Playing in the Women’s Super League ‘a dream’

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Given that twelve months ago, Durham Women’s Football Club had never played a match, the progress made by the club under the management of Lee Sanders and Andy Thorpe and in partnership with Durham University has been simply staggering. Formed by merging Cestria Girls FC with DUWFC, few could have predicted the success that would follow.

Kate Bradley vs Man City
Kate Bradley in action in the Continental Cup against Manchester City

Perhaps overawed by the magnitude of their situation, the side started slowly in the inaugural Women’s Super League 2. Midfielder Kate Bradley – a second year student at St Aidan’s – admitted as much.

“It’s been amazing to play against these teams. For most of the girls here, it’s been the first experience of such a step up. The standard’s a lot higher and the games are a lot faster, the intensity’s higher and more physical – even compared to BUCS,” she tells me.

“You really know the difference. We train twice a week and you really recognise the difference when you play against the likes of Manchester City who train every single day and are doing this as their profession. It’s been a great opportunity for everyone involved. It goes to show that there’s a lot of talent out there, given the opportunity.”

Both Bradley and key player Jen King are keen to emphasise the improvements made over the course of the season by the side.

King acknowledged that “the first part of the season was tough but we found our feet eventually.” Indeed, Durham failed to win any of their opening nine games. Bradley, though, is keen – and correct – to stress the sheer might of their opponents.

“We had a shaky start at the start of the year but once we managed to get that first win, we really got our confidence and from then, we’ve really improved. Obviously, we’re a new team playing against sides that have been playing together for years. I think that’s something we can be really proud of.”

Such was the improvement over the season that international honours have arrived with England calling up four of Durham’s girls. Last month, Beth Hepple, Jemma Purfield, Vic Linsley & Anna Moorhouse were selected for England’s U19 training camp.

What is so unique about Durham’s success is the lack of professional affiliation to the club. They play in the same league as the likes of Aston Villa and Yeovil Town and in the Continental Cup alongside Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton. Doncaster Belles are packed full of international stars, Reading have an array of former Arsenal players, and Sunderland are former Women’s Premier League champions. All of this shows what a job Durham have done to even be competing.

Manager Lee Sanders is ambitious about his young side’s future.

“I never stop looking for players. I was at the 3rd XI trials, 2nd XI trials, 1st XI trials. At the end of the day, you never know who’s going to arrive. We’ve got to get the right blend. Yes, we’ll always have a relatively young squad but that’s a good thing. Younger players are generally a bit hungrier and they all want to learn. It’s all about finding the right balance. Caroline Dixon, for example, was brought to the club. She’s 27 and the team captain. She’s brought experience to the squad and excellent leadership.”

Bradley agrees with her manager and has set an “aim of finishing in the top four and an FA Cup run.” King, whose future is in doubt as she comes to the end of her Masters degree, is equally ambitious. She points out that had “we collected the same amount of points in the first half of the season as the second half, we’d have finished third” – a remarkable achievement for a side that a year ago, did not even exist.

Photograph: Durham Women’s Football Club

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