Sent Her Forward shines the spotlight on some of this season’s outstanding performers
The season’s over. The new one’s almost upon us – and in the meantime, there’s the Super League… well, when it’s not having a break, anyway.
But before we forget last season completely it’s time to take a look back over some of the highlights in the first part of Sent Her Forward‘s end-of-season awards.
There are a few new categories this year, but my awards are still based largely on what I saw during the campaign.
As many of you will know, Sent Her Forward took a breather midway through the season and I have not written a match report since October.
But I have continued to attend as many games as time allows and managed 43 – the same as the previous season. I still make notes at every game – and well over 100 of the names I noted made it into my end-of-season review.
Over the next few days, you will be able to read about the best matches I saw, the best individual performances and those I consider deserve special mentions, as well as my awards for the player, manager, club and team of the season.
Here in part 1:
Club of the season
Manager of the season
Next instalment: Progress award; Players of the season; Best match; People’s Choice; Team of the season.
Followed by a special feature on Sent Her Forward’s dream teams.
It’s a team game, but sometimes it’s one particular player that makes you purr, demonstrating that bit of individuality that sets them apart from the rest and perhaps leads their team to a famous victory – or even, as my shortlist shows, mitigates a defeat.
Sent Her Forward selects a player of the match after every game attended. Those who perform to a high level consistently will find themselves on my shortlist for player of the season.
The individual performance award is more for those who shone in a particular match and aren’t necessarily the most consistent players of the season – although my top three managed to shine on more than one occasion.
I have no fewer than 10 players on my shortlist – and at least one of those could easily have been on there twice.
Here’s the list, together with a bit more detail on that top three.
Danielle Cutler (Crawley Town U16 v Hangleton Rangers U16)
Andrea Barnard (Haywards Heath & Wivelsfield v Cowfold)
Kelly Wood (Worthing Town Reserves v Lewes Foundation)
Georgina Andrews (Fulham Foundation Reserves v Rottingdean Village)
Danielle Rowe (Brighton Development v Lewes Development)
Laura Lindhardt (Hangleton Rangers U16 v Crawley Town U16)
Naomi Robinson (Worthing Minors v Crawley Wasps Reserves)
3rd: Charlotte Gurr (Brighton v Oxford United)
It was the day the irrefutable evidence arrived: Brighton would more than hold their own in the Super League.
James Marrs’ team, at the top of their game and on their way to the Premier League title, welcomed a hugely under-cooked Oxford United, preparing for their third season in WSL2, in the FAW Cup at Culver Road.
Every Brighton player was on form, and the 10-0 scoreline did not flatter the home team. But the strings were pulled by destroyer-in-chief Charlotte Gurr, who was enjoying a sensational second season with Brighton.
Playing in an advanced midfield role from where she had already been piling up the goals, she gave the Super League side a lesson in control, poise, possession – and goalscoring. She hit a hat-trick that day and set up more. It was a delight to watch.
2nd: Tammy Waine (Chichester City v Queens Park Rangers)
It was another FAW Cup tie, pitting the home team against higher-league opposition that provided one of the finest individual performances I have seen on a football pitch.
Step forward Tammy Waine, for whom the term veteran is perfectly apt but by no means critical. She might not have had the pace she enjoyed in her heyday, which saw her on the verge of an England cap, but with a football brain rarely surpassed at this level, she is still a match for most defenders.
Waine tormented the Rangers defence with her smart first touch, clever turns and innate awareness of the positions of her team-mates. She did not score any of Chichester’s goals in their 4-3 defeat that day. But she gave her fortunate team-mates – and less-than-fortunate opponents – a football masterclass.
Sent Her Forward individual performance of the season:
Flic Webster (Eastbourne Town v Crawley Wasps)
Not a bad season for veterans! Flic Webster has apparently been around the Sussex football circuit for some years, but it seems I started watching women’s football at about the time she was having a time-out.
I believe the game at Crawley was her first for a couple of years, so I wasn’t expecting much. But she stood out like the Seven Sisters, which provide the backdrop to the town where she has resumed her career. The centre-back was impeccable, belying both her age and lack of match fitness, bringing a calming influence to an otherwise frenetic cup tie between the two Sussex sides.
