Despite the season’s disappointing and abrupt conclusion we still wanted to reward the amazing work that goes on within women’s football.
When thinking about this award you might expect us to direct our attention straight to the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City or Arsenal. All of which have been the most successful of the British based teams, but as a supporter of the whole of the women’s football pyramid we wanted to look deeper. After much debate, our panel agreed that National League South East Division One side, Ipswich Town FC Women, were worthy winners of the Team of the Season award.
There have been a number of teams who have had near-perfect seasons, leaving them on the cusp of promotion into higher leagues which will have given them access to increased exposure and finances that would help them develop on and off the pitch. As the league was paused Joe Sheehan‘s side sat top of their league with 34 points, one point ahead of AFC Wimbledon in second place, and with a goal difference 24 higher than their nearest rival.
On winning the award, Sheehan said, “We at Ipswich Town are grateful to be selected by the Since 71 panel as winners of this award. It’s really great to be recognised by the wider footballing community for a relatively successful season before it was ultimately cut short. It really indicates the impact we made on a national scale and shows the excellent contribution of the players and staff.”
While former Manchester City U21 player, Blue Wilson, told me, “It’s a good feeling to have recognition for a season which will never be forgotten by the staff and players. We’re grateful to receive this award and are more than ready to hit the ground running when the season starts again.”
Town player, Natasha Thomas, described her personal highlight of the season and it wasn’t one particular game, “It was being able to fall back into love with the game again. With Joe and Paige stepping into the management role for the women’s first team this was the turning point for me. It gave me a kick up the backside and got me back to my hard-working ways as I feel I stepped off the gas with different things going on in my life at the time.
“Being in and around a club that is striving for success is such an amazing feeling and the success we have had this season, even though it has been cut short, has made it one of my most favourite seasons to date.”
One of the key factors that saw Ipswich Town pip the other contenders was their record-breaking FA Cup run. Their journey began in the qualifying round with a comfortable win against Royston Town. Town cruised into the first-round proper of the Women’s FA Cup with an emphatic 6-1 East Anglian Derby victory over local rivals Norwich City at the Goldstar Ground, followed by a 5-0 victory against AFC Basildon.
In the second round, they travelled to Chichester City from the league above (National League South). Sheehan’s side came away with a comprehensive 6-0 victory. Natasha Thomas struck with a pair of instinctive strikes, with Lindsey Cooper, Amanda Crump, Paige Peake and Sophie Peskett completing the scoring for the relentless Blues.
In the following round, they hosted Jay Sadler‘s Portsmouth, who had overcome Leyton Orient in their second-round tie. The blues caused another cup upset, coming away with a 1-0 win thanks to a free-kick from Paige Peake.
In the fourth round, when the WSL and Championship sides entered the competition, the Tractor Girls were drawn against Huddersfield Town, another side from the tier above. 16-year-old forward Maddie Biggs netted a superb first senior hat-trick as Town continued their historic cup run with a 4-1 victory at the John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday.
This set up a dream away trip to take on Manchester City. Although this is also where the dream ended as City ran out comfortable victors in a 10-0 win. A result should be put in perspective, City’s team of international players were playing against a team plying their trade in the non-professional fourth tier of women’s football.
Natasha Thomas describes the experience, “The feeling after the game was a strange one, we had been on such an amazing journey as a club and knowing that was at an end was an emotional time. Going into the game with absolutely nothing to lose gave us that spike of ‘what if…?’ We knew that we had to put an absolute shift and a half in and there would be no room for errors if we were to win that one in a million game. The experience was something else and I will never forget the day, the journey and experience. The support from the club, our coaches and our fans made the whole experience that little bit more magical.
“Reflecting back on the game really shows me the difference from where we are at the moment and where we want to be as a club, that is to be contending with world-class clubs like Manchester City. The future is bright, the club knows what needs to be done and the graft started the very next game and that will now carry onto next season.”
Ipswich Town definitely caught the attention of many women’s football fans and while much has been made of the disproportionate prize money between the men’s and the women’s game, the money earnt by Town will give them a great platform to clinch promotion in what is going to be a very competitive league next season.
Ipswich Town have sadly lost Roxy Small who has retired but have strengthened their young side with the signing of Georgia Allen. The former Arsenal and Ipswich player has returned after spending time with Syracuse University in New York. Sheehan’s side has set the standard quite high but as the new season approaches, they will no doubt look at prioritising promotion to the National League South with the likes of Portsmouth, Watford and Yeovil Town.
On next season, Natasha Thomas said, “We are absolutely buzzing to get going again. After the season being cut short, this has given me and my team mates even more hunger and determination to get the job done and get it done to a higher standard. Bringing in the likes of Georgia Allen has brought even more class to the club and I look forward to playing alongside her as well as all the other girls that have been retained. In particular, we are looking to cut out the errors we made last season. Building on those bonds and relationships with players to play at our personal best but most importantly as a team. We have to forget what’s happened last season new slate new goals let’s go and get that league title.”
We cannot wait for next season to get up and running so we can present you with the award in person.