Meet the Pink Panthers - Chorley’s female rugby team

Chorley Pink Panthers

Chorley Pink Panthers - Credit: Archant

Rolling around in the mud might not be every woman’s dream, but it’s all part of the fun for the Chorley Pink Panthers. Roger Borrell reports

Nancy Gardiner, Emma-Jade Rae, Kathryn Williams, Nicola Lonsdale, Kathryn Moss, Sarah Critchley and

Nancy Gardiner, Emma-Jade Rae, Kathryn Williams, Nicola Lonsdale, Kathryn Moss, Sarah Critchley and Hannah Oxley - Credit: Archant

In a bygone age, the sporting snobs would trot out the old line about rugby union being a ruffian’s game played by gentlemen, while rugby league was a gentleman’s game played by ruffians.

Goodness know what they would have said about young ladies playing any kind of rugby, let alone rugby league. But I suspect the Chorley Pink Panthers don’t care much what others think – they’re too busy having fun.

(Back row) Peter Cunliffe (Coach) Nancy Gardiner, Sarah Lovejoy, Kathryn Moss, Emma-Jade Rae and Phi

(Back row) Peter Cunliffe (Coach) Nancy Gardiner, Sarah Lovejoy, Kathryn Moss, Emma-Jade Rae and Philip Robinson (Assistant Coach), (Front row) Hannah Oxley, Nicola Lonsdale, Kathryn Williams and Sarah Critchley - Credit: Archant

It took an age for women’s soccer to get a foothold and now those who prefer to tussle over the oval-shaped ball are hoping to follow their lead. Lancashire was, of course, one of the founding counties of the 13-man game. But the 13-woman game is gaining in popularity – it has its own governing body and a world cup competition dominated, unsurprisingly, by the Australians and New Zealanders.

The sport has a strong following among Lancashire lasses and several members of the national team are from the red rose county.

The young women who pull on the pink jerseys of Chorley are among the pioneers and they are hoping to attract more potential players for their women’s and girls’ teams that play matches at Panther Park in Coppull.

One recent recruit is Emma Jade Rae, who is 23 and comes from Whittle-le-Woods. ‘I’ve been playing for just over seven months,’ said the care assistant and student nurse. ‘I used to spend a lot of time in the gym and did a bit of boxing but I saw a tweet appealing for new players so I gave it a go.

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‘I must admit I didn’t think I was going to like it, but the moment I stepped on the pitch I realised it was for me. It’s just the best thing.

‘I like the drills, I like the fact it’s high impact and you can get your aggression out on the field without anyone getting hurt. I particularly like the fact it’s fast paced.’

The Pink Panthers have been going through a lean patch recently due to a few injuries leaving the squad a little threadbare. ‘We would like more women to give it a go,’ said Emma Jade. ‘It doesn’t matter if you are a complete beginner. Not many people know we exist but I’m sure a lot of women would really enjoy it if they tried it. And it’s a great way of getting fit.

‘I don’t think a lot of men understand what it’s all about. They think it’s a game just for the boys but I don’t see why they should have all the fun.’ The women’s team, which plays in a northern league, has players from 16 to their late 30s. ‘We have all shapes and sizes,’ said Emma Jade.

There are some young women who might run for cover if asked to roll around a rugby field but not the Panthers. ‘We don’t mind getting muddy. The more rain, the better – it makes it easier to tackle. The first time I trained I got very, very muddy but it just made me laugh.’ Some men with less than clear views on equality might claim that women are not so proficient when it comes to catching and throwing a ball. Emma Jade will have none of that.

‘I’m a winger and I love to run with the ball. I played netball so I’ve been used to catching and throwing – I took to it like a duck to water.’

She admits that the team has suffered the very rare cracked nose and damaged shoulder. ‘We are padded up and have mouth-guards. But there are never fights and if someone gets hurt it’s by accident. We always apologise afterwards.’

One man who does understand the Panthers’ passion for the sport is Emma Jade’s partner, Phil Robinson, a Wigan lad who was a prominent amateur player in Lancashire.

‘I’m the assistant coach and I suppose people do find it unusual for women to be playing the sport,’ he said. ‘It may raise a few eyebrows but I promise you they try every bit as hard as the men.’

Is it every mother’s worst nightmare to have their daughter thundering around a rugby field? ‘My mum had never really been interested in sport but she’s become really supportive since I started playing rugby,’ said Emma Jade.

‘She even went across to Yorkshire to watch us recently. She was worried when I first took it up but now she sees how hard we try to avoid getting hurt, she thinks it’s brilliant. In fact, she said she wishes she was a bit younger so she could join in!’

If you want to join in, the Chorley Pink Panthers regularly train on Wednesday nights at 7.30pm on the Chisnall Playing Fields, Chisnall Lane, Coppull. You can contact Emma Jade at or follow them on twitter @ChorleywomensRL