Sent Her Forward pays tribute to the outstanding contributions in a magnificent season of women’s football in the South East
As the raucous cheers of the last of the season’s celebrations begin to fade and players and managements turn their attentions to their summer holidays – while trying to focus on where (or even if) they’re going to be playing next season – the gongs are being handed out to the players deemed by their clubs to be the most deserving.
Sent Her Forward is running a regularly updated page on club awards – and if you would like yours added, please send me all the details. But, much like I did at the start of the New Year, I’m dishing out my own cyber-gongs to those whose performances have thrilled and impressed me the most in the 40 games that I have crammed in to my website’s first season.
As those managers and players who have picked their season’s best will testify, choosing recipients is a minefield. I’ve seen some brilliant individual performances, excellent team displays, and all sorts in-between.
I’ve seen well-worked goals, opportunist goals and spectacular strikes. I’ve seen some terrific saves and immaculately timed tackles.
I’ve seen tenacious midfield terriers and cool, calm and collected playmakers; coaches who scream, managers who cajole.
And I’ve tried to notice some of those less obtrusive figures who work hard behind the scenes, whether carrying the kit, helping assess the squad or scouting for additions.
Choosing winners means others who have played important roles get overlooked.
But most of my awards are based on what I have actually seen – so inevitably players and officials from certain sides are going to feature more often than those I’ve watched perhaps only once – or maybe followed only in cyberspace.
On the other hand, some – such as club and team of the year – are based on my judgment of their respective achievements over the course of the season rather than any individual game.
But how do you gauge? Are a team with relatively large resources who run away with their league better than one who overcome all sorts of difficulties to snatch a lower-level title?
Is a first team’s triumph at the expense of their reserves more admirable than one where both have performed strongly, even if they don’t collect so many honours?
I’ve tried to be fair and base all decisions on my own assessments of these achievements. They are, after all, my awards and therefore my opinions.
I understand others will have different views.
But regardless of who I choose, one of the most rewarding aspects of following the women’s and girls’ game so closely is that I have come to realise that there is even more talent, dedication and commitment in women’s football than I ever imagined possible.
In my eyes, everybody who helps make regular, competitive female football possible in the South East is a winner.
What a tribute to the attitude and approach of teenage footballers that three or four of the best games I’ve watched this season have involved youth teams.
Not only is the technical ability there, but what has struck me is the intelligent way in which many of the young players approach the game: it’s sometimes easy enough to spot the runner from the touchline; often less so in the middle of the fray.
But there are plenty of under-18s and under-16s (and no doubt some even younger) who have not only spotted the potential killer pass, but have executed it to perfection.
The Sussex Under-16 Cup final between Crawley Town and Portsmouth was one of the best matches I saw, played in a competitive, but respectful spirit, as youth games always seem to be.
At adult level, Worthing Minors and Bexhill United put on an entertaining cup tie that ebbed and flowed but didn’t quite produce the giant-killing that might have rounded it off.
But the match that had me on the edge of my seat (or would have, if Ewhurst Playing Fields had such a thing) involved two under-18 sides:
Just when we all thought we had survived all that winter could throw at us, the heavens opened again one Sunday in April when the top two teams in the Sussex County Women’s Under-18 Division met at Crawley.
Conditions were dreadful; much of the football sublime. And I’ve never noted so many potential players-of-the-match before or since.
The match, fittingly, ended in a 3-3 draw. The sides eventually finished level in the league, and with no goal difference in youth football, supporters were treated to a rematch, in the form of a play-off, which Wasps won 3-1, after extra-time.
Best individual performance
My longest shortlist! And the fact that half a dozen of the candidates play for either Chichester City or their reserves reflects the tremendous seasons both have had – and the fact that I have watched more of their games than any other.
Among the best performances I have seen were Sam Morley‘s amazing feat of skill, stamina and drive in carrying nine-“man” Rottingdean Village’s challenge to Adur Athletic in that title decider so controversially abandoned late in the game.
The midfielder has excelled every time I have watched her, but her performance that day was outstanding.
Wivelsfield Green’s goalscoring queen, Emma Chrimes, has once again been finding the net, notably in a flurry of hat-tricks as Wivi turned it on in their pursuit of second place. But incredibly, it was a game in which the number nine failed to score that she especially took my eye this season.
In a double-header against Haywards Heath 2nds at a blustery Downlands School, Hassocks, Chrimes did everything but score, covering every inch of that unforgiving 3G surface and even setting up Lauren Amos for her hat-trick in the second game, when she could have gone for goal.
Beth Nugent gave a masterclass in the art of defending when she lit up the Southern Counties Women’s League Cup final between Herne Bay and Bexhill United.
But it was another defensive performance that wins my vote.
Winner: Emma Alexandre (Chichester City v Swindon Town)
Against the then league leaders, who were in brilliant form, the youngster put on an exemplary display of defending, showing spirit, commitment and bravery, but also the wisdom of when to commit and when to just bide her time and rely on innate sense of positioning. A performance of maturity beyond her years.
Goal of the season
I’ve seen more than 180 goals this season, so I’ve plenty to choose from. Unfortunately, my notebook doesn’t always adequately reflect the precise nature of the goal it records.
It might mention an opportunist goal out of nothing or a lengthy build-up involving lots of passing. But what it doesn’t always tell me is how such a goal scored back in September compares with a similar effort last month, or last week.
