Stockport County: Building A Positive Future

Ben Gilby spoke to Stockport County Ladies Welfare Officer Peter Attfield about how the club have been making the best of a stop-start season in the FA Women’s National League Division One North.

Above: Going for goal – it’s been far too long since Stockport County (left) were in FAWNL action. Photo via Peter Attfield.

Stockport County Ladies were set up following a partnership with the local authority. Formed in 1989/90, Peter remarks that “they were an instant hit.”

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a massive period of adjustment for the club as Peter explains: “None of our teams were able to play or train during the two periods of lockdown, which has been difficult for us trying to keep the club active. A huge thank you has to go to our volunteer coaches who have been doing everything they can to keep players of all ages, fit, engaged and entertained during this time.”

Apart from coronavirus, Peter sees the biggest challenge that the club has to face being the fact that there are no paid staff: “All the coaches and committee have to fit in club activities around full time jobs. The demands of running a first team in the FA Women’s National League without full time staff is difficult. As a club run entirely by volunteers it would not be right to single out any individual, as everyone gives up a significant amount of their free time to allow the club to function. Having said that, our Club Secretary, Jane Morley, bears the brunt of the day-to-day grind of making sure everything happens.”

Peter explained how the women’s club’s links with Stockport County men’s team, who play in the fifth tier of the men’s pyramid has, historically depended on how successful the male side has been doing, but there are signs of very promising developments in the relationship: “We are administratively and financially independent of Stockport County FC. In past years the level of interaction between the two clubs has varied, largely depending on how well the men’s team were doing. Since the takeover of the club by Mark Stott, earlier this year, there has been a significant increase in the dialogue between the two clubs with major benefits for the ladies. We look forward to working together to build on this positive initiative in the future.”

Above: Stockport County (blue) in action earlier in the season. Photo via: Peter Attfield.

This season has been exceptionally stop-start for Stockport County Ladies, and they have only played four games in the FAWL National League Division One North. “It has been very difficult to maintain any momentum so far this season,” Peter observes. “There’s been some very good performances which have been offset against a couple of disappointing results. We had some major changes in personnel, playing and coaching, over the summer and it will be good to see how these changes take shape when we can get a run of matches together. Initial signs are encouraging and hopefully we have everything in place to allow us to progress in the FAWNL.”

In terms of what one of the major strengths are for the club, Peter is absolutely clear: “We regard it as being the pathway available to Stockport County Ladies. When football is back to ‘normal’ we have football available all the way through from five years old Wildcats, right through to open age with teams at county league level, FAWNL Reserve League and FAWNL. We did have a significant increase in the number of new junior players coming to the club following the last Women’s World Cup in 2019.”

In terms of looking ahead to the future of the club, Peter was slightly guarded, perhaps no surprise given the completely uncertain last twelve months that we have all lived through: “At the current time, I don’t want to even attempt to predict what the football landscape will look like in the short to medium term future. Let’s just hope we’re back to training and playing on a regular basis!”

A thought that is echoed by just about every sport loving person around the world.

Above: Sticking together – Stockport County Ladies. Photo via: Peter Attfield.

Helston Clinch The Title

Penryn AFC 0-4 Helston Athletic

by Paul Parfitt

Above: Helston Athletic celebrate winning the Cornwall Women’s Football League on Sunday. Photo via: Paul Parfitt

Paul Parfitt’s Helston side arrived at Kernick Road knowing a point against second placed Penryn Ladies would be enough to secure a maiden League title. 

Penryn themselves have been in superb form since the end of the lockdown registering three wins and a draw meaning a win for them would leave them in with a chance of winning the league themselves, this was a clash of the two best teams in the division.  

Both teams fielded strong squads and as the match started Penryn took the initiative and had the success in the early exchanges winning 50/50 balls.  Although their link up play wasn’t quite working for them and perhaps showing signs of nerves in the context of the match, Helston still looked dangerous albeit from broken play.  Penryn had the first clear chances to score but a last ditch tackle from Georgie Sweet and a save from Eve Moore did enough to keep the score even.   

On 19th minute Helston’s Abi Locke chased an expertly weighted through ball from Ellie Brewer and lobbed the on-rushing keeper to make it 1-0 Helston and settle some nerves for the travelling side.  

Penryn stayed in the game and their physical and determined approach winning 50/50 ball and pressing and harassing Helston still featured in their game.  Another through ball saw Abi Locke caught accidentally with studs in the follow through of Penryn keeper Clare Churcher, this injury required treatment and brought an end to the goal scorers game.   Locke was replaced by the teams second top scorer Katy Barker-Thomas who immediately caused Penryn problems. 

There was a phase of play in the first half where Helston were caught offside eight consecutive times and captain Sasha Sparkes spoke with the referee during a break in play which resulted in a yellow card and 10 minutes in the sin bin for the Helston captain to the bemusement of many onlookers. 

Down to 10, a galvanised Helston started to take the upper hand, Penryn still looked dangerous but the energy of substitutes Alice Rae and Keri-Ann Moxom added to Helston’s ability to retain the football and play their style.  It remained 0-1 at Half Time.

Parfitt had made four changes going into the second half and Helston started brightly seemingly finding their rhythm, Sparkes re-joined the side in the 50th minute and it was just three minutes later that the familiar combination that has brought Helston 60 goals across all matches this season were back at it again; Katy Barker-Thomas hitting a super cross that beat the punch of Churcher in goal and saw Sparkes rise at the far post to head in Helston’s second.   

With a front three now looking to get after Penryn, Helston enjoyed a good period in the game, Katy Barker-Thomas delivered another superb cross three minutes later and in a desperate attempt to prevent it falling to the striker a Penryn defender headed into her own net to make it 0-3, the away side then had a couple of penalty shouts went by before one was awarded for a late challenge.  The Helston skipper hit the post with her effort and Penryn were let off.  The home side themselves then pushed forward winning a corner and testing both the Helston defence and keeper in what was still a fairly even game.  

