Three clubs across the north-east have benefitted from the restructuring of Women’s Football at grassroots level, a move which was caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Alnwick Town Ladies, Bishop Auckland Ladies, and West Allotment Celtic Ladies, have all seen themselves moved up a division after the 2019/20 season came to an abrupt half a few months back.
Most football leagues, in both the men’s, and women’s game, were ultimately decided by a points-per-game (PPG) system, and that has proven to be beneficial to the north’s trio of sides.
Although each of the sides have had promotion aspirations, and title-winning seasons in mind, the pandemic has altered the mind-set of head coaches Peter Hately, Barry Procter and David Dodds as they now look ahead with renewed vigour.
Alnwick, aiming to bring National League football to Northumberland, found themselves, alongside Sheffield Wednesday Ladies, elevated to North-East Region Women’s Football League Premier Division status, and after just three seasons on the field, it’s been an emotional ride for Peter Hately.
“I do sympathise with (Sunderland) West End who’ve had a fantastic season themselves,” began Hately, who paid tribute to league rivals Sunderland West End.
“There were two vacancies I believe in the Premier Division and we were lucky to get one of them and it’s going to be a great challenge for the girls but I think we can cope really well and challenge at the top.”
As well as a trip to oppose Sheffield Wednesday next season, Hately and his Ladies have a number of treks across country at hand as Alnwick Town will be facing the likes of Harrogate Town, Farsley Celtic and Hartlepool United, clubs Hately believes will be the main challengers, as well as that of Ossett United, Wallsend and South Shields.
“We’ll be back training come the end of June,” insists Town’s manager.
“I’ve a good, healthy 35+ players coming so we’re in a really strong position moving forward and they deserve to have a shot at the Premier Division.
“I’m quietly confident we can make a good go of it though.”
Other beneficiaries of the FA’s movements in the women’s game are another fledgling side, in West Allotment Celtic, who take one of the two spots in the North-East Region Women’s Football League Division 1 North, and Bishop Auckland Ladies, who’ll join them.
Dodds, himself a UEFA B coach at West Allotment, said of his sides’ elevation: “It was a nice surprise as in our first season we finished runners-up to Blyth Town, and the season just gone there was a strong challenge from Wallsend Reserves.
“It was brilliant beating them (Wallsend) as they’re a tough side.
“This season though we’ve developed well as a team, progressed well on and off the field, and performed better as the side has matured.”
Not only will West be playing Bishop Auckland, they’ll also have to contend with Sunderland West End, Blyth Town, Norton & Stockton Ancients Reserves, and Chester-le-Street Development among others. Tough challenges, at every turn, for the West boss who will need to again educate his playing staff, but it’s a challenge he is relishing.
“Although I’m looking for a few new players, they need to fit in with what we have already, the ethos and friendly-nature of the club,” he added.
“We’ll look to consolidate next season, not finish in the bottom three, as it’s a big step up but we’ll take each game as it comes.”
Meanwhile over in County Durham, Bishop Auckland coach, Barry Procter, is well aware of the challenges posed to his side after they were moved up a division.
Having achieved the objective of promotion, Bishops still have the carrot of a League Cup final to play where they’ll oppose the winner of the Darlington Ladies – Chester-le-Street Amazons semi-final.
“The main objective when I came into the club last summer was to gain promotion,” stated the Bishops manager.
“So, hitting top spot of the league so close to the end of the season was sweet, and to be in the cup final as well, which we’ve still got to play at some point, then I’m happy.”
The challenge presented to Procter when the new campaign begins however is that of a more personal nature, as he comes up against opponents he’s been connected to in the past.
“Yes, there’s going to be some really hard games next season and I’ll make the players aware of that,” added Barry.
“The likes of Norton, and Washington, Chester and West End, I’m all too familiar with and will be coming up against a number of former players of mine.
“There’s also some background history between Bishops and a few clubs to add some extra spice so Bishops will be putting some extra work in that’s for sure.”
Now, for all three sides to be moved up the women’s footballing pyramid, it’s a case of playing the waiting game, a game that nobody knows as to when, or even if, the new season will start, but Hately, Dodds and Procter will certainly have their respective sides ready for the challenges ahead.
(Images courtesy of John V Mason, David Dodds and Joseph Gorman respectively)