REBRANDED and redesigned, Bolton Ladies are now making plans for progress in the Women’s National League.

Last season’s eighth placed finish reflected the upheaval both in a much-changed squad, and off the field, where the club’s separation from Bolton Wanderers had already begun in earnest.

Now returning to the independent banner which was launched more than 30 years ago there is confident talk among Chris Knights’ squad that promotion to the Northern Premier League – the highest strata outside the Premier League – could soon be achievable.

In order for that to happen the club must find a way to generate funds to attract and pay some of the better semi-professional players, and took a big step by securing a new shirt sponsorship with community benefit society, Bolton At Home, for the 2020/21 campaign.

The team will continue to play at Atherton Colls’ Skuna Stadium, where they hope to expand the fanbase they have already established.

Club captain, Rebecca Foster, believes that taking the leap of faith and distancing themselves from Wanderers as a separate entity was the right decision.

“I don’t think last season went according to plan,” she told The Bolton News. “It was my first year so I can’t really talk about what had happened before. They had success and got promotion to the league we’re in now but there was a bit of a restructure going on.

“We lost our captain, who had been here for a long time, and there were quite a few new players, to everything takes time to settle.

“I think had been top of the league and everything was going great, people might have seen the decision to rebrand as a bit of a gamble. But I think we needed a change.

“I’d played in the league below and thought I’d be fine stepping up but the levels of fitness are higher, the standards are improving and we have to move with it.”

A new badge was launched online last week and a new kit is in the offing. And though there are some concerns around the women’s game that their leagues have been put on to the backburner and ignored since the pandemic, the mood at Bolton is very much now on preparing for the future.

“I think at the start of it all it was quite difficult to see when we’d carry on,” said Foster. “We did fitness sessions on Zoom and tried to keep things going as best as we could.

“Going back in to train the other day was amazing, though, because while it’s nice to see the faces on the laptop it’s not the same sort of banter.

“So we’re socially-distance training right now and I guess that will carry on now right up to the start of the season.”

Foster is also looking forward to seeing the team strengthened this season for what is hoped will be a push towards the top of the league.

“Personally speaking I think we need three or four really good players and we’ll be right up there,” she said. “We have four or five here who have been at the club for a long time, the core who have commitment, and then a few more who came in last season.

“You look at what we have – playing at Colls, training at Little Lever with all the facilities, coaches, physios, media staff. The set up here is really good. We’re ready to push on.

Sponsoring Bolton Ladies was a community decision, says Jon Lord, Group Chief Executive of Bolton at Home, rather than one about football.

“Sport can be a huge factor in creating stronger communities and opportunities for young people wanting to play competitive sport in Bolton,” he said.

“If our support helps Bolton Ladies to move up through the leagues it will create a new set of female footballing role models that young footballers can look up to and be inspired by. As a result, it can hopefully trigger more girls and women taking part in competitive sport and lead to improvements in physical and mental health across the town – all of which results in healthier communities.”

Chris Knights, First Team Manager, added: “We are delighted to be supported by Bolton at Home. It is very important to us that we engage the local community and provide inspiration to young female players.

“We see Bolton at Home as a perfect fit especially with their core community values and will be extremely proud to wear the logo on our kit.”