Helston made further changes utilising the roll on roll off substitutions and they looked to push on and improve the score.  Helston were utilising the superb throw of Kim Yould and were regularly causing the Penryn defence issues, still blighted with offsides there was frustration for the team in blue.  The Penryn keeper again keeping the score respectable with a string of saves and coming off the better in one to ones with Helston missing one or two open goals also.

As the game crept into time added on there was still opportunities coming and it was somewhat befitting that Helston scored in the 92nd minute to wrap up their League Title Win in Paul Parfitt’s inaugural season; typically fitting too was the goal scorer, with Jade Sweet sliding a pass through for Captain Sparkes to collect and outwit both defender and keeper to slot home and secure the CWFL Trophy for her team. 
The game was a representation of desire and hunger in the Women’s game in Cornwall and the match was played in a manner of that befitting the top two sides in the division.  Penryn’s season is now finished having played all their fixtures, Helston have two remaining away games at Mousehole and Culdrose on the next two Sundays as they undoubtedly look to finish the season unbeaten in the league.  

This Helston side look to take promotion to SWRFL for next season and manager Paul Parfitt has already stated his intentions to enter a Development Side in the CWFL which will be managed by the experienced and popular Kev James.  If you fancy taking up football or playing for Helston next season keep an eye on their socials and go along to their open trials on Sunday 6th June.

Helston Athletic: E Moore, C Sparkes-Bond, C Demouy, E Brewer, G Sweet, G Lane, D White, K Yould, S Sparkes (c), A Locke, S Sparkes-Bond.  Subs Used: J Sweet, K Barker-Thomas, A Rae, K Moxom, S Clouter.

Scorers: Locke 19, Sparkes 53, 90, OG 56 

The View From France

Jean-Pierre Thiesset rounds up all the actions from the twentieth week of action in D1 Arkema, French women’s football’s topflight.

Above: Jamaican international Khadija Shaw scored the goal that secured a first ever qualification for the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Photo: Daniel Vaquero/SIPA

Soyaux won 1-0 at home against Fleury. Goal for Soyaux from Henriette Akaba (90). With this victory, Soyaux still have a chance to avoid relegation in D2; They are now 4 points ahead from Issy which are 11th.

Bordeaux won 1-0 away from home against Montpellier. Goal for Bordeaux from Khadija Shaw (76). With this victory, Bordeaux are now certain to finish third and to play the UEFA Women Champion League next year for the first time in their history.

Paris FC won away from home against Dijon 1-0. Goal for Paris FC from Clara Matéo (57). Paris FC will finish fourth in the D1 Arkema Championships whatever their results in the last two games.

Paris Saint Germain won 2-0 away from home against Le Havre despite never quite hitting the heights. Goals for Paris SG from Nadia Nadim (6) and Marie-Antoinette Katoto (80). With their defeat, Le Havre cannot hope of finishing better than eleventh. After being eliminated by Barcelona in UEFA Women’s Champion League, PSG played an additional match in D1 with a victory away from home against cross city rivals Paris FC 3-2 despite missing Kadiaditou Diani. Unfortunately, after her goal Katoto had to be substituted due to injury and PSG now face potentially having to play the likely title decider against Lyon on May 30 without its leading scorer.

Olympique Lyonnais won away from home against Issy 4-0. Goals from Amel Majri (10 penalty), Catarina Macario (32 and 42) and Eugénie Le Sommer (56). Without playing at their best, Lyon were in control and were never in danger. After the replacement of Jean-Luc Vasseur by Sonia Bompastor as coach two weeks ago, it seems that Lyon are improving after successive wins by big scores – 5-1 against Le Havre on April 30 and 4-0 against Issy in the last game.

Guingamp were held 0-0 at home to Reims.

The D1 ARKEMA table now looks like this:

Kerr-ific Chelsea Retain The Title

Chelsea 5–0 Reading

By Ben Gilby

Above: All smiles as Chelsea lift the FAWSL title for the fourth time. Photo: @BarclaysFAWSL

Chelsea regained the Barclays FA Women’s Super League title with a comfortable victory over Reading at Kingsmeadow.

Emma Hayes named the same starting line-up as last week’s Champions League Semi-Final which meant that Swedish international Jonna Andersson remained on the bench.

Reading’s season will be filed under ‘transitional’ and the retirement of legend Fara Williams symbolises this end of an era.

The 37 year-old, who lined up for the final time in her career at Kingsmeadow won a record 172 caps for the Lionesses and during a spell with Everton from 2004 and 2012 scored 70 goals in 122 games.

It didn’t take long for Chelsea to show their dominance as the home side earned a corner from the opening play. Jess Carter’s low corner found Melanie Leupolz on the edge of the box and she side footed a shot into the net with just over a minute on the clock.

One thing Reading are renowned for though is their stubbornness and work rate and Kelly Chambers’ team dug in to stifle Chelsea’s forward ambition for the next half hour or so as their defensive pattern shifted to actively press the home side’s offensive play with the consequence that the Blues were forced to go backwards in an attempt to come forwards.

However, if anyone had the creative nous to break through the Reading wall, it was the Kerr and Kirby double act. Ji played a trademark perfect pass out to Kirby which Kerr ran onto. Her ball back to the England star resulted in Kirby hitting a first time effort into the net for 2-0.

Above: Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby – one of the greatest double acts that the FAWSL has seen. Photo: @BarclaysFAWSL

The partnership between Kerr and Kirby is unquestionably the key component in Chelsea’s relentless march to silverware and at this point, it’s important to cast our minds back to October when there was sustained criticism of Kerr and complaints that the FAWSL had been sold a dud.

These critics missed three very important points which were impacting Kerr at the start of the season. Prior to lockdown in March 2020, the Australian had developed a strong understanding with Beth England, her main strike partner at the time. Watching the two together at Kingsmeadow in those three months was a joy to behold as a real telepathic understanding was growing before our eyes.

