Back in April, the one-of-a-kind football club Hashtag United announced their arrival onto the women’s football scene by confirming a merger with FA Women’s National League Division One South East side AFC Basildon to form Hashtag United Women.
After an explosion of interest on social media, followed by months of preparation behind the scenes, the Tags are now ready for their first-ever competitive fixture with Sunday’s league opener away at Ipswich Town.
Here’s all you need to know about a story that all women’s football fans should eagerly follow over the months to come.
After a difficult 2018/19 as C&K Basildon in which the club was relegated from the third tier, AFC Basildon had enjoyed a pleasing 2019/20 before its premature conclusion. The team were sitting third in the table at the time of the expungement and on a run of seven straight league wins to give themselves an outside chance of gaining promotion at the first attempt. The Essex side had also booked a place in their county cup final, although that has since been cancelled due to COVID-19.
For those unaware of Hashtag United, Spencer Owen‘s outfit is an online phenomenon boasting over 500,000 followers on its YouTube channel alone. The club already encompasses a Step 5 non-league men’s squad, a Sunday League team, and one of the world’s most successful eSports rosters. Alongside the arrival of Hashtag United Women, a summer of intense activity off the pitch has also seen several youth teams throughout Essex welcomed under the Hashtag umbrella.
Former AFC Basildon manager Jason Stephens remains in charge of the newly rebranded team, although his coaching team has been bolstered by a couple of new additions. Meanwhile, club captain Alex Bailess is now offering her experience from the sidelines as the team’s matchday social media correspondent following an enforced retirement on health grounds just days before the club’s first pre-season fixture.
The women’s team has already enjoyed some of the off-field benefits of being associated with the high-profiled Hashtag brand, gaining national press coverage and social media followings that they could have never imagined under the former guise. Now, their challenge is to keep the momentum going – the only way to do that is with wins.
Several players could stake their claim for this one, but it’s hard to look past scoring sensation Kelly Wealthall. Despite the season’s premature end, the former West Ham United academy player netted 25 in all competitions last year and scooped the division’s Golden Boot in the process. While there’s a lot more to her game than converting chances, the fact that everything she touches turns to goals will strike fear into opposing defences throughout the 2020/21 season.
The acquisition of Evie Clarke from London City Lionesses certainly turned a few heads and she will be expected to shine alongside Wealthall and Holly Turner in arguably the most fearsome front three in any of the regionalised fourth tier divisions. Even in pre-season, her quick feet and ability to manufacture chances for both herself and her teammates delivers a huge source of optimism for the season ahead.
Clarke is joined at the club by a number of new faces, including Ella Hill and Stef Paci, who both look very accomplished on the ball while Katie Pounder is a real threat when driving forward too. When added to the core of AFC Basildon players that have followed Stephens into the new era, the squad looks better equipped than ever as it embarks on a bid to battle the likes of Ipswich Town, Billericay Town, and Wimbledon for promotion.
While results aren’t the be-all and end-all of pre-season, Hashtag United will enter the new season in good spirits after registering a 3-2 win away at West Bromwich Albion of Tier 3 on Sunday afternoon. That victory made it five wins from seven while one of the two defeats was a 3-2 loss at Crawley Wasps, who will be fancied to challenge for promotion in the division above.
Hashtag have underlined their firepower by scoring at least twice in each of those pre-season fixtures while fighting back from 3-0 to 3-2 against Crawley, as well as coming from behind twice against West Brom, shows the resilient attitude within the team. Given that AFC Basildon won each of their final seven league matches of 2019/20 too, the Park Lane side will fancy their chances of challenging for silverware.
Hashtag United Women will play their home games at Canvey Island FC, 1 Park Ln, Canvey Island, Essex, SS8 7PX. Alternatively, fans will be able to catch regular highlights and behind-the-scenes content at youtube.com/user/spencerbets.
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