FAW Cup weekend: Sent Her Forward turns the spotlight on one of the South East’s unlikely cup successes
The Eastbourne Town fairy story writes another chapter on Sunday – snow (white) permitting – when the team from the third tier of the women’s winter pyramid host Premier League Derby County in the third round of the FAW Cup.
Emma Parslow’s side have already gone further than the club have ever gone before and have knocked out three higher-ranked teams on the way, including Premier League Queens Park Rangers in the last round.
And now they stand on the verge of the last 32 – where the superstars of the FAW Super League 1 join the competition.
Even if their joyride through the early rounds of the cup finally judders to a halt on Sunday, they will have set down a marker for the club to aspire to in future seasons, having treated their loyal band of supporters to levels of excitement they could rarely have experienced at The Saffrons watching the women’s side.
Eastbourne Town’s Cup odyssey
28/9/14 1st Qual Round Burgess Hill Town (h) 7-0
12/10/14 2nd Qual Round Parkwood Rangers (h) 3-1
2/11/14 3rd Qual Round Gosport Borough (h) 5-0
7/12/14 1st Round Chichester City (h) 1-1 aet (5-4 on pens)
11/1/14 2nd Round Queens Park Rangers (h) 1-0
The club have already safely negotiated five rounds – all at home – scoring 17 goals and conceding two.
It is such a contrast with their league form, which – in-between all the postponements for cup games and the weather – has been patchy, to say the least, and leaves them currently second-to-bottom of the London & South East Regional Women’s League, with just two wins all season and none in the league since October.
It’s an inconsistency not lost on Parslow, Eastbourne’s rookie manager, who has spotted a common thread in many of their league defeats.
“Sloppy second-halves,” she told Sent Her Forward. “We were always in the games at half-time and we really struggled to come out in the second halves and compose ourselves and go from the whistle.
“It takes about 15 minutes for us to get going in the second half, and by that time sometimes the game’s over.”
Curiously, it’s not been a problem during their cup run, where the excitement of the occasion seems to have been motivation enough.
“We’re really working on transferring the cup form across to the league,” said the defender, who is still turning out for the first team, despite efforts to call it a day and concentrate on managing.
“It’s bizarre. It’s like a roller-coaster at the moment. It’s like up, and then back down in the league,” Parslow added.
“We’ve all spoken about it and had quite a frank discusson after the Fulham game (which Eastbourne lost 4-2 after leading 2-1 at half-time) and said it’s just not acceptable.”
Bottom of London & South East Counties Women’s Regional League
Town’s cup journey began way back in September, when last season’s Women’s Super League season was still going strong.
They hammered Burgess Hill Town, who play in the tier below, 7-0, and then met another team from the South East Counties Premier Division – Parkwood Rangers – whom they defeated 3-1.
Then came the first of three ties against higher-ranked opposition: they saw off injury-hit Gosport Borough, who have since withdrawn from the FAW Premier League Division One South West, in one of their most impressive performances of the season, triumphing 5-0.
Then they faced Chichester City, from the same league, the Sussex Women’s Cup holders, who had beaten them three weeks earlier in the County Cup.
Parslow says her players had all the motivation they needed from Chichester’s account of the County Cup game. “I think they were a little bit complacent, if I’m honest, and they didn’t give us the respect that we deserved.
“Their post-match report wasn’t that pleasant, and it as a case of look, it’s the cup, and it’s anyone’s game on the day.”
‘Great team spirit’
Eastbourne had tired in that County Cup game, which Chichester won 3-1. But in their FAW Cup showdown, they survived 120 minutes of football – and the psychological blow of conceding a late equaliser in extra-time – before keeping their heads in the penalty shootout.
The win earned them a second-round proper tie – again at home – against Queens Park Rangers, who are established in mid-table in the top tier of the women’ winter game.
The prospect of a Premier League club at the Saffrons captured the imagination of the town, with media attention adding to the hyperbole.
“If I’m really honest with you, we were looking for a draw and nick a goal if we could get one,” Parslow admitted. “But we’d had a great day. We’d met for breakfast; we’d had some great team spirit that morning, and the chairman came in and said, ‘This is your game. You go out there and leave nothing behind, have no regrets and really enjoy the game’.”
She added: “None of us had played in a game that big, and it was a case of what will happen will happen.”
Ninety minutes later, having survived a couple of glaring QPR misses – including a penalty – Emma Parslow and her team were celebrating another famous victory in their club-record-breaking run – and another home tie, against another Premier League team.
Derby County play in the Northern Division, still two tiers above the East Sussex side, and will be treated in much the same way as all their previous opponents.
Bottom of FAW Premier League Northern
“I know that they are struggling, the same as us. They are really inconsistent with their league form, as well. They let in goals, but they score goals,” said Parslow.
“I haven’t gone out and about to do the research because we’ll just play the 11 players that are in front of us. And we’ve proved twice this season that we can beat pedigree teams.”
The cup run has earned the club vital revenue that Parslow says will keep them going for the rest of the season. They’ve also tapped into a revival of interest within the club in the women’s team’s fortunes, and the young manager speaks highly of the level of support the club’s committee has given her and the players.
It’s also had an impact on attendances, with the gate of around 220 for the QPR game between five and 10 times their typical crowd.
They are expecting between 250 and 300 for Sunday’s game – if it survives the weather – with family of some of their student players travelling to Sussex from all over the country.
“The biggest thing for this season is the spirit and togetherness, which is driving the team forward.”
At the very least, Derby can expect that on Sunday.