I’ve seen her once since, when she was also among the stand-out players, but on that October afternoon, as her side was getting tonked in the County Cup, she rolled back the years and left me ruing the fact that I hadn’t started watching the women’s game a few seasons earlier.
There are always plenty of players hanging up their boots and managers trying to claw some of their lives back at this time of year, and I can’t mention everyone.
But here (in no particular order) are a few individuals whose contributions to women’s football this season deserve recognition, in my view.
Holly Walker: Talented Crawley Wasps defender who returned to action with the reserves this season after recovering from a cruciate ligament injury. Her presence has already been influential on a relatively young team – and she grabbed a hatful of goals, too.
Tammy Waine: Could the veteran striker still hack it at Premier League level? Should she concentrate on coaching? Why not do both? The former Brighton and Fulham goalscorer, who already coaches youngsters in the South West in an FA capacity, took on the role of director of football at Worthing Town, where she took sessions with adults and youth players. But she also rolled back the years on the pitch for Chichester City, whom she helped to a club equal-best second place in the Premier League’s South West Division One.
Kim Stenning: Speaking of strikers-turned-coaches… Stenning, who, like Waine, had played for both Brighton and Lewes, rejoined Brighton at the start of the season, although she played only a couple of games. But it was off the field that she had the bigger impact. She won a hat-trick of awards – including Sussex Coach of the Year – at the end of 2015 – and also took over the reins of the revived Sussex FA women’s representative side, leading them in stylish fashion to the Southern Counties Cup.
Kelly Newton: At the last count, the Lewes stalwart was NOT retiring (though you might want to check the latest!), but she feels close to it now, having played football for more than 20 years. Her commitment was rewarded with a testimonial at Lewes, the club she has served with such distinction and captained for the last 13 years. Tough and uncompromising on the pitch, Newton is highly respected off it, too. And when former team-mates – some far from suited to playing a football match these days – were approached about appearing at her benefit game, more than 20 readily agreed and took part in a night to remember.
Perry Northeast: Three seasons in the hot seat at Portsmouth – the first as joint-manager. Never out of the top five – and champions in his first campaign going “solo”. Northeast has helped transform the approach at the club on and off the pitch, and went so close to becoming the first manager to lead a side to promotion to the Super League in 2014/15. The impact of missing out to a stoppage-time goal in the play-off – together with the loss of key players to the WSL – appeared to take its toll this season, and Pompey finished only fifth. Though he denies that was the reason, Northeast has decided to walk away from Portsmouth, but his legacy there lives on.
Russell Brooks: He says he’s leaving, too. Mind you, he’s told me that at the end of every season since I’ve known him. The Sussex FA volunteer and referee also happens to manage Rottingdean Village, who have fluctuated between the Sussex County and South East Counties leagues in recent years. Two years ago they were promoted back to the latter. This year they won that title and have been promoted into the league’s Premier Division. Go or stay, Brooks has done a fine job.
Helen Bashford: Somebody who insists she is quitting is Helen “Bash” Bashford, for so long the goalkeeper, manager, secretary and chief bottle-washer at Wivelsfield Green (now Haywards Heath & Wivelsfield). She commutes twice weekly from south-east London to train and play, often giving lifts to other players en route. As well as being a brave – and extremely good – goalkeeper, she is part of the Wivi core that has survived tumultuous changes at the club and is one of the reasons the team still exist. She wins honours at the club awards evening every year – this season’s was for the most player-of-the-match awards from the opposition – but her contribution cannot be measured in medals and statuettes. She gets married later this year and hopes, finally, to have five minutes to herself. We’ll see.
Hannah Haughton: The Southampton Saints goalkeeper has had another fine year, performing miracles in goal, conceding just 35 in the league in a tough season. But Haughton has also performed similar miracles off the field, where she has coached the club’s under-16s to league-and-cup doubles at both nine-a-side and 11-a-side. Not bad, eh?
Club of the season
Manager, team and club of the season are the most difficult of all the nominations, as I’m selecting not so much from what I’ve seen but comparing respective successes.
