Zoe John close to a country first in American Football

Zoe John  - Great Britain Lions

Zoe John hails from Herbrandston but now lives in Cardiff, where she has achieved her doctorate with a very personal study of life as a woman training mixed martial arts – and is the first women from our county or country to be selected for the Great Britain team in American Football after being a founder member of the ‘Cardiff Valkyries’, which is the only team currently playing in Wales.
Her goal has been to play in the World Championships which are about to be held in Finland and after attending several training camps in Nottingham found herself in the final 60 and eagerly waiting to hear if her play there had earned her selection in the final 40 who will make that fantastic trip.
And that eagerly-awaited notification eventually came and as you read this Zoe is in Finland getting prepared for the prestige event – and on her return will be talking to us at PembrokeshireSport.co.uk again, and telling us all about her experiences there!

A ‘Valkyrie’ in Cardiff

In her chosen sport Zoe is playing for ‘The Valkyries’ team which has had to play many of their matches away but can now regularly look forward to hosting other clubs because they have found a suitable playing surface at a school on the outskirts of Cardiff.
After a number of years in mixed martial arts, where she was often the only woman training at the club, a friend phoned her to say that she was intent on establishing an American Football team and Zoe needed no second bidding to give this new sport a try.

A close study taken of Mixed Martial Arts

Zoe had originally moved to Cardiff to study sociology at Cardiff University, where she obtained her degree and then continued with her studies to obtain a masters’ degree in Social Science Research Methods.
“Then I decided to continue my studies and was delighted to achieve my doctorate in a sporting subject with a Sociology pathway which was entitled, ‘Embodiment, Violence and Gender in Mixed Martial Arts.
“In it I looked at Mixed Martial Arts clubs and their attitudes towards women and my research was backed up by my own experiences in this rugged environment.

In at the start with her American Football team

“Then The Valkyries started up and from the very first moment I loved the team ethos centred on a physical focus – and the complete set of new friendships that were quickly formed.
“We started out with what is known as ‘Flag Football’, which is a bit like touch rugby because every player has a pair of mini-flags attached to their hips and if these are removed by an opponent they have to relinquish possession.
“It meant that full contact play wasn’t allowed but in our second year we made the natural progression to full contact play and the kind of big hits and exciting running plays that those who have seen the American game on television can identify with.
“I play as a line backer, which is a defensive position but based on attacking the key opposing quarter back and their other attacking players to block them out so our own attacking formation can take possession.

Zoe John  - working hard in defence

Well-described by a friend!

“A good friend of mine described me as ‘strong, stocky and powerful; very vocal and quite bossy’, which I think is a good description of me once I run out on to the field!
“In tournaments we play two halves of 40 minutes each with a running clock, which means time isn’t stopped every time the ball goes dead, as is normal in the USA, where they have more complex timing systems.
“In the Valkyries’ league we have seven players on the field at any one time, with attacking and defensive formations, and our numbers who want to play are beginning to grow, as are the size of the crowds who enjoy coming along to watch – not least because women’s games are sometimes screened live online. The GB format and the World Championship will be full 11-aside football, including the extras, including kick-off and punt!”
The Valkyries play in a forest green kit and as well as the jerseys, leggings and boots they also wear helmets for safety because of the physical contact, plus protective pads on shoulders and thighs.
“Players have to pay for their kit once they are established in the squads and there is an emphasis on looking good, as well as playing well,” Zoe told us with a chuckle!”

Playing for Wales

Finding her confidence in American football, Zoe also went on to try another sport; Australian rules football (AFL which includes kicks, bounces, tackles and punching the ball out of the hand, and is 360 degrees of play on an oval pitch. Zoe helped to establish the women’s segment of the Cardiff Panthers, her local AFL club, back in 2016. Zoe mentions that she has even represented the Welsh team, the Welsh Wyverns, in four European tournaments so far and had the honour of being captain for Wales twice!
“It was such an incredible experience to see the talent and hard work in action, and representing Wales for the first time was an experience I will never forget.”
Zoe will be representing Wales this weekend in the AFL European Cup taking place in Edinburgh. However, the ultimate goal for Zoe is yet to come – a journey that started back in her American football journey in 2016.

And finally . . .

So Zoe has had to keep herself fit and add to her experiences with The Valkyries whilst waiting for the news about selection for Team GB.
We at ‘PembrokeshireSport.co.uk’ would like to wish Zoe John every success in her American Football adventure as the first player from this county to represent the United Kingdom in the world championships in Finland and we are already looking forward to her returns so we can find out more about what it is like to play at that level in a very physical sport we know relatively little about!

Zoe John  - puts in a crunch tackle