By Rob Cole
Loren Dykes will prove on Thursday night that however fast-growing, exciting and fresh-faced women’s football has become there is still a place for the more experienced campaigners in Jayne Ludlow’s set-up.
The Bristol City defender may not be one of the headline acts in the Welsh team, but she is certainly part of the bedrock – and has been ever since she won the first of what will become a century of caps against the Netherlands way back in August, 2007.
The friendly international against the Czech Republic at Newport’s Rodney Parade will be a special occasion for Dykes as she follows Jess Fishlock, MBE, into three figures. Coming up on the rails is the Welsh skipper Sophie Ingle, who is now in the nineties.
But as much as it will be a night to remember for the 31-year-old and her family, it will also be a time for those who played a part in her development to take a bow.
Her football journey started at Alltwen Primary School, blossomed at Pontardawe Town FC and was helped at Cwmtawe Community School.
She played for Llanelli Reds, Uwic and Cardiff City before moving to what was then the Bristol Academy in 2008. She has never forgotten her roots, or those who helped to make her an international player, and even last week was back at Pontardawe Town training with the juniors.
Playing hard and fair on the football field is one thing, but acting as a role model off it is equally important to her. Evidence of that can be found on her Twitter feed. Love it or loathe it, social media does provide some very special insights at times, none more so that the recent exchange between Dykes and her Wales team-mate Ffion Morgan.
If the two of them play against the Czechs this week it will make the occasion even better for the centurion. Why? Simply read on:
🙌🏼 @loren_dykes inspired me to chase my dreams to play for @cymru when I was 8. I’m now a senior international and work as an ambassador for @FAWTrust to inspire more young girls to play ⚽️ On this #IWD19 tell us who inspired you by using #WhoInspiresYou https://t.co/Z1x2SMHybC pic.twitter.com/exEA54HsHl
— Ffion Morgan (@ffion_morgan1) March 8, 2019
The reply gave an insight into the responsibility Dykes obviously feels as a senior pro in the Welsh game:
— Loren Dykes (@loren_dykes) March 8, 2019
Every sport needs role models and women’s sport in Wales is now brimful of high-profile, successful athletes who continually shine on the global stage.
When that success creeps down to junior levels and gets a young girl like Ffion to believe she can follow the pathway to the top that you know you are making the right kind of impact.
It is interesting to see Dykes is quite rightly paraded among the sporting alumni of her former High School.
Everyone knows that Cwmtawe, or the old Pontardawe Technical School for Boys, is famous for producing great rugby players. Sir Gareth Edwards, Elgan Rees, Rob Jones and Bleddyn Bowen are all stars of the past.
The modern day hero is Justin Tipuric, who was two years below Dykes at Cwmtawe. The only other woman on the sporting ‘Roll of Honour’ is the Commonwealth Games judo medallists, Joanne Melen. A whole generation of rugby players were inspired by the exploits of Edwards, now Dykes is following suit in her sport.
“I am going to try my best to take it all in and my family and friends will enjoy it. I know the players will laugh at me as they know I’m not very comfortable being in the spotlight,” admitted Dykes.
“In football it is hard to take in these moments because there is always something else to focus on – the next result, the next performance. Hopefully, I’m going to look back on the achievement and pinch myself.
“I never imagined I would reach 100 caps. I would never have believed that.”
Having started life as a winger – she won 17 caps and scored four goals for Wales at U-19 level before making her senior debut at 19 – she has been converted into a highly accomplished defender who is good enough these days to be a regular starter in the FA Women’s Super League with Bristol City. Like a fine French wine, she simply gets better with age.
Having enjoyed two Champions League campaigns with Cardiff City, she featured in Bristol City’s 2011 and 2013 Women’s FA Cup final defeats by Arsenal. She was on the wing in the first one and at right back in the latter.
There may have been a time when the future wouldn’t have looked so bright for her as she was growing up in the game. Women’s football, women’s sport in fact, was struggling to make the breakthrough it deserved.
Wales women’s team manager Jayne Ludlow, Helen Ward, Fishlock, Dykes and Ingle have all played key roles in pushing the game forward and Thursday night should not just be a celebration of one player reaching 100 caps, but of a whole generation of women’s footballers from Wales who have refused to be held back and are now pushing the frontiers of what is possible for everyone in their game.
Fishlock and Ingle will lock horns in the Uefa Women’s Champions Cup semi-finals shortly when they play for their respective clubs, Lyon and Chelsea. There are nine players in Ludlow’s current squad who are playing in the Super League and there are more are in the pipeline.
So, take a bow Loren Dykes, you are a true inspiration and a credit to your family, friends, teammates, former schools and clubs . . . and the Welsh nation!
Wales Squad: Laura O’Sullivan (Cardiff City Ladies FC), Olivia Clark (Nettleham Ladies FC), Sophie Ingle (Chelsea FC Women), Hayley Ladd (Birmingham City Women FC), Loren Dykes (Bristol City Women FC), Gemma Evans (Bristol City Women FC), Cori Williams (Cardiff City Ladies FC), Ffion Morgan (Cardiff City Ladies FC), Anna Filbey (Tottenham Hotspur Ladies FC), Chloe Lloyd(Cardiff City Ladies FC), Angharad James (Everton Ladies FC), Jess Fishlock (Olympique Lyonnais FC), Kylie Nolan (Cardiff City Ladies FC), Elise Hughes (Everton Ladies FC), Grace Horrell (Cardiff City Ladies FC), Megan Wynne (Tottenham Hotspur Ladies FC), Helen Ward (Watford FC Ladies), Kayleigh Green (Brighton & Hove Albion Women FC), Natasha Harding (Reading FC Women), Charlie Estcourt (Reading FC Women)