As with team of the season, how do you judge a league-and-cup double in a lower league against a top-four finish in the Premier? It depends on so many factors – not least the resources at hand and the way club and representatives perform.
As usual, my club award is based on the achievements at clubs with more than just a single constituent team. And while I could easily have included dozens from all over the region, I have stuck to six whose achievements have stood out for me.
Anchorians: After experimenting with three sides in the South East Counties League, Anchorians scrapped their first team and competed in Division One East and the Kent Division this season. The new first team had a decent season and were in with a shout of honours until the closing stages, while their second string (formerly the thirds) romped away with the league, winning the league cup for good measure.
Tottenham Hotspur: A decent season in the league; a sensational one in the cups for the first team, while the reserves missed out on their league title by just two points. Spurs were one of the half a dozen sides who looked in with a chance of winning the Premier League during the first half of the season before falling away – with many others – in the wake of Brighton’s consistency. But they won both the Premier League Cup and Ryman Cup – also finishing runners-up in the Capital Cup – while those reserves finished an impressive second in their league.
Charlton Athletic: After an amazing cup treble for the first team last season, this was a story of agonising second-places. Charlton were again among the best sides in the Premier League, eventually finishing second to Brighton, but boasting the league’s top two goalscorers for a second successive campaign. The first team retained the Capital Cup but lost their grip on the Ryman Cup, losing to Spurs in the final. Meanwhile, the Reserves won the Capital Intermediate Cup and their development side were runners-up in the Kent Division of the South East Counties Women’s Football League.
Portsmouth: They may not quite have been able successfully to defend their Premier League title, but Perry Northeast’s team had a decent season. But it was at development level that they really impressed. Following on the good work of Lee Hurrell, Ben Pinnington took charge and presided over a terrific campaign for the young side, taking them to a third-place finish in a very competitive Premier Reserve League and watching several of his players graduate to first-team football.
Brighton: League titles for both senior sides – a magnificent achievement for any club. That both sides played so similarly, enabling players to move seamlessly from development to first team, was an extra-special achievement that speaks volumes for the set-up there. Of course, both had the benefit of superb facilities at a club where the women’s game is extremely well supported by the men’s. But managers James Marrs and Amy Merricks and their coaching staffs still had to deliver. And they did.
Sent Her Forward club of the season: AFC Wimbledon
It’s been a big season for the Dons, moving last summer to Sutton United’s stadium and seeking to improve on the previous agonising campaign in which they missed out on promotion by a couple of points.
And they managed it – in style. The first team ran away with the London & South East Regional title, going the entire league season undefeated and reaching the Surrey County Cup final for good measure, where they lost to Crystal Palace, champions of Premier League South East Division One, where Wimbledon will be playing next season.
But there is far more to AFC Wimbledon than a fine first team.
Their development side emulated their seniors’ achievement, winning the Greater London WFL Premier Division in a league campaign featuring just one defeat, and reaching two finals – both of which they lost.
For good measure, their under-15s won the league and cup double, too.
It was a fine season for AFC Wimbledon – but it looks like there is plenty more to come.
Manager of the season
If you thought choosing club of the season was difficult, you should see the agonising I went through trying to compare the respective achievements of team managers and head coaches.
Every league- and cup winner deserves appreciation and recognition. Where success was achieved against the odds it merits even more respect.
Sometimes, achievement is measured not so much by trophies as more modest accomplishment in more trying circumstances.
The list below all deserve immense credit for what they have achieved – as do all those who brought any sort of success to their teams, whether measured in terms of trophies, progress or merely enjoyment.
Harvey Goodhew (Parkwood Rangers): Harvey is much-respected by his players, and this season, aided by Paul Vickery and Andrew Morton, the team have resumed their upward trajectory, winning the Premier Division of the South East Counties by 10 points, although I believe they’re still waiting to hear whether it’s enough to get them promoted. If not, surely next season.
Martin Perkins (Lewes Foundation): The trajectory has been nothing but up for this squad ever since they got together, and this year they rightly earned promotion to the South East Counties league after winning the Sussex County League in style.
