National League Preview 2020/21

While the Women’s Super League and Championship get all the attention in the national press, my favourite tier in the women’s football pyramid, Tier three, the National League North and South, kicks off this today.

At the point the league was cruelly cancelled, Sunderland looked unstoppable in the Northern Division and while their rivals will have openly said they might still catch them, it was never going to happen! While it was a closer contest on the South of England with Crawley Wasps and Watford vying to top spot.

Despite losing last season’s top scorer, Briget Galloway, to north-east rivals Durham and Charlotte Potts to Hibernian, Sunderland will again be the team to beat in the north. Melanie Reay will have been pleased to have retained the likes of Jessica Brown, Maria Farrugia and Keira Ramshaw, as well as resigning former Lasses youth star Beau Studholme from Manchester City.

Photo: @SAFCLadies

The latter, AFC Fylde, have had a dramatic summer. The club management came in for a lot of criticism for their decision to disband the women’s team and rightly so. Just before this announcement AFC Fylde’s Chairman, David Haythornthwaite assured supporters that “[AFC Fylde] is wholeheartedly committed to its women’s team and will ensure it remains a part of the club.”

Since the announcement was made public Haythornthwaite then came out and said “…when you come down to saying, can we live with a ladies’ team or can we live without them? The answer is we can live without a ladies’ team.” This coupled with the blasé statement released by the club showed that within the boardroom there is little respect or for consideration for the hard work put in by Conrad Prendergast, his players and his coaching staff.

Fortunately, four weeks later the club announced that they’d reversed the decision and reinstated the team. Prendergast did not return and the club has promoted Kim Turner and club captain, Danielle Young, as joint managers.

The pair have wasted no time in recruiting Stoke City midfielder, Faye McCoy. Faye will bring experience and goals that to a team that also includes another six new signings – Helen Seed, Hannah Fryer, Mel Bartley, Alex Taylor, Sav Smith and Becky Abbott.

Photo: Paul Melling

If I was a gambling man then I would be putting my money on Watford capturing the National League South title. Largely due to their potent attacking options. Little needs to be said about Watford’s Helen Ward, she is Wales’ all-time top scorer with 42 goals in 88 games and has long been considered as one of the most potent forwards in the division.

Complimenting Ward is new recruit, former Spurs and Yeovil Town striker, Sarah Wiltshire. This is Wiltshire’s second spell at the club, she’s previously played for the club between 2008 and 2014, scoring 38 goals in 89 games. The likes of Katie O’Leary and Adekite Fatuga-Dada will be chipping in and expecting to get double figures for the season. Any side that finishes above them will would the league I have no doubt about that.

Above and feature photo: @WatfordFCWomen

The big game of the opening weekend is between the newly rebranded Yeovil United, formerly Yeovil Town of course, and Jay Sadler’s Portsmouth.

It has been a very unsettled eighteen months at Yeovil and it may have taken a little time but it really looks like they are beginning to settle and look forward. Everyone should be very well acquainted with the story of how Yeovil were placed into the third tier of women’s football but maybe a few haven’t quite been paying the same attention to what happened since.

In July 2019, after narrowly avoiding administration, Yeovil Town’s ownership was successfully transferred to Adam Murry who had previously been involved with AFC Bournemouth. Academy head coach Jamie Phillip was promoted to first-team manager and the team were rebranded from Yeovil Town Ladies to Yeovil Town Women.

Yeovil began the season strongly and looked like potential promotion hopefuls but a run of poor form led to Phillip’s departure and the appointment of former manager and club legend, Jamie Sherwood, in November 2019. Jamie brought in some experience and top quality with Ellie Strippel, Chloe Lloyd and Jordan Guard but none really had the chance to have an impact with the season being cancelled soon after.

Their opponents Portsmouth had a frustrating 2019/20 season due to suffering a large number of postponements. So many that this is the club’s first league game since November 2019. To add some perspective, lockdown didn’t even begin until March!

Club captain Amelia Southgate and Mel Burns are the only major departures so Pompey boss Jay Sadler will be over the moon to have retained what is arguably the best squad at the club since Perry Northeast’s reign. New club captain, Jade Bradley, is one of the best midfielders in the division but for me, the one to watch will be Tamsin de Bunsen. The former Reading striker managed to score 8 goals in 13 games and that was including substitute appearances while undergoing rehabilitation from injury. A fully fit de Bunsen will be a match-winner and will hope to fire the club into the title race! Pompey’s away win at Cardiff City last season shows that the side are now ready to challenge the best in the league and three points against Yeovil will be a big statement of intent for this season.

Photo: @JordanHampton

One team who I am worried about is Plymouth Argyle. They have long been one of the most competitive teams in the division but there has been a bit of an exodus over the summer. Top scorer Natasha Knapman has dropped down a division to join Buckland Athletic, Leah Burridge and Ebony Dover have joined Yeovil United. While Helen Bleazard and Molly Taylor have also departed. All of the above were ever presents last season. While I confess to not knowing too much about their replacements, there are big boots to fill!

Chichester City are now playing as Chichester Selsey, their boss, Sadie Blakeley, has strengthened her front line with the signing of Jane Yeates from Southampton Women. There will be pressure on her to hit the ground running as Blakeley’s young side put in plenty of good performances last season, but failed to trouble opposition keepers and if you aren’t scoring goals then you are always going to struggle.

There is so much to talk about in both divisions and I am really excited to share these stories over the course of the season through Since 71.