Interview: Chichester & Selsey Boss, Sadie Blakely

Chichester & Selsey‘s Sadie Blakely has been involved in women’s football on the south coast for a long time, much of that has been spent at Portsmouth. In the summer of 2019 she took over from Aaron Smith as the boss of National League (FAWNL) South’s Chichester City.

If I’m honest, Sadie was up against it from the very beginning as many of the team who finished top three in the season before had moved on to pastures new. She had to build a brand new team all the while there were huge changes going on behind the scenes, including the club changing their affiliation from Chichester City to Selsey Football Club. After riding that storm Chichester & Selsey have started the season strongly and are looking at re-establishing the team as one of the strongest within the league.

Since 71: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sadie: Well, I am a Pompey girl and have always lived in Portsmouth my whole life. My position when I played was a goalkeeper and that’s where I always played from youth to senior level. My club is Portsmouth FC and have been a season ticket holder, travelled around the country and abroad watching Portsmouth FC in any league they were in.

My other full-time job as well as managing Chichester & Selsey, is working in the Portsmouth Naval base for BAE Systems and been in there for 11 years as a Load Test Slinger.

Who was your biggest footballing inspiration while growing up?
Definitely from my family, we are very much a footballing family, expect my middle brother Joe. From going to Fratton Park watching some of the best players Pompey had with my Dad, Grandad and older brother Lee. I also used to watch my older brother Lee play a good standard so it was hard to get away from it.

Photo: Sheena Booker

Could you tell me about your experience at youth football?
In Junior School, we had a successful team. Our teachers really pushed for this and would put you in the boy’s team to play. They were very supported in girls football even back then when it was unusual for girls to play. This gave me the drive to play more and that is when I trialled out for Portsmouth Ladies and got in. I played there all the way up to senior level from U10’s.

How important was your time at Portsmouth in your development?
Youth football was about playing for the team I loved and enjoying it. Then I got to 15/16 that’s when it started to get serious as you wanted to push for playing for the senior section. The best thing for my development was when we got more staff in at Portsmouth as I got to have a goalkeeper coach. This was key to my development, having training and someone talk to about this position.

Is there one particular highlight during your time at Portsmouth?
To be honest, I had many highlights at Portsmouth as I was there for a very long time. So from my first start for the first team, winning leagues and cups, it was a big part of my playing career and life.

Photo: Portsmouth 2015 by Jordan Hampton

When you left Portsmouth you dropped down a division to play at Chichester City. What appealed to you most about making that move?
After getting released from Portsmouth I had a couple of months away from football and it was a phone call from then Chichester City manager Liam Greenfield who convinced me to join and get back playing. With his plans for the future (getting promoted) and the team he had, I was immediately sold.

The FA Cup tie against Liverpool must have been a big highlight during your time at Chichester, what are you overriding memories of that game?
Yeah was amazing for the club history to do this and to have big name players down at Oaklands Park and have a big crowd too. Just wanted to prove that the underdogs can have a happy ending but really felt we could have pushed Liverpool more, especially in the first half. Always knew Liverpool’s fitness and talent would come through.

Do you still look upon it fondly despite the result?
Yes and no. As first half we could have done more but second they look like the top-flight side they were at that time.

You hung up your gloves the following season. How did you come to that decision as it couldn’t have been easy?
This was through the new management team at Chichester City and a long term injury which I needed a major knee operation for in the end.

What we’re your first thoughts when you were offered the role of Chichester City Manager?
“Really? Me?” Haha! With not being a big name in women’s football and not having big qualifications would players or other coaches respect me in this role? I knew I had the experiences through being in women’s football at this level for a number of years but you still ask yourself that question. To be honest with the squad that was there at the time, the answer to that question was no, so it was about rebuilding with a new squad.

Photo: Sheena Booker

When you were appointed the club were undergoing changes from top to bottom. How did you begin to approach the challenge of rebuilding the playing staff with so many new faces required?
This was hard and challenging for me. Personally as when you are starting out you have no reputation for people to go on. People don’t know what to expect and how you are going to manage etc but I had good people around me to help me through this as well as, a good bunch of girls. It helped that these girls were not interested in the politics, they just were interested in playing football, learning and giving their all to the club.

If all of that upheaval the team ended their association with Chichester City FC and departed Oaklands to begin a partnership with Selsey FC, becoming Chichester Selsey Ladies FC. How has this transition been?
Selsey FC are amazing and really interested in the club and in women’s football, especially promoting it as they do. I wish more clubs would be this welcoming to women’s football as this helps with the club settling in and having a place to call home.

After a superb win against your old club Portsmouth and picking up three wins in your first five league games, what’s changed from last season?
It was an amazing midweek derby game under the lights. It was a great night for the club and players as they have worked so hard for this on and off the field. We started to improve at the end of the last season but with Covid-19 the league was void. A lot of people would say we were saved by this, which may be right but at the start of this season I would not think that. We recruited well in areas that we needed more depth for the squad to push on from what we were achieving from the season before. I think the biggest difference this year is that the girls believe in themselves and what they can achieve.

What are realistic targets for the team this season?
The target for this season was to not be in the mix of a relegation battle but to be a team holding their own in this league against some big named clubs with much bigger budgets than ours, little Chichester & Selsey. We also want to do one better than last year and lift the Sussex Cup.

At the moment this is challenging times for everyone and as much as we need football in our lives, we need to keep ourselves and everyone safe. We cannot wait to get back on that football pitch, when it is safe to do so.