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Bianca Baptiste: being cut by Spurs Women nearly made me leave football

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“It was horrible. I didn’t know what to do. I literally felt like I wasn’t going to play again.”

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Crystal Palace Ladies v Tottenham Hotspur Ladies - SSE Women’s FA Cup Fourth Round
Midfielder Bianca Baptiste (2nd from right) with captain Jenna Schillaci, manager Karen Hills, and Emma Becket from last season’s promotion run.
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur Women are one of the success stories of modern women’s football in England. In 2014, Spurs were playing in the fourth tier of the women’s pyramid; though they were playing in Tottenham Hotspur shirts, the football wasn’t anything close to the quality of the men’s side. Now, after three promotions in five years, Spurs are a newly-designated fully professional side, playing in their first Women’s Super League campaign in club history.

Transitioning from a semi-professional club full of players with day jobs or who are attending school full time is exciting, but it has a downside. The reality is that only half the players that led Spurs to 2nd place in the FA Women’s Championship last season were offered opportunities to become full time professionals. The remainder were let go to try and sign with other clubs in the second division or elsewhere.

That’s a hard decision to make, and if you’re a player dreaming of becoming a full professional who is on the wrong side of that decision, a difficult one to accept.

It’s the story of Bianca Baptiste, an attacking midfielder and long-serving veteran of Spurs Women (then called Spurs Ladies), who was let go this summer after a ten year career in north London. Baptiste was Spurs’ leading scorer during the historic quadruple campaign of 2017 that saw Spurs promoted to the second division, then called WSL 2, for the first time.

But Baptiste, perhaps surprisingly, was among the players who was not retained by co-head coaches Karen Hills and Juan Amoros. Other popular and critical members of last season’s team were also let go, including Emma Beckett, Sarah Wiltshire, Renee Hector (who was racially abused by a Sheffield United player in a match last season), and Megan Wynne.

Baptiste was able to find another club, staying in London and signing with second-division side Crystal Palace, But while she tells the Telegraph that Spurs worked with all the released players to arrange trials at other clubs so they could continue their football careers, Baptise said that the experience was devastating, having come so close to fulfilling a life dream of playing professionally, and she considered walking away from the game.

“It was back to square one, starting again.

“It hit me hard, because I’ve never been through something like that. I’d had to work really hard for for 10 years. It was devastating. It was so close. At the time, I didn’t want to leave my room. It was horrible. I didn’t know what to do. I literally felt like I wasn’t going to play again.”

It’s heartbreaking, of course, and no one would say that Spurs didn’t need to make tough decisions to prepare for life in the top division WSL, where the level of competition is miles ahead of the FAWC. As good as the team was last season, it’s a much different prospect being asked to go up against clubs with high level women’s international players. Spurs want to not only play in the WSL, they want to stay there. That meant a significant squad overhaul, and not everyone could make the cut.

It was especially tough for Baptiste who worked her way up over the course of a decade along with Tottenham as the profile of the Women’s game in England slowly grew over the years.

“[I] realised women’s football is not that big. It was heartbreaking, especially when coming under names like Arsenal and Tottenham and not understanding why it wasn’t as big for women. From then, I wanted to try and make a difference, make it mean something. We were doing it more for the younger generation, not knowing that Tottenham would ever get there.”

Now at Palace along with former Spurs teammate Emma Gibbon, Baptiste will play against Tottenham for the first time tomorrow when Palace host Spurs in a FA WSL Cup group stage match tomorrow. Baptiste understands the decision Spurs made wasn’t easy, and seems appreciative for the experiences she had.

“I can’t fault them because Spurs were one of the reasons why I did keep going they guided me with a few teams.”

That probably won’t prevent her from wanting to put a goal or two in the back of the net tomorrow.

The match kicks off at 9:00 a.m. ET, 2 p.m. UK at Hayes Lane in Bromley. It is, unfortunately, not televised.