Copsewood Coventry completed a remarkable escape from relegation from the FAW Premier League Southern Division – and then revealed: we might have to fold if we have to stay in the south.
Ryan Conneely’s slender squad have been in the bottom two virtually all season after being beset by injuries – and then the loss of highly-rated goalkeeper Nikki Duncan to West Ham United.
But a late revival, coinciding with a return of a near-full-strength team, has seen them secure safety with a game still to play, sending Gillingham down instead (subject to league ratification).
However, Conneely says the club are desperate to be switched to the Northern Division because of the crippling costs and additional commitment required to travel to away games in the south.
They have requested a transfer, but now face an anxious wait while the make-up of the various Premier League divisions is confirmed and the club’s request is considered.
See also: Copsewood ‘keeper crisis
Conneely told Sent Her Forward: “If we remain in the Southern Prem it is highly likely we will be folding. I have found it incredibly hard to attract players, so I know nothing will change next season if we are in the same league.
“And I have also been informed by current players that they would find it extremely hard to commit to giving up an entire Sunday every other week again, due to childcare and having to work Sunday mornings.”
He added: “This season has been a real struggle, and it’s taken the enjoyment away from the football.
“On top of this, the financial costs this season have near-enough crippled us. With six teams playing within an hour of us in the Northern Prem, surely it makes sense [to move Copsewood there].
“The FA want to support and promote women’s football. We’ve shown we can compete against all the odds. I just hope they give us a chance of really demonstrating our potential.”
Copsewood were set up only 15 years ago and are run largely by Conneely and his family. They defied the odds to reach the Premier League last season after winning the Midland Combination League, but they have struggled for players all campaign.
‘Punching above our weight’
Only 15 of their squad have played in more than 10 matches, and without a regular goalkeeper since Duncan’s departure, outfield players have often had to go in goal.
Conneely added: “We have no kids’ teams or reserve teams. It’s run by me, my dad, my brother and Nicola [Foskett, their top scorer with 12 goals in 21 appearances].
“Even though we are limited with the resources we have, we have still established ourselves as a Premier League club, completely punching above our weight.”
They secured safety last Sunday with an impressive 3-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur, Foskett scoring twice.
Given their limited resources, Conneely is desperate for new blood to strengthen his options and help his team cope with the sort of injury problems the club endured this season.
But after an end to the campaign in which they have won three of their last four matches – also holding Portsmouth, who went on to become league champions, to a 2-2 draw two months ago – the manager believes a stronger squad could be challenging for honours rather than fighting relegation.
Geographical balancing act
He said: “I strongly believe if we can add five players in certain positions, we can challenge for the top three or four in the Northern Prem.”
The big question now is whether they will get that chance.
Copsewood were placed in the Southern Division by the FAWPL as part of the geographical balancing act between the northern and southern leagues.
Coventry City, who had played in the Southern Division the previous season – eventually winning it – were switched to the Northern Division for the 2014/15 season as their base was a few miles further north than Copsewood’s.
But for both, playing in the Southern Division has meant lengthy journeys – and related costs – for every away match.
The nearest games are at (now relegated) Keynsham Town and Tottenham Hotspur, both of which are round-trips of about 200 miles. The journey to Plymouth was closer to 450, although it’s fair to point out that Gillingham and Plymouth are 250 miles apart and Cardiff not much closer to the Kent club.
The FAWPL is awaiting the final round of results – plus the championship play-off between Portsmouth and Sheffield, which would leave one division a team short if the winner is accepted into the Super League – before making decisions on league allocations.
Conneely is looking for players with Premier League experience or who believe they can play at that level. He can be contacted on 07957 932774 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.