Then, England had an operation over the summer and never really established herself as a regular starter this season, which meant that Kerr had to develop a new offensive relationship with Fran Kirby and Pernille Harder.

Kirby was unable to play for Chelsea when Kerr first arrived in January 2020 due to a debilitating injury and associated mental battles which the Lionesses star deserves huge plaudits for overcoming to the extent that she is now playing the greatest football of her career. Therefore it was no surprise that it took a number of weeks to build up that understanding, but once it built up, boy did it work.

The third element that the critics were ignoring was perhaps the one which showed the lack of awareness they had about Sam Kerr as a player. To a number of those critics, the Western Australian was simply a goal machine and her failing to find the net was a sign she was a failure. They either showed no awareness of or chose to ignore the huge amount of work off the ball which Kerr was getting through each week for the South London side. Something that she has always done throughout her career which has made her the ultimate team player. Blues boss Emma Hayes was well aware of this part of Kerr’s game and highlighted it week in week out in response to the criticism.

Since then, Kerr has not looked back and apart from scoring 21 league goals of her own this season, the East Fremantle born striker has been responsible for a large number of Kirby’s tally of 16 in a devastating partnership which you feel is only going to get more deadly next season.

Whilst it’s been the trio of Kerr, Kirby and Harder who have earned the column inches and social media posts, there are two other players who have been absolutely vital in the Chelsea’s success this season.

Erin Cuthbert embodies a massive part of what makes Chelsea the team they are. The 22 year-old is the ultimate Scottish terrier snapping around the ankles of the opposition. She is capable of taking on and dominating the best as Lucy Bronze found out earlier in the season when the Irvine born star had the Lionesses’ legend in her back pocket all afternoon long. Cuthbert runs kilometre after kilometre off the ball to neuter opponents and chase down and ultimately win countless lost causes. Erin Cuthbert is the player who will leave the pitch caked in mud when everyone else is pristine clean. It will be the biggest travesty of all if she is not in the Team GB squad for the Olympics.

Above: Another stellar season from Erin Cuthbert. Photo: @erincuthbert_

Then there is Ji So-yun who is coming towards the end of her seventh season for Chelsea. She remains a key part of the midfield establishment at Kingsmeadow. The South Korean has played over 110 games in her time in South London. At times last season there were signs that the opposition were able to successfully out muscle her to reduce her impact on the game. However, from the start of the season, Ji has brought back out her magic wand and has used it to remarkable effect. She is capable of class of the highest order: a perfect centimetre perfect through ball from midfield, pulling the strings to link up play or her famed glorious free kicks.

Reading began the second period on the front foot. It was the tighter and more offensive combination play of their midfielders Rachel Rowe, Angharad James and Fara Williams who were behind this improved standing in the game. Unfortunately for the Royals this was not matched by sharpness from their sole striker Danielle Carter.

Yet again though, as Reading threatened and failed to break through, Chelsea showed them how it was done. A long ball through to Kerr on the right saw her side foot a pass to Kirby who was just outside the ‘D’. She took a touch, created space and unleashed a rocket into the right hand corner of the net.

The Special K partnership combined again for Chelsea’s fourth. Cuthbert played a short pass through to Kirby who looped a ball into the box which Kerr volleyed first time into the net to ensure she won the FAWSL Golden Boot Award as the league’s top scorer.

Cuthbert made it 5-0 when her effort was helped over the line by Royals keeper Grace Maloney.

The scary thing for Chelsea’s opponents in England and Europe is that there is still scope for them to get even better. There is no question for me that Emma Hayes’ team do not have the strength in depth in defence that they do in midfield and up front. Whilst it might seem churlish to suggest this of a team who only conceded ten league goals all season, the highest standards of defence can help to decide the finest margins at the very highest level in the Champions League and if Chelsea want to dominate the pinnacle of European women’s football in the way Olympique Lyonnais did previously, this is where they will need to focus their recruitment.

Above: Magda Eriksson – Chelsea’s captain and talisman. Photo: @ChelseaFCW

Some Blues fans were surprised that last summer only Niamh Charles arrived in a defensive position with the club again focusing on bolstering their offensive options. Magda Eriksson’s loss for a month saw the Blues look more vulnerable than usual. Millie Bright is not the same player without Eriksson beside her at the back.

Interestingly, the only player Chelsea have been linked with so far is Manchester United’s young forward Lauren James. Given James’ family are based just over 10km from Kingsmeadow, it is a move which looks very likely to happen.

Chelsea can celebrate the third piece of silverware for 2020/21, but with a Champions League Final coming up next Sunday and this season’s FA Cup running into the new campaign, they still have every chance to have many more glory days ahead.

CHELSEA: Berger, Charles, Eriksson, Bright, Carter, Ingle, Leupolz, Ji, Kirby, Harder, Kerr. Substitutes: Musovic (GK), Blundell, England, Reiten, Fleming, Cuthbert, Spence, Telford (GK), J. Andersson.

Scorers: Leupolz 2, Kirby 43, 57, Kerr 71, Cuthbert 75.

READING: Malone, Leine, Cooper, Bartrip, Roberts, James, Williams, Rowe, Harding, Harries, Carter. Substitutes: Nayler (GK), Childerhouse, Flores, Jeon, Eikeland, Chaplen.

Referee: Stacey Pearson.

Terriers Earn Draw Against Red Devils

Huddersfield Town 2-2 Manchester United U21

By Jack Walker

Brittany Sanderson and Lucy Sowerby scored as Huddersfield Town Women battled to a well-earned 2-2 draw against Manchester United U21s yesterday afternoon.

The visitors started strongly and took the lead with a crisp left-footed strike that found the bottom corner from range, but Town weren’t behind for long.

Kate Mallin threatened immediately after conceding, sending an effort just wide of the near post, and United didn’t heed the warning.

