Save the Crabs! Former ladies team manager reveals battle with ME to inspire more support for crisis-hit Cromer Town Football Club
- Credit: Ian Burt
She grew up loving the game after watching her dad playing football as a child.
As the only girl at her primary school to tackle the sport in the playground, Jenna Bedwell, from Cromer, was bullied for her passion.
But, after leaving full-time education and becoming a mum for the second time, she went on to play for the ladies team North Walsham Angels in their debut season – starting training just two weeks after giving birth.
Jenna's dream of starring on the football field turned into a nightmare after she was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.
However, she was thrown a lifeline by her hometown club Cromer and, after fighting her way back to fitness, quickly made an impression both on and off the field.
You may also want to watch:
As a welcome distraction from her illness, Jenna took over management of the ladies team and was invited to join the men's side, helping out with physio duties and supporting the team from the dugout home and away in the Anglian Combination League last season.
Despite not officially being on the committee, she ended up with keys to the ground and regularly helped out around Cabbell Park - switching on the floodlights, forking the pitch and even washing the strips.
- 1 950-home bid takes step forward after £7m developer contribution agreed
- 2 Crews called to blaze on boat in Wells Harbour
- 3 Owners turn former deli into concierge business
- 4 Sports centre hoping to shake 'hidden gem' tag
- 5 Vital Fakenham charity secures future and gets back to business
- 6 Plans could see office transformed into tattoo parlour
- 7 Friends rescue baby barn owl who fell from tree
- 8 Bone found on beach by Callum, 9, may have been from a woolly rhino
- 9 Your say - Has Bond tempted you back to the cinema?
- 10 Revealed: The most expensive towns to buy a home in Norfolk
Wearing her heart on her sleeve, Jenna got a large tattoo of the Cromer Town emblem inked on her leg to remind her of how far she had come.
And when she learned a lack of volunteers could put the future of the club in doubt, with most of the current committee set to resign at their annual general meeting next month, she wasn't going to let her disability stand in her way.
Now aged 30, the mum-of-two, who is also studying a degree in Health and Social Care through the Open University, was the only person who had put herself forward for an office-bearer role to turn up to a crisis meeting at the club earlier this month.
She wants the club to rebuild its links with the local community and is not short of ideas - with the return of regular car boot sales, the creation of a pool team, darts team and parent and child clubs high on her agenda.
And, if voted on, she could become one of the first female chairman of a football club with ME anywhere in the country.
But unless more people pledge their support before June 24, her vision may never become a reality and the club could soon be consigned to history.
Jenna, who revealed she hopes her story will inspire others to step forward, said: 'I grew up with football, it was my way of spending time with my dad when I was younger, I used to watch him play. I think that's why I loved football so much because that was our time. My parents divorced before I was one so I grew up with it.
'I always liked playing. I remember playing when I was younger, the only opportunity you had then being a female was at the school in the playground, and I was the only female that played. Essentially I got bullied for it, a couple of times I was picked up and thrown in the bark but I didn't care I got up and played again.'
As she grew up, Jenna, who has two children – Jack, 9, and Maddison, 2 – even enjoyed a stint helping train the under 12 boys at Cromer before college and life took over.
'I've done a lot of work to get to the level I'm at because I'm not meant to be playing sport at all,' Jenna explained. 'It is hard work with my illness but I enjoy it so I'll keep going.
'I had quite a bad pregnancy with Maddison nearly three years ago but I carried on. Two weeks after having her, I joined North Walsham Angels, a new team that was starting at the time.
'One night training was cancelled so I went along to Cromer and they asked when I could transfer.'
It was a match made in heaven; Jenna was soon appointed assistant manager and, with the ladies team manager stepping down just days before the start of the new season, she was quickly promoted before the start of her first full season with the team.
'I was welcomed in,' she recalled. 'And because I had to battle and fight (her health difficulties) I felt I was a better player for it.
'A couple of months into the season, I came down to watch the men play and talked to Lee (Hackleton) who was the manager and he said: 'You need to come down with us', and I thought: 'Okay, he just means come down to support' and things like that and it will be home games. And the next thing I know, I'm looking at my phone and apparently I'm going to some match quite far away and someone is picking me up, and from that I was with the boys every week.
'I did the first aid, I've opened up and put the floodlights on, forked the pitch when it has been raining and washed the strips, I'm happy to do anything.'
But she added: 'I got to the stage where I did have to stop for a bit because I was exhausted.'
Jenna revealed being so heavily involved in the club gave her motivation to keep going.
However, she pointed out her body would regularly break down and she could be bedridden for days after playing.
Jenna said: 'To start with I felt awful. I had to strap my legs up just to play, after a game I would be on crutches for about three days, I'd be having constant nose bleeds, vomiting or whatever my body decides.
'There is a criteria to be diagnosed with ME, you have to get four out of eight symptoms - I had all eight, and more. My specialist is saying I will always have it so I might as well have a life with it. As awful as it sounds, if you feel sick and tired every day you get used to feeling sick and tired every day. It becomes normality. I don't remember what it's like to not be in pain or feel ill or tired.
'The way I explain it to my friends is sometimes it is like you wake up like you've had a really big drinking session, without having the good night before.
'With ME, it's not like when most people say they are tired, you are completely drained. You feel like you can't breathe, you're shaking and your body is not processing anything at all.
'It's called chronic fatigue syndrome but most don't like that because it's painful, I get fevers constantly and nose bleeds.
'Because it took so long to diagnose people ask questions all the time and I needed something else to focus on – and this club is what I focussed on and it did help.'
When long-serving club chairman Paul Jarvis announced at the end of last season that the final whistle would be blown on Cromer Town unless more volunteers stepped forward, Jenna was one of the first in the queue.
She attended the crisis meeting in a pair of shorts which displayed a tattoo of the football club's emblem at the top of her left leg.
Jenna said: 'To me it symbolises what I have achieved and how far I've come. It says underneath 'Go hard or go home', which was the motto for the Angels. I've always wanted a tattoo since I was little and wanted something that meant something.
'I would be disappointed if the club is to be wound up, I think there is a lot of potential here.'
As well as fielding a men's team next season, Jenna is also hopeful of reforming a ladies team in time for the following season, setting up one of the area's first disability teams and reaching out to the local youth.
But she can't do it alone. The club has made a final appeal for volunteers interested in serving on the committee or in any of the office bearer roles – secretary, treasurer or chairman – to put their name forward before June 24, when it formalises the agenda for its AGM at the start of July.
Volunteers to help drive the car boot sales and man the bar are also sought.
Jenna said: 'I do what I do because I love it and just because I'm female, it doesn't mean I'm any different. I'd like to inspire other people to keep pushing, keep going.
'There is a lot of uncertainty in life and so many people aren't positive anymore, and some people ask me: 'Why are you so positive?' But I can't understand why they're not. Giving people something to focus on – like a goal – that would be nice.'
Anyone who can help is urged to contact the club via its website - www.pitchero.com/clubs/cromertown - or Mr Jarvis direct by calling: 01603 631201 or 07814495081. Alternatively, email Jenna: email@example.com