a brand new franchise, were welcomed into the Women’s Super League fold for 2014.
Former secretary Gill Jones was one of the pioneers as a district line employee and she admits it has been an extraordinary path to success.
“It’s gone through several different incarnations,” said Jones.
“In 1998, we joined forces by Graham’s good services with Barnet FC. Up until this year we played Women’s Premier League all the way through except for two years, up until this year.
“Previously we had joined forces with Wembley Football club and we stayed in the national division for quite a few seasons, winning the League Cup final as Wembley in 1996 and we won that final at Underhill playing Doncaster Belles.
“We had Kelly Smith, and England internationals such as Justine Lorton and Carol Harwood but around that time players were starting to leave.
“Kelly joined us at 14 and stayed until she left to play for Arsenal six months before she went to America at 18.”
Though London Bees are independent of Barnet FC Ladies, many of the core players and coaches crossed over to the new club.
And when Gill looks back upon her incredible journey, she can hardly believe how women’s football has changed for the better since starting up some four decades ago.
“It was massively different when we first started,” she added. “It’s now a lot more professional, and the massive change really is that girls can play football.
“When we started playing there were no girls playing, so if you were 12 you could play in an adult woman’s football side and that was it.
“It was still an unusual thing, if you said you played football people looked at you a bit strangely!
“It’s really good. It’s good to think that over the years we’ve moved on so much and that women’s football is so much more widely respected.”
Having now completed two season’s in the Women’s Super League 2, the London Bees are continuing to improve and are looking forward to a bright future at The Hive.
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