Moments later, Mallin escaped down the right hand side again and played a perfect ball across the six-yard line for Brittany Sanderson to stretch and turn the ball home to level it up at 1-1 with just 11 minutes played.

Both sides were confident in building out from the back with United clearly showing attempts to mirror their first team, but Town’s high press worked a treat on numerous occasions as Lucy Sowerby and Sarah Danby won the ball in dangerous areas.

As a sign of their intent, the Terriers continued to dominate the first half and almost took the lead through Katie Nutter just shy of the half hour mark.

Serena Fletcher won and took a brilliant free kick out on the right flank and Nutter’s shot looked destined for the back of the net, but the United ‘keeper somehow clawed the ball away before Town’s no.7 attempted an acrobatic overhead kick that fell just wide of the upright.

The away side, though, showed quality too and almost re-took the lead when a cross clipped the crossbar on its way behind for a goal kick. That, however, was the closest either side came to finding the target in the remainder of the first half and the two sides went into the break with nothing to separate them.

Above: Goal mouth action in yesterday’s game between Huddersfield Town and Manchester United U21s. Photo via: Jack Walker.

Town started the second forty-five much brighter than the first and almost scored within a minute if the restart.

Mallin was hacked down on the angle of the area and Georgia Marshall rose highest to meet the cross but her header fell agonisingly wide of the far stick, despite the best efforts of Beth Ibbotson who found the side meeting with the ball already just out of play.

Town threatened from set pieces and it was Marshall who made the difference in the air to give her side the lead.

After a dangerous cross was turned behind for a corner, Danby whipped in a fierce delivery and Marshall towered above all defenders to power a bullet header goalward. The goal wouldn’t go down as hers, though, because Sowerby was stood on the line and took the ball flush to the face. Getting a goal seemed to raise her spirits, though as she bravely carried on.

Despite controlling much of the second half, Town were unable to create many chances and were made to pay when Man United converted a penalty after a handball in the area from Nutter and the scores were back level at 2-2.

As both teams tired, the chances dried up too. Neither side were able to find the illusive winner, but Town manager Jordan Wimpenny was proud of his players at full time.

“The players did brilliantly. We played a completely different style to what they’re used to and, just like we did against Fylde, got a positive result out of it. Without the [United] penalty, we would’ve won the game, but that’s football.

“Man United were very good on the ball and very physically fit – just like Brighton and Hove Albion will be when we meet them in the FA Cup on the 16th May. This game has given us experience of playing against quality opposition and we will go to Brighton and give a good account of ourselves.”

Pride Park’s Resilience Rewarded

Ilkeston Town Development 1-3 Pride Park

by Boot Room

Long term injury absences, the attritional nature of this season and their third game in seven days meant that Pride Park lined up with just eleven players for yesterday’s game at Ilkeston Town Development at Cotmanhay Playing Fields.

Park found themselves playing into a fairly stiff breeze in the first half but started well. With barely a minute played, Hannah Kwiatek broke clear on the right and her shot was not far wide of the near post. We gradually imposed ourselves on the game, Beth Thompson and Tash Allderidge taking a degree of control in central midfield early on and together with Jess Page and Hannah Kwiatek on either flank created a string of opportunities.

Annie Laight and Izzy Ely were combining well and their runs were causing the hosts’ defence considerable problems. Izzy had a couple of early chances – one just wide and another just over, and both players were also only just beaten to the ball by the ‘keeper on a couple of occasions. Considering Park’s approach play, and the opportunities created, it took quite a while to make the breakthrough but the visitors remained patient. They were finally rewarded just after the half-hour when Laight broke through and, as the ‘keeper came out to narrow the angle, slipped the ball to the side for Ely to side foot home.

Ilkeston’s keeper made a vital interception, coming out to dive and just do enough to divert a low cross that was waiting to be turned in by Laight at the far post.

Goal-kicks were slightly challenging as the ball held up in the wind, and it didn’t take Ilkeston long to be aware of Pride Park’s attempts to play out from goal-kicks and close them down. On a couple of occasions they were nearly exposed as attempts to play out broke down, but the visitors recovered well. Nevertheless, they did try to vary it from goal-kicks and driven kicks from the hand, however, were reaching well beyond half-way despite the wind, on what must be the most compact pitch Park have played on at open age, and a couple of them proved problematic for Ilkeston’s back line as they were forced to turn and face towards their own goal.

Ilkeston looked threatening from a corner, but the visiting keeper did well to come into the crowd and punch clear confidently. Park weren’t able to convert any further opportunities and at half-time it was 1-0.

With the breeze behind the visitors in the second half many through balls goal kicks were running through to the Ilkeston keeper early on, but once Park had adjusted for the wind they started to create opportunities again. Ely had an early shot that was just off target within a few minutes of the restart, but Pride Park extended our lead on 50 minutes, as Ely set up Laight for a finish, lifting the ball up and helping it over the ‘keeper with a first time effort from side-on.

Ilkeston started to come into the game more and posed more questions in the second half, as the midfield battle was more even. It meant that Pride Park’s keeper was starting to be a little more involved and approaching the hour was brought into action, collecting a shot, and racing out to clear well from outside her area. Just after the hour, Ilkeston pulled a goal back. They worked the ball down the right, and as the ball arrived on the right, Park looked well set at the back, but the wide player beat the challenge and her low cross evaded everyone and was turned in at the far post. It was a well worked goal but one that the visitors would have felt that they could have defended better.

Conversely, they were finding it harder to play with the wind at their backs, or this could have been because Ilkeston had improved since the break. It may also have been a factor that the assorted knocks, strains, and fatigue, were starting to take their toll as Beth Jones, Sophie Ayton and Amy Snape required running repairs and it was apparent as the game entered the latter stages that a number of players were running on fumes.

Fortunately, Annie Laight had restored our two goal advantage by then, sweeping Allderidge’s square ball up and over the ‘keeper from the edge of the area. Beth Jones had a shot from distance saved by the ‘keeper, who was unable to hold on to it, and with a little more anticipation we might have had an opportunity – but the ‘keeper recovered well to gather the ball just ahead of Laight and Allderidge saw an opportunistic effort go over the bar. Ilkeston had a sight of goal as the clock ran down but the shot was hit wide.