So apologies to all those whose wondrous efforts have failed to make my shortlist. You can console yourselves with the fact that every goal is a thing of beauty – more so if it helps your team avoid defeat, win a match or clinch a trophy.
None the less, there are plenty of crackers among my candidates.
Emily Robinson scored the best goal in that great game between Crawley Wasps and Hangleton Rangers, referred to above. Its quality was defined not only by her composure on the ball and confident, precise finish, but also by the smart control and perceptive pass from Rebekah Dunt that set her up.
Gemma Simmonds has proved herself to be an invaluable scorer of goals from midfield for Portsmouth this season, and one that sticks out for me was her second – and Pompey’s sixth – in their 6-0 Hampshire Cup final victory over the University of Portsmouth.
Again, it owed much to another player – Gemma Hillier was the springboard who played her part in a superb one-two to perfection, leaving Simmonds to provide the sublime, accurate finish.
Another “team” goal was that scored by Sian Crewe in vain for Rottingdean Village against Adur Athletic in their title-decider that was eventually abandoned and replayed.
Rottingdean were 3-2 down and reduced to nine players when Sam Morley threaded her way through the heart of the Adur side before flighting a delicate cross on to Crewe’s head.
To be fair, Crewe still had to rise between two defenders and steer her header into goal – which she did with the aplomb I have come to expect from someone I regard as a top striker.
There’s hardly anything between my top three – all would be worthy winners of Goal of the Season.
In third place was Chloe Geddes’ opener for Portsmouth Under-16s, which put them ahead in the League Cup final against Crawley Town. It is third only because she was given so much room inside the Crawley penalty area.
But like all top finishers, the immensely talented youngster bided her time until she was exactly where she wanted to be, 15 yards out, and well to the left of the goal. Then she curled her shot with millimetre precision beyond the defenders and goalkeeper’s outstretched arms before its flight took a deliberate detour just inside the far post.
An indication of how deliberate it was can be seen from the fact that while I was in line with its path, I was not sure until the last second that it was going to go in; Geddes was already celebrating.
It’s no surprise that one of the most natural goalscorers I have seen in the women’s game should appear on my goal-of-the-season list. That the goal was scored as a substitute is rather more so.
But if there’s one thing Abbey Shrubb has it’s a sense of occasion. And they don’t come much bigger than your first Sussex Women’s Cup final – against Premier League Brighton.
Shrubb was on the bench for the final following Kally Ambler’s impressive showing when replacing her during Chichester City’s previous game. But she took the game by storm when she came on in place of Ambler, scoring two goals in Chichester’s record-breaking 3-0 win.
Her first, less than 15 minutes after coming on, was a gem, shrugging off the close attentions of her marker, Cally Beaumont, and tricking her to create a few inches of space before rifling an unstoppable, angled shot across Charlotte Sole in the Brighton goal.
All of which makes the winner’s effort incredibly special.
Winner: Emily Vaughan (Parkwood Rangers v Haywards Heath)
Parkwood’s top scorer scores goals for fun – but she would especially have enjoyed the second in her hat-trick at Haywards Heath in April.
Goalkeeper Bex Smallman’s goal-kick went as far as Vaughan, 30 yards out, but with no apparent immediate danger, the keeper was taken by surprise as the striker met it on the volley with pace, power and precision, sending it soaring back beyond Smallman before she could move.
As I wrote at the time: “It was a moment of wonderful technique, combined with supreme confidence from a girl in form.” I’ve rarely seen better – at any level of football. It’s a worthy winner.
Save of the season
If I’ve lost track of many of the goals I’ve seen, I should have little trouble in recalling the outstanding saves, as goalkeeping is an area which, in my opinion, is still a weak point at some levels of the women’s and girls’ game.
However, reading back through my notes, I’ve highlighted many. Again, the problem is recalling their precise nature and then comparing them with each other. I’ve narrowed the field down to the few that I’ve expressly marked as top-class.
Herewith is the Sent Her Forward list of asterisked saves.
Bexhill United were leading Worthing Minors 1-0 when Worthing’s Danni Laine unleashed a blistering left-foot strike that seemed certain to bring the underdogs level in their League Cup quarter-final.
However, somehow Hayley Calder kept the ball out – a save that proved the springboard for her side’s eventual 2-0 victory.
Portsmouth Under-16s’ talented goalkeeper, India Warren, made a series of outstanding saves in her side’s 3-1 League Cup final defeat to Crawley Town.
Pick any one from her brilliant point-blank denial of Tayla Hill with the score at 0-0, her superb stop in a one-on-one with the dangerous Chloe Chesworth or her full-stretch saves from Emma Parren and others as she kept Pompey in the game almost single-handedly.
But the one that stands out for me was a goal that helped her side win a cup.
Winner: Breeze Handley (Herne Bay v Bexhill United)
The underdogs from east Kent were in buoyant mood as they took on Bexhill in the SECW League Cup final. But their balloon was nearly popped when Laura Bolton unleashed a trademark free-kick 25 yards out, with the game still goalless.
Handley dived to her right and brilliantly tipped the fierce shot around the post, barely pausing before re-organising her defence. Bay went on to win 3-0, but the cup was arguably won by Handley’s save at 0-0.
More awards in part two soon.