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Nicky DeBonis is making a big impression as manager of Bishop’s Cleeve Development

Gloucestershire North > Sport > Football

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Wednesday, 18th December 2019, 09:00

Nicky DeBonis Nicky DeBonis

Nicky DeBonis is not so much breaking down barriers as smashing them into tiny pieces.

And she’s doing so with the full support of everyone she has come across in football around the county.

DeBonis, who doesn’t turn 21 until 19th January, is the first ever female team manager in the Cheltenham Football League and as such is making a big impression in what has always been considered to be a male only environment.

And it’s certainly some claim to fame because the Cheltenham League has been in existence since as long ago as 1900.

She took over as manager of Bishop’s Cleeve Development – that’s the Hellenic League club’s 3rd team – at the start of the season and has enjoyed every moment of her time in charge so far.

The team play in Division Four of the Cheltenham League and DeBonis said: “I’ve got a really nice team. They’re a pretty young team but they’re all very supportive.”

And that goodwill has stretched to the opposition as well.

“Everybody has been really supportive,” added DeBonis.

There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be of course – thankfully women’s involvement in sport is one of the things that have changed for the better in 21st century Britain – and while nothing is ever certain in football it’s a fair bet that she won’t be the last woman manager in the Cheltenham League.

“I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved,” DeBonis said. “It’s not been the easiest of journeys, there were a lot of barriers in the way but I’m really proud that I pushed myself to get where I am today.”

Those ‘barriers’ that DeBonis talks about have been broken down over time thanks in large part to the efforts of people like her – in days gone by girls played netball and rounders and football was only for the boys.

But DeBonis, who lives in Woodmancote, is one of the new wave of girls who has always liked football.

She is a former pupil at Bishop’s Cleeve Secondary School and Bishop’s Cleeve Football Club is most definitely her club.

“I first started playing for them when I was eight,” she said with understandable pride. “I played for the girls’ team.

“I started playing mixed football at the age of about 16 but I was still playing girls’ football as well and I started playing for Bishop’s Cleeve Ladies when I was 16.”

She was a centre-half and although she could obviously play a bit she admits she hasn’t played for the past two or three years.

So why did she stop playing?

“I kept getting injured,” she said. “I was a very committed player and when I was injured I didn’t like being out of football.

“I wanted to coach people and the injuries persuaded me to focus on coaching.”

DeBonis says she never considered becoming a player/manager.

“I wanted to focus on one thing,” she said. “This way I can put all my time into one thing – management. The team has got my full focus.”

DeBonis’ first experience of management came when she took charge of Bishop’s Cleeve Boys’ Under-15s – she was still playing then – and after hanging up her boots she did some coaching with the club’s 1st team, a team that is managed by Steve Cleal, another Bishop’s Cleeve FC stalwart.

But this is the first time DeBonis has been in charge of a senior men’s team in her own right so how does she like to play the game?

“I like to play four at the back – it’s almost a 4-4-2 although one of the strikers plays behind the other,” she said.

“I like to get the ball out wide and use the width of the pitch but sometimes you can’t do that if you’re getting outnumbered in midfield.”

She talks like a seasoned football manager and that’s not surprising when you consider how much time she has devoted to the beautiful game over the past few years.

She studied sport with a speciality in football when she was at Hartpury College and these days works at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College in women’s and girls’ football.

One of her roles is to encourage girls to take up football but she is also learning about the business side of the game as well.

She clearly wants to stay in football and while she describes her role at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College as “perfect”, she is ambitious too.

“If I could work at the top level in football, that would be the dream,” she admitted.

More immediately she’s got Bishop’s Cleeve Development to think about, so what is the aim this season?

“I think the team have only been going for a couple of years,” she said. “We’ve got quite a few new players, quite a few from the under-15s team I managed a few years ago.

“I think the main aim is to stay together as a team and get ourselves in a decent place in the league but a cup run would be amazing.

“It’s about creating foundations for next season.”

DeBonis is absolutely right, of course, clearly she is someone who knows her football!

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Bishop’s Cleeve Development

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