In the end, it was a win that Pride Park had to work for. Several players were clearly digging into reserves at the end as fatigue from the recent schedule and accumulated knocks and strains started to have an effect. It’s probably fair to say Jess Page won’t have anticipated playing as many minutes in her first three games after four years out, but kept going even when the gauge read ‘empty’!

Amy Snape took a painful (accidental) kick to the ankle with fifteen minutes still to play but soldiered on, and is growing into her role – this was probably her best game for Pride Park to date.

The number of injured and otherwise unavailable players has meant scant opportunity for resting players during games, and there is no let up – this Wednesday is the last of our midweek fixtures when Park play Mercia at Moorways.

Olivia Watson: Back With A Bang

Impetus and Since ’71 are proud to jointly sponsor Sutton United Women’s Olivia Watson. Ben Gilby caught up with Olivia recently to find out how things are going for her now she is back on the pitch.

Above: Olivia Watson fires in a shot for Sutton United in their recent friendly against Hastings United Photo: Paul Loughlin.

We last spoke to Olivia in February, so she was eager to update us with what has been going on. “Since we last caught up, off the pitch, I have been working and with the restrictions having now lifted slightly I have been able to see my family and my dog outside, which was amazing.  Football has returned, so we are back in training and have played three friendlies so far.”

With lockdown, hopefully now done and dusted for good, I wondered if this last twelve months have made permanent changes for Olivia both as a person and as a footballer.

“These periods of lockdown have changed my outlook, I definitely have learnt to appreciate life and the little things a lot more and to cherish time with my family and friends. In terms of football, it has taught me not to take the fact that I can play football for granted as you never know when it can be taken away and I now ensure that I enjoy every moment of socialising and being together as a team.”

Sutton United returned to training on 30th March and Olivia gave us an insight into what that first session was like: “It was fun and relaxed with the aim of getting everyone back together and enjoying themselves. We did an eight a side mini-tournament mixed with the U21s. It was great to be back and have the opportunity to catch up, have a laugh with my teammates and enjoy playing again.”

Above: Olivia in action for Sutton United against Charlton Athletic U21s at the end of March. Photo: Paul Loughlin.

Sutton United had their first game back at home to Charlton Athletic U21s. Olivia described what that experience was like: “It was a good run out for the team after the three and half months off and the whole team just enjoyed playing competitively again. We were all a bit rusty at first but as the match went on we grew into the game.  I personally found the game tough as no matter how hard I try to maintain my fitness by running or cycling, playing football is so different – I definitely struggled to get up and down the wing!”

“In terms of our matches between now and the end of the season, we are taking part in the London & South-East Regional Women’s Football League (LSERWFL) spring round-robin friendly tournament, which will be a good experience as we get to play teams that we would not have played in the season. This means we have matches most weekends up until the end of May. We are also still in the Capital Women’s Cup and are aiming for the final, so should have more cup matches scheduled in too.”

In terms of Olivia’s goals between now and the summer for her football, she said: “I think my main goal is to just enjoy playing the friendly matches and training between now and summer, as this pandemic has shown that you never know when it can be taken away and I will also to start preparing both physically and mentally for the 21/22 season.  Specifically, another goal of mine is to improve my movement and confidence with the ball as I feel this is an area I definitely need to develop for next season.”

Artwork by: Angelo Tirotto.

The Swedish Scene

@DandalBs brings us his weekly wrap of all the news from the latest round of matches in the Damallsvenskan and Elitettan plus a round-up of stories connected to the Swedish national team this week.

NATIONAL TEAM:

Sweden have been drawn with Finland, Ireland, Slovakia and Georgia in the qualifying group for the 2023 Women’s World Cup. These group matches will be played between September 2021 and September 2022. With the top placed team automatically qualifying for Australia and New Zealand and the second placed side going into play-offs, Sweden’s biggest threat will probably come from Finland, although the Finns have won only one of the 37 games between the two sides and that came in 1976.

Sweden’s qualifying fixtures: 17th Sept: Slovakia (a), 21st Sept: Georgia (h), 21st Oct Ireland (a), 25th Nov: Finland (h), 30th Nov: Slovakia (h), 7th Apr 2022: Georgia (a), 12th Apr: Ireland (h), 6th Sept: Finland (a).

Above: Victoria Sandell – a Swedish football legend appointed to the national team’s coaching staff this week. Photo: Svensk Fotboll.

In other national team news, the legendary Victoria Sandell, better known under her maiden name Victoria Svensson, has been hired as assistant coach for the Swedish women’s national team, with a focus on individual coaching. Sandell won 166 caps for the Swedish national team between 1996 and 2009 and scored 68 goals .

DAMALLSVENSKAN:            

Above: A mixed week for Kristianstad’s Sveindís Jane Jónsdóttir – named as Damallsvenskan Player of the Month for April but stretchered off with an injury. Photo: Bildbyrån

Växjö are still looking for their first win of the season after a 1-0 reversal at home to unbeaten Kristianstad. The only goal came from Anna Welin after twelve minutes. To make matters worse for Kristianstad, their young star Sveindís Jane Jónsdóttir was stretchered off in the 40th minute with what originally looked a like a knee injury, but has been subsequently diagnosed as a minor injury to the patella with a much shorter rehab period than feared. Jónsdóttir also just been voted Damallsvenskan Player of the Month for April.

Above: Hammarby had plenty to celebrate in their 5-0 win over KIF Örebro. Photo: Fotbollskanalen.se

Hammarby gained their first win of the season in some style with a 5-0 demolition of KIF Örebro. The match was decided with three goals in six minutes mid-way through the second half. As Madelen Janogly set-up goals for Hanna Folkesson and Emilia Larsson with Emma Jansson rapidly making it 3-0. In the final thirteen minutes, Janogly got the goal that her efforts deserved and Elsa Karlsson completed the scoring with four minutes left.

