Crawley Wasps are ringing the managerial changes as they bid to join the likes of Brighton, Lewes and Chichester City as the big guns of Sussex women’s football.
First-team manager Paul Harding is stepping down because of outside commitments, as is head coach Trevor Waldie.
Harding’s assistant, Paul Walker, becomes new first-team boss, and the club are seeking a replacement for Waldie, as well as extra personnel to expand the coaching team.
With most of last season’s first-team squad expected to stay, Wasps are also looking to expand their senior playing pool and are seeking new recruits who they hope will help take them to the next levels of the football pyramid.
Wasps, who went so close to promotion from the London & South East Regional League in 2013/14, had a relatively uneventful campaign last term, finishing closer to the relegation places than the solitary promotion spot.
But new manager Walker believes there were good reasons for a season of treading water, and he is optimistic that the club can approach their silver anniversary in 2016 in the ascendancy.
Walker told Sent Her Forward the rapid progress made by their reserves, who won promotion from the Sussex County League in their first season, bodes well for the coming campaigns, and he believes the club represents an attractive proposition to players and coaches alike.
He said: “The real positive thing is maintaining the squad for this season.”
He pointed to the return of a number of players from injury and maternity leave last season, and the breakthrough of some of the teenagers in Simon Pavey’s maiden reserves squad, as reasons to be optimistic about the coming campaign.
And he believes there was a variety of factors that contributed to their mid-table finish last time.
They lost Faye Rabson, their star striker whose goals helped fire Wasps to third place the previous season, and Rachel Palmer, both to Lewes. “We also lost a couple of other players to university, and we lost a very influential Spanish player (Alexandra Peña), who returned to Spain.”
Walker also pointed to the strength of the division last season, with the resurgence of teams like AFC Wimbledon, who went from second-to-bottom in 2013/14 to third last season, just one point behind champions Old Actonians, and the quality of newcomers Carshalton Athletic, who very nearly clinched back-to-back promotions.
His own daughter, Holly, missed virtually the whole of the last campaign, having damaged her anterior cruciate ligament in only the second game of the season – a big loss to Wasps’ defence as well as to their goal tally from set-pieces.
However, her injury paved the way for the likes of the returning Lisa Richards and especially Hannah Duncan to flourish, the latter switching to centre-back to replace Walker and earning manager’s player and most-improved player accolades in the club’s end-of-season awards.
She has also been confirmed as captain after being handed the arm-band during last season.
But one of the biggest impacts on the first team, according to the new manager, was the emphasis on the burgeoning reserves.
He said: “For me, a ladies’ senior squad will always be stronger if it has a strong reserve side backing up the first team. We re-formed the reserve side last year after a couple of years without [one]. It was an absolute priority last season to reintroduce a reserve squad, and much credit goes to Paul Harding for his endeavours and efforts in that regard.
“And we were very fortunate to secure the services of Simon Pavey, who came over [from Horsham Sparrows] and assumed the role of manager.”
Walker revealed: “It was an absolute key objective last season for the reserves to secure promotion, such that the difference in level between our firsts and reserves, in terms of the standard of league that they are playing in, was not too far apart.
“Otherwise, it’s challenging for players to be able to step up into the first team, and it’s also challenging in a different way for players who, perhaps, lose a little bit of form in the first team, or who perhaps… need to get 90 minutes in the reserves side.
“It was an absolute top objective for the reserves to get promoted, so we prioritised that… which is perhaps another reason why [the first team] didn’t do as well this year.”
The emphasis backfired slightly when the reserves unintentionally exceeded their quota of players with recent first-team experience and were docked three points.
But Walker believes things are looking rosy now, with both teams established and all with another season under their belts.
The club, who have secured a three-year deal with Crawley Borough Council for exclusive use of Ewhurst Playing Fields for training and reserves’ matches, are looking to spread the first team’s playing philosophy throughout the club’s sides, right down to under-10 and under-11 level, which he believes will also aid seamless movement between the various sides.
As well as the senior sides, the club aim to have at least one team in all age groups from under-10 – with the exception of under-13 – to under-16.
And Walker says the intention is for all of them to be playing the type of passing football expected of the senior squads.
To aid that ambition, Wasps are adding to their coaching staff. Zoe Martin, who has played regularly for both first team and reserves, will combine her roles with that of reserve-team coach – a move that Walker said was a “very popular decision within the club”
And as well as seeking to hire a new head coach, Wasps also want level-two or level-three coaches to assist the first-team and reserves coaches.
Walker added: “We are a very ambitious club. Next year will be our 25th year as a dedicated ladies’ and girls’ football club.
“We consider ourselves to be one of the premier clubs in our area, both in terms of the way we run the club on the field and also the way we administer it off the field.
“The teams we look up to around us would be Brighton, Lewes and Chichester. I’m sure there are others. But our aspiration is not to lose players to those teams and to aspire to achieve some similar success.
“All of those teams are an absolute credit to ladies’ football in Sussex.”
New Crawley Wasps set-up:
First-team manager: Paul Walker
Head coach: tbc
Reserves manager: Simon Pavey
Reserves coach: Zoe Martin
First-team and reserves coaching assistants: tbc
Chairman: Alan Dunt
Vice-chairman: Paul Walker
Club secretary: Karen Beckett
Club officer: Paul Harding
Players and coaches who are interested in joining should contact Paul Walker (email@example.com / 07710 623980) or secretary Karen Beckett (firstname.lastname@example.org).