Ben Pinnington (Portsmouth Development): They didn’t win the league but they did what development sides are supposed to do – they performed consistently to a high standard, cultivating young talent to step up into the first team. Several took that step last season – some of whom are now regulars in the seniors. And still Pinnington’s side managed to finish third in a very competitive league, including a 13-match unbeaten run that featured 12 victories.
Lui Simone (Anchorians 2nds): Now here’s a team that really did win something – the league. And the cup. In fact, Simone’s second string won every game they played except their Kent County Cup match against higher-ranked Bromley. Sixteen out of 16 in the South East Counties Kent Division and every tie in the Kent Divisional Cup. A brilliant achievement.
Steve Robertson (Swindon Town): So close last season. This time around, Robertson guided Swindon to success in an extremely tough South West Division One to gain promotion to the Premier League Southern. They lost only once in the league all season and played some superb football.
Amy Merricks (Brighton Development): I’ve said consistently that development leagues are not all about winning – and I stand by that. But somebody has to. And the Premier League’s Reserve League is a tough one. But Brighton, under the guidance of Merricks – in her first season – and assistant Curtis Foster, took the title by two points in a gruelling 18-match campaign. But, as with Portsmouth’s Pinnington, more importantly, Merricks’ team fed youngster after youngster into the club’s brilliant title-winning first team, having coached them to play the same way to ensure as seamless a progression as possible.
Joe Carter (Hangleton Rangers U16): Hangleton’s superb under-16s swept all before them, winning the Sussex county and league cups and the Sussex County Women and Girls Under-16 League in dramatic fashion with a final-day victory in what was effectively a winner-takes-all showdown with their great rivals, Crawley Town. They lost just one game all season and played some stylish football. Many of their squad will become key figures in the future of Sussex women’s football, I’m sure.
3rd – Liam Greenfield (Chichester City): When charismatic manager Matt Wright handed over the reins of Chichester’s first team to his assistant, Liam Greenfield, he confidently predicted the team would be celebrating promotion by the end of the season. They didn’t quite make it – largely because of Swindon Town’s brilliance – but after an indifferent campaign last year, they came oh, so close this time.
Greenfield used his resources impressively, adding a handful of new faces to the mix – most of whom contributed immensely to a superb season. If Greenfield can build on the solid foundations he’s created, Wright’s prediction could prove to be just one year out.
2nd – James Marrs (Brighton): My awards are based on what clubs, teams and individuals achieve, either when I watch them or – depending on the category – over the campaign as a whole. They are not moral judgments. The Brighton head coach was sensationally sacked just hours after leading Brighton to the Premier League Southern title, which had been a magnificent achievement in such a competitive division.
His employers investigated the allegations against him thoroughly and decided to dismiss him for breaching club rules – an unarguable stain on his impressive CV. But it cannot mask what he achieved with a talented bunch of players, not only making them better footballers but driving them to make the marginal improvements that turned them from quality runners-up the previous season to the best team in women’s winter football – who will be playing in the Super League next year. They also play with a style rarely matched in any league.
Sent Her Forward manager of the season: Hannah Haughton (Southampton Saints)
Yes, that’s right. The same Hannah Haughton who plays such an influential role as the club’s senior goalkeeper, and who features elsewhere in my seasonal round-up as a player.
But Haughton is not only a goalkeeper. She manages/coaches the club’s under-16s and led them this season to league-and-cup doubles at both nine-a-side and 11-a-side. They won the nine-a-side league with a 100% record, adding the format’s cup for good measure.
And they finished joint-top of the 11-a-side league, suffering just one defeat all season, and winning that cup, too.
Oh – and they also won the Hampshire County Cup.
For many of her squad, football is their only outlet. Haughton provides not only an opportunity to play and develop, but evidently, to learn what it is like to be a success, too. Hopefully, Haughton has many years ahead of her as a talented goalkeeper. But she also promises to be a coach to be reckoned with. Many congratulations to a top footballing all-rounder.
Next: Part two, featuring Sent Her Forward progress award, best match, player of the season, the people’s choice and team of the season.