Above: Charli Grant made her first appearance for Rosengård in their win over Eskilstuna United. Photo: @_charli_grant

Rosengård extended their 100% start to the season with a 2-0 win at Eskilstuna United. The two goals came within sixty seconds of each other. Minnie Larsson put the Champions League Quarter-Finalists ahead with Olivia Schough rapidly doubling the lead. Australian readers will be interested to hear that Charli Grant made her first appearance for Rosengård when she came on in the closing stages. Her team are now two points clear at the top of the table.

Above: AIK celebrate with Honoka Hayashi who scored both goals in their 2-1 win over Stockholm rivals Djurgården. Photo: Fotbollskanalen.se

The big Stockholm derby saw Djurgården go down to a 2-1 loss at home to newly promoted AIK. Hayley Dowd gave the hosts the lead just before the break, but it was the visitors who pushed on in the second half. Honoka Hayashi levelled after 57 minutes and then sealed the victory from the penalty spot with 11 minutes left. The win puts AIK, one of the favourites for relegation pre-season, into fourth place.

Above: Stina Blackstenius – on the mark again for BK Häcken but her side were held 1-1 by Vittsjö. Photo: Fotbollskanalen.se

Vittsjö gained an impressive 1-1 draw with BK Häcken. Stina Blackstenius continued her rich vein of goal scoring form when she gave Häcken the lead after four minutes. Twenty minutes later Mie Leth Jans grabbed the equaliser.

Linköping’s home game with Piteå was postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak at the visiting club. As Piteå have not had any additional cases diagnosed, the game has been rearranged for 13th May.

Table from: Svensk Fotboll.

Round Four Fixtures:

Kristianstads v Vittsjö GIK

AIK v Hammarby

BK Häcken v Linköping

Piteå IF v Växjö

KIF Örebro v Eskilstuna United

Rosengård v Djurgårdens

ELITETTAN:

Umeå IK and IK Uppsala remain unbeaten and at the top of the table. Umeå IK demolished Jitex Mölndal 5-0. IK Uppsala also gained a huge boost to their goal difference after seeing off Bollstanäs SK 6-1. Älvsjö AIK FF continued their impressive unbeaten start with a 1-1 at Morön BK. At the bottom, Lidköpings FK and Bollstanäs SK are still looking for their first wins of the campaign. As well as leading the league table, Umeå IK also have two players at the top of the goal scoring charts with Lisa Björk (4) and Henna-Riikke Honkanen (3) riding high.

Above: Umeå – aiming to head back to the Damallsvenskan

Round Three Results: Borgeby FK v IF Brommapojkarna: POSTPONED, Morön BK 1-1 Älvsjö AIK FF, Mallbackens IF Sunne 0-0 Alingsås FC United, IFK Norrköping 1-0 Sundsvalls DFF, Umeå IK 5-0 Jitex Mölndal, IFK Kalmar 3-0 Lidköpings FK, IK Uppsala 6-1 Bollstanäs SK.

Table from: Svensk Fotboll.

Round Four Fixtures: Borgeby FK v Umeå IK POSTPONED, IF Brommapojkarna v Bollstanäs SK, Sundsvalls DFF v Mallbackens IF Sunne, Alingsås FC United v IFK Kalmar, Lidköpings FK v Morön BK, Jitex Mölndal v IFK Norrköping, Älvsjö AIK FF v IK Uppsala.

Irish Women’s National League Rounds Four and Five

By Ciarán Duffy of Post to Post Sport

Peamount United

Above: Eleanor Doyle – a great month for the Peamount United player. Photo: @peamountutd

Peamount United top the league with four wins from four and have a game in hand over second placed Wexford Youths. 

In Round Four they beat Bohemians with three second half goals, scored by Ruddy, Ryan-Doyle, and Watkins. Last weekend, again they had to wait until the second half to open the scoring.  Goals from last season top scorers Ryan-Doyle (2) and Ireland centurion Aine O’Gorman sealed the win. Peas are firm favourites to win a third consecutive league title, having only lost four competitive games in the last 3 seasons, only 2 of which were in the league. 

Round 4: W 0-3 Bohemians (A)

Round 5: W 0-3 Treaty United (A)

Wexford Youths

Above: Wexford Youths celebrating a goal in their game with Galway. Photo: @YouthsWomen

Wexford Youths sit second in the table, two points behind Peamount United having played a game more.  Their last two games featured red cards, with their round four opponents Athlone going down to 9 women.  Wexford needed an 80th minute penalty from Kylie Murphy to get a 1-0 win, their second win of the season. Wexford would get another win the following week against Galway.  They were comprehensive 5-0 winners against the 10-woman Westeners, with an own-goal, and strikes from Marie Grant, Taylor, Molloy, and Frawley. Wexford are top scorers in the league this season having scored 14 goals. 

Round 4: W 1-0 Athlone Town (H)

Round 5: W 5-0 Galway (H)

Shelbourne

Above: Shelbourne were celebrating again after a 2-1 win over DLR Waves last weekend. Photo: @FAI_WNL

Shelbourne were idle during round four but got back to winning ways at home to DLR Waves last weekend.  Shels took the lead through Whelan in the first half.  Murray scored a penalty just before the hour-mark.  Shels survived a late fight back to win the game 2-1. 

Round 4: idle

Round 5: W 2-1 DLR Waves (H)

DLR Waves

Above: Jess Gleeson, DLR Waves player of the month for April. Photo: @DLRWaves

DLR remain in the top four despite suffering their first defeat of the season. In Round Four, they beat Cork City to get their first away win of the season.  Jess Gleeson scored a fantastic goal in the first half to seal the win. Waves lost narrowly to Shelbourne last time out despite a magnificent consolation goal from Carla McManus. 

