The club have pulled off a tremendous coup by securing the services of one of the most respected and iconic figures in the women’s game to set up and develop the new venture.
Former England Women’s captain Catherine Spencer, who led her country to three Six Nations titles, two Nations Cup victories and made two World Cup final appearances in 2006 and 2010, one as captain, has been appointed Old Elthamians Director of Women’s Rugby and takes her first training session on Wednesday (December 14th) at College Meadow.
The 36-year-old Spencer, who retired from playing in the Premiership with Aylesford Ladies last season, has already put in place a respected coaching team - her twin brother Gregory and Max Melville-Brown who were instrumental in guiding Aylesford into the Premiership, to assist her.
Spencer, who lives in Maidstone, admits the role has given her a new lease of life. “I am really excited and it’s re-energised me to be honest,” she says. “I’ve stopped playing at the highest level now and I was ready to take a break from the sport. But I’m actually really loyal to Kent rugby because I grew up playing rugby in the county for Folkestone.
"If it wasn’t for Kent rugby I wouldn’t have played for England. So the chance to start again and build a women’s club from scratch at grassroots level and hopefully provide opportunities for more women and girls to play rugby in the county is so exciting.”
The 63-times capped No.8 can’t wait to get started in her new role which will help strengthen the partnership with Eltham College, which has introduced girls rugby this season, in providing an outlet for girls who want to play senior club rugby when they turn 18.
“Basically the remit is to implement women and girls rugby at Old Elthamians,” she said. “I’m going to start with a senior women’s side, build a brand so that people know there is women’s rugby at the club, then work down through Under 18s, U15s and U13s.
“I want to start those age groups so we have that pathway all the way through after we get the senior women’s side up and running. Now they are playing the game at the College, I see them forming the base of our Under-18 side. Then if there are girls coming up through the minis then we will start the U13s, then progress upwards so we can create a culture of girls rugby at the club.”
Spencer is wary of trying to implement too much too soon and admits the priority is getting the senior team up and running and playing friendlies so they can enter the league pyramid next season.
“There’s no timescale but as far as the senior women’s team goes, we have to play seven friendlies after Christmas in order to enter the league next season,” she explains. “We will be entered into the league system somewhere - it might be right at the bottom, it might be a level up, and then it’s a case of working our way up the leagues.
“So to begin with, the short term aim is to recruit enough women into the team, play enough fixtures this season to get into a league. And then I think we will start to look at targeted timescales.
“I’ve told the club that we are starting at the bottom and if we want to get up to the Championship or Premiership it’s probably going to take five years at least. But I feel very assured that this is a long term venture and it’s going to build a really good name for women’s rugby here.”
Men’s Director of Rugby Gavin Lach said: “I am delighted to welcome Catherine to Old Elthamians RFC. To have somebody as world renowned and respected in the women’s game as Catherine on board is a massive coup for this club.
“The setting up of a women’s section will add another string to the club’s bow and is a hugely positive step forward in our long term ambition of creating a club for everyone in the local community.
“We are really looking forward to seeing this develop into a major force over the next few seasons.”
Updated 12:04 - 27 Jan 2017 by Jon Edwards