Durham and star Hep­ple study­ing the way for­ward

The Football League Paper - - WOMEN'S FOOTBALL WEEKLY - By Luke Baker

UNIVER­SITY de­grees may be few and far be­tween amongst male foot­ballers but they are pos­i­tively abun­dant in the women’s game.

And the unique link-up that WSL 2 side Durham have with a lo­cal univer­sity is do­ing even more to safe­guard their play­ers’ fu­ture, ac­cord­ing to midfielder Beth Hep­ple.

Nu­mer­ous Eng­land in­ter­na­tion­als are univer­sity ed­u­cated – Eniola Aluko has a Law de­gree from Brunel, Karen Car­ney and Siob­han Cham­ber­lain stud­ied Sports Science at Lough­bor­ough, Corinne Yorston is a Bio­chem­istry grad­u­ate while Claire Raf­ferty read Eco­nom­ics.

But Durham have taken the mesh­ing of ed­u­ca­tion and football one step fur­ther by of­fer­ing a mas­ters de­gree schol­ar­ship en­abling play­ers to play Women’s Su­per League football for the club while com­plet­ing a ful­ly­paid for, part-time mas­ters de­gree at Durham Univer­sity.

The likes of Amelia Pereira, Caro­line Dixon and cur­rent cap­tain Sarah Wil­son have all been part of the scheme while the club are also ac­com­mo­dat­ing to play­ers want­ing to study at other univer­si­ties in the area.

And 18-year-old Hep­ple, who will study Busi­ness Man­age­ment from Septem­ber, be­lieves the fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion is one of the best things about the club.

“Quite a few of our play­ers are stu­dents or do a mas­ters and there’s a mas­ters schol­ar­ship, so a cou­ple of the girls play for the Univer­sity such as Amelia Pereira,” ex­plained Hep­ple.

“We’re mostly quite a young squad, so we can still im­prove a lot on the pitch but there’s a lot of po­ten­tial for the club as a whole – the link with Durham Univer­sity is great.

“It can at­tract a lot of play­ers and the ed­u­ca­tion side of things is very good. With money still be­ing a bit of an is­sue within the women’s game, ed­u­ca­tion is even more im­por­tant.

“That’s es­pe­cially true for peo­ple like me – I still want to go to Uni and get my de­gree, and the club is re­ally good for that.”

The youth­ful na­ture of Durham’s squad has not held them back this year as they lie in a cred­itable sixth place in WSL 2 and recorded a hard­fought 1-0 away win to As­ton Villa last week­end.

Nicki Gears net­ted her first goal for the club in the win but is still three be­hind mid­field dy­namo Hep­ple in the charts.

Hep­ple has re­dis­cov­ered her form fol­low­ing a sticky run just be­fore the mid-sea­son break and is now des­per­ate for her pur­ple patch to con­tinue and help her side im­prove on last year’s sixth-place fin­ish in the league.

“Af­ter the mid-sea­son break my per­for­mances have im­proved a lot,” added Hep­ple, who has rep­re­sented Eng­land at U19 level.

“In­di­vid­u­ally I went through a bit of a rough patch around May-time but I’ve scored a cou­ple of goals re­cently, so I’m back where I want to be.

“We want to fin­ish as high in the league as we pos­si­bly can. We’ve got to be re­al­is­tic be­cause we’ve got some tough games com­ing up but I def­i­nitely think we can fin­ish higher than we did last sea­son – that has to be the aim.”

PROMIS­ING FU­TURE: Beth Hep­ple and her Durham team­mates are aim­ing high

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