Round 4: W 0-1 Cork City (A)

Round 5: L 2-1 Shelbourne (A)

Galway

Above: The facial expression (right) says it all for Galway in a tough result against Wexford Youths last week. Photo: @FAI_WNL

Galway had two rounds of varying fortune with a comprehensive win as well as a heavy defeat.  In Round Four, they got back to winning ways with a 4-1 win over Treaty United.  Their goals came in the first half with goals from McKey, McCarthy, Brennan, and Kearns. Their luck was out last weekend when they lost 5-0 to Wexford and had Kinnevey sent off. Galway sit 5th in the table. 

Round 4: W 4-1 Treaty United (H)

Round 5: L 5-0 Wexford Youths (A)

Bohemians

Above: Mixed emotions in Bohemians last game against Peamount United. Photo: @FAI_WNL

Bohs put up a good fight against Peamount in Round Four but were ultimately beaten 0-3 with all goals coming in the second half.  They had the bye last time out.

Round 4: L 0-3 Peamount United (H)

Round 5: idle

Cork City

Above: Becky Cassin wheels away after scoring for Cork City against Athlone Town. Photo: @CorkCityFCWomen

Cork’s stuttering start to the league continued. They were beaten 0-1 by DLR Waves in Round Four. The following weekend, they controversially were drew 2-2 with Athlone.  Cork twice took the lead with goals from Cassin in the second minute and Dring just after the hour mark.  However they conceded a goal from a contentious freekick and were denied what looked like a penalty. 

Round 4: L 0-1 DLR Waves (H)

Round 5: D 2-2 Athlone Town (A)

Athlone Town

Athlone were narrowly beaten by Wexford Youths.  They held up well despite going down to nine women, however they were undone by a late penalty. Last weekend, they drew 2-2 against Cork, twice coming from behind. 

Round 4: L 1-0 Wexford Youths (A)

Round 5: D 2-2 Cork City (H)

Treaty United

Above: Action from Treaty United’s game against Peamount United last weekend. Photo: @FAI_WNL

Treaty United remain bottom of the table.  They were beaten 4-1 by Galway in Round Four, with a late consolation goal from Walsh in the second half. They held up well at home to Peamount United in the first half but ultimately were beaten 0-3. 

Round 4: 4-1 Galway (A)

Round 5: 0-3 Peamount United (H)

PosTeamPldWGFGDPts
1Peamount United449+812
2Wexford Youths5314+1110
3Shelbourne438+59
4DLR Waves425+17
5Galway5211-17
6Bohemians4110-14
7Cork City508-43
8Athlone Town405-32
9Treaty United507-161

Round 6 Fixtures

Saturday 8th

Cork City – Wexford Youths (14:00)

DLR Waves – Bohemians (18:00)

Peamount United – Athlone (18:00)

Sunday 9th

Treaty United – Shels (14:00)

This week Post to Post Sport had three episodes of Peil and Back, including one focused on the Women’s National League.  You can listen on most platforms including Spotify by searching Post to Post Sport, or click here.

Cheltenham Town: Building Towards The Return Of The FAWNL

Dan Lodge, head of PR and media at FAWNL Division One SW side Cheltenham Town Ladies spoke to Ben Gilby about the challenging times of the past 14 months and how they are planning to broaden their supporter base further to aim for Tier Three.

Above: Charlotte Criddle in action for Cheltenham Town. Photo: Mike J. Halford.

Dan began out conversation by outlining the journey that women’s football has taken at the Gloucestershire side. “The club has seen the highs and lows over its 32-year history. It started out originally, as a five a-side team and eventually joined the South-West Combination League finishing runner-up in the league a few times. I don’t know a huge amount about those times, as we’re talking 2000 or 2001, maybe 2002 and there’s not a lot of information available. In 2012/13 the club won promotion to the newly created FA Women’s National League Division One South West and despite a few relegation scares always managed to avoid the drop. Things changed in 2018, Alex Cheal came in as the new manager and made some changes and the club started competing, finishing fourth in 2018/19. We were also fourth in 19/20 before the season was voided, so the club has seen a lot of ups and downs.”

The club have now seen two successive seasons in National League Division One South-West rendered null and void due to the coronavirus pandemic. I asked Dan how the club has coped with such a tough period.

“It’s been frustrating. The players certainly aren’t used to it, although I’m fairly sure that’s the case for everyone. For the players, I’m sure it has a huge impact because they’re so used to being out in all types of weather being active and playing games and there’s the social side of it too and I think the social side of it, being out and able to see friends probably has a really underappreciated value.

“Behind the scenes, it’s made things a little bit more difficult. We don’t have quite as many sponsors coming on board as last season, as a lot of places are having to pull back on spending. That said, we are an amateur club anyway, so nobody gets paid for what we do, so we don’t have that wages aspect to worry about. The problem is training facilities coming out of the various lockdowns. We train in the evenings, so we need floodlights, but the places we normally train like Tewkesbury School, All Saints Academy and Hartpury College aren’t opening back up to the public just yet. So, we’re having to pay for training facilities as we would normally do, except there are fewer facilities open and the same number of teams all searching for a timeslot.

“It’s the same for matches too. I know we aren’t playing games at the moment, but chances are, if we do, they’ll be behind closed doors. So, we won’t have the income from supporters or from food and drink sales to help with covering the cost of booking facilities. I’d say we’re doing OK, but everything just feels that little bit tighter financially.”

Apart from coronavirus, one of the biggest issues facing the club is growing the number of supporters at their games – something which has only been made worse by the pandemic. “Our attendances were on the rise season after season, we were bringing in new sponsors, on the pitch performances and scores were going great and the pandemic has slammed the breaks on all of that a little bit. The 2019 Women’s World Cup was a big driver in promoting overall interest in the club and fans began to get behind their local side. Women’s football in general I think, was riding the wave of the World Cup and attracting new fans. We actually had one supporter tweet us and say he’d never been to a Cheltenham Town Ladies game before the start of that season, and up to that point, and I think maybe until the season was voided, he didn’t miss a home game. So that was fantastic to hear. We just need to make sure we continue the hard work and encouragement of women’s football after the lockdown and after the pandemic too.”

Above: Jade Grove gets a shot away for Cheltenham Town in their FA Cup Third round qualifying match at home to Portishead Town. Photo: Will Cheshire Photography.

So, we’re now having to try and reach further and almost start over again from scratch. That said, our attendances this season were still higher than they were in 2017/18, so we’ve had more people interested during a pandemic than there were out of one in 2018, which is great to see. I can only imagine what our figures would be like had Covid-19 not hit! I’m taking that as a great sign of a bright future.”

The club’s links with the men’s side who play in the fourth tier of the men’s professional league are, as Dan explains, “basically an affiliation. We’re a fully independent club, we have our own matchday venue, training venues, our own board of directors, our own website, and social media. We do work with them and we are building bridges to work together even more year on year, it’s just hard at the moment with us not being able to play games.

“They are very hospitable towards us, they’ve let us play some big games at Whaddon Road, they’ve let us have the same kit as the men’s, in 2018/19 and 19/20 they provided kit for both our senior teams. And in 2020/21 they’ve arranged for us to have a version of the brand-new kit, but with our own sponsors. We could always do more together, and I get on really well with Joycie (Richard Joyce of Cheltenham Town FC), and their media team and interns do a great job covering us, so it’s a good relationship. We work with them when we can, but we can also do our own thing, so it’s flexible but it works.”

Prior to the campaign being rendered null and void, Cheltenham Town were having a decent season in the fourth tier FA Women’s National League Division One South-West.

“It had been positive. We were sat in mid-table. One win and you could be up to third, one loss and potentially down to eighth or ninth. But the performances had been good, our opening day game against Chesham United had us all on edge and I think we all let out a good sigh of relief at the final whistle because it was unbelievably tight. A couple of other results didn’t go our way, but with FA Cup games included, we managed to go on a little bit of a run with positive results. And things, hopefully, will only continue to improve us. We had lots of new players and a new style from last season, so that naturally takes time to gel. I think we need to make the most of our time off the back of lockdown to tighten things up if they need it, maybe shake some of the rust off and get back into the swing of things, but once we have, I feel things will turn a corner over the next couple of seasons and we can make promotion to – and our survival in – FAWNL Southern Premier a real aim.”

“Promotion to tier three I think is a goal for this group of players and we’ve been able to take steps to improve the club with that as a goal. We recently held interviews for a General Manager, and we’ve actually ended up with two extra roles because the candidates were so good. We’ve now got a General Manager, a Commercial Manager and a Matchday Operations Manager, all of which have different things they bring to the table and can hopefully contribute very well to the future of the club and make us a more rounded organisation. Getting those improvements to infrastructure in place will really help us grow in the long term.”

Above: Ruby Scahill on the ball for Cheltenham Town in their FAWNL Division One South West match at home to Maidenhead United. Photo: Will Cheshire Photography

Like any club, the pathway for youngsters coming through to the first team is hugely important. Dan outlined what it is like at Cheltenham Town:  “The pathway is pretty good, I think. There’s been a few players that have made it to the senior level. For instance, Holly Rogers, who recently returned from a spell at Boldmere St. Michael in Birmingham, came up through the ranks, as well as Annabel Davies who had a couple of years in the first team. At the moment our Development Team is packed with youth system products, the likes of Hannah Dix, Leah Rhodes, Amie Boyce and Elle-Mae Simpson all instantly spring to mind. So, the pathway definitely does offer a way up to senior football, all the way from Under 8’s I think the youngest year group is.”

Like any club, Cheltenham Town can only function and prosper due to a group of core volunteers. “Obviously, the players go out there and work hard and bring back the results,” said Dan. The coaching staff and managers who go through the details with a fine-toothed combe and make sure no rock is unturned, there’s Darren Johnson and Evie who work in the shop serving tea and coffee, and if you ever saw them at half-time you’d know exactly why they deserve a mention! The media team do a fantastic job of covering us, both for our own coverage and for Cheltenham Town FC. And then there’s the chairman, and the secretary who sort mountains of paperwork and make sure everything is ticking over and nothing is rocking the boat. Everybody, from the chairman to the girls who work on the gate collecting money, it’s a real team effort and there’s a lot of people behind the scenes making sure everything goes to plan without a hitch who don’t get a mention.”

With, hopefully the first signs of the end of the pandemic on the horizon, we ended our chat by focusing on what Dan’s aims are for the sport and Cheltenham Town more specifically over the next five years or so.

“I’d love to see women’s football grow further, especially at our level. I’ve been involved in women’s football for about four years and it’s great. It would be fantastic to see women’s football in this country grow and I think it will continue to do and the further generations will carry it on as they grow up with more and more exposure being given to the women’s game. Eventually it’ll just become the norm, hopefully. I’d also like to see the FA Women’s National League get more exposure, as the Super League and Championship get a lot of coverage.

“For the club, it’s a tricky one…. Obviously, I’d like to see us get promoted if possible. But it’s always a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. We’ve all seen clubs in the past, like Blackpool or Yeovil Town in men’s football, who skyrocket up the leagues but can’t sustain it and the decline is almost as rapid as the rise. So, we have to make sure we avoid that.”

“Naturally, we want to build the club and we want to compete at a good level and see how far this club can really go. That said, from my standpoint as Head of Media, if we can’t go forwards, then we definitely don’t want to go backwards. So as long as we’ve got a real stability in the club and we’re able to steadily grow and maintain what we have, and if we can build our fan base and give Cheltenham Town Ladies fans a good time on a Sunday afternoon, then happy days, that’s fantastic. I’d be more than happy with that.”

Above: Cheltenham Town celebrate a goal against Portishead Town in the FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round this season. Photo: Will Cheshire Photography.