Sent Her Forward honours 2015/16 – part two

Sent Her Forward continues to dish out the gongs to the key contributors to another great women’s season

Action from Chichester City v Swindon Town, Sep 11 2015 (Photo: Neville Dalton/Sent Her Forward)

Chichester City and Swindon Town were not only two of the top sides of the season but they featured in one of the best matches, too

Welcome to part two of Sent Her Forward’s end-of-season awards, recognising the best of another compelling season of women’s and girls’ football.

The awards are my choices – everybody will have their own opinions. But every player, coach, team and organisation mentioned deserves the gratitude of those of us who love participating in some way in the women’s game.

You can catch up with the first part of my review here.

And next you will be able to discover who made it into Sent Her Forward‘s dream teams for 2015/16.

Here’s what you’ll find here in part two:

Progress award
Best match

Player of the season
People’s choice
Team of the season


Progress

I love it when young players with immense promise finally start to realise that potential. You don’t have to become a world-beater to do yourself justice, and here are a few that I feel this season have moved up a level – or two.

Rose Jump, Ria Banitas, Emily Brocklehurst, Freya Bowie and Andrea Barnard (all Haywards Heath and Wivelsfield)
I’ve not seen too much of Wivi this season – one of major transition for the club – but on the few occasions I have, there have been two reassuring factors that have suggested that despite some tough results, their future is in safe hands.

One is the commitment and example set by the senior players left behind after last summer’s player exodus – aided by the enthusiasm, drive and knowledge of Mark Currier, who became their head coach around Christmas.

The other is the quality of their youngsters. Half the current first team are probably still under 20. For most of them this has been only their second season in adult football. Yet the improvement in all of them is palpable.

Jump was probably the first to show that development; Banitas has rapidly followed, performing against grown-ups in much the same way that she did at under-16 level when she first caught my eye. Brocklehurst and Bowie, the two full-backs, have had some tough times against powerful opponents, but both are beginning to emerge with genuine credit.

But the one who, to me, epitomises the Wivi way is Barnard, whose performance against the experienced, powerful and physically imposing players of Cowfold recently oozed class and composure, yet with the tenacity that is the hallmark of every Wivi team I’ve ever seen.

Emily Symonds and Shannon Albuery (Chichester City)
What a joy when two of your best players in one of your best seasons are two of the youngsters who have developed their way into the first team. Symonds, a classy defender, and Albuery, a deceptively strong attacker, have long proved their worth to the ambitious club who are gunning for a place in the Premier League South.

But both have improved almost beyond recognition since I first saw them, no better illustrated than in their victory over Keynsham Town, Chichester’s then rivals for the runners-up spot.

Symonds switched from full-back to centre-back and barely put a foot wrong alongside another youngster who has developed into a classy defender, Emma Alexandre.

Albuery, who had already weighed in with her fair share of goals alongside the likes of Kally Ambler, Tammy Waine and Jade Widdows, suddenly found herself taking on more responsibility, sharing the burden of leading the line with the vastly experienced Waine. She showed she was up to the task, holding the ball well, winning her share of aerial battles and even providing the cross for one of the goals.

But there are two young players who, for me, have shown even more progress this season.

Ellie Ramsauer (Lewes Development)
One of a number of members of Lewes’s brilliant under-16 side to flourish in the adult game, Ellie has taken the leap from the young foundation squad to the development squad, which is effectively the back-up to the club’s Premier League team.

When I saw her come on as a substitute for the development side, which was having a tough time of it against Brighton’s own talented youngsters, she transformed the mood of the match. They still lost convincingly but played their full part in a decent second half – and Ramsauer proved a match for her opposite number, the impressive Danielle Rowe.

Moreover, I have heard such good things since about her consistency throughout her first full season with the development squad.

Sent Her Forward progress award:

Brittany Jeal (Portsmouth Development)

Brittany Jeal in action for Portsmouth Under-16s v Crawley Town Under-16s, May 11 2014 (Photo: Beckie Kirkham)

Brittany Jeal has leapt from under-16s to Portsmouth’s first team in two seasons (Photo: Beckie Kirkham, used with permission of Brittany Jeal)

My award goes to a player who, unfortunately, I have not managed to see this season, but whose progress in the past couple of seasons has in some ways mirrored Ramsauer’s.

Two years ago I saw her shine for Portsmouth’s under-16 side in their Sussex County League Cup final against Crawley Town.

Last season she established herself in the club’s development side, and this year she has graduated to the seniors, making a handful of appearances for Perry Northeast’s side following good feedback from his coaching staff.

If she maintains the progress she has made in these past couple of years, there’s a magical future ahead for this 18-year-old.


Best match

Not every game I watch is good – though when I’m reporting or tweeting on matches, I try to find the positives.

Even since taking a break from writing match reports, I still give a rating out of 10 for every game I see, basing it on how it made me feel rather than how many goals were scored or how significant the result was.

I thought it would be interesting to break down the entertainment values in the different competitions I saw and informative to provide a top five of the best matches I’ve seen in 2015/16.

Competition Matches Avge rating Competition Matches Avge rating
Southern Counties Cup 1 8.0 Friendlies 3 6.33
FAW Cup 2 7.5 SCWGFL Women’s Div 4 6.25
FAWPL Southern 6 7.33 SECWFL Prem 1 6.0
FAWPL Div 1 SW 4 7.0 SCWGFL U16 Div A 1 6.0
SCWGFL U16 Cup 1 7.0 FAWSL 2 1 6.0
Sussex County Cup 3 6.67 L&SERWFL 1 5.0
FAWPL Reserve 2 6.5 SCWGFL Women’s Cup 1 5.0
SECWFL Div 1 West 12 6.33 FAWPL Plate 1 5.0
Total 43 6.53

Key: FAW Cup – Women’s FA Cup; FAWPL – FA Women’s Premier League; SCWGFL – Sussex County Women and Girls Football League; SECWFL – South East Counties Women’s Football League; FAWSL 2 – FA Women’s Super League 2; L&SERWFL – London & South East Regional Women’s Football League

Top 5:

1 Brighton v Tottenham Hotspur, FAW Premier League Southern, Dec 20 2015 (4-1) – 9/10

2 Sussex FA v Kent FA, Southern Counties Cup, November 18 2015 (4-2) – 8/10

3 Brighton v Cardiff City, FAW Premier League Southern, November 1 2015 (1-2) – 8/10

4 Chichester City v Swindon Town, FAW Premier League South West Div 1, Sep 27 2015 (1-1) – 8/10

5 Brighton v Oxford United, FAW Cup 3rd Round, Feb 7 2016 (10-0) – 8/10


Player of the season (Premier League)

As with last season, this category includes not only those playing in the FAWPL’s top division but also the regional first divisions below it – plus the reserve league for development squads.

My itinerary – and the location of many of the clubs – means I have seen only a handful of clubs – Brighton and Lewes seniors and development sides plus Chichester City – on a regular basis, and many others only occasionally.

This means my selections will inevitably be skewed and may not be a reflection of the respective divisions as a whole. It may not even be a reflection of who the best players were at their clubs. It was what I saw when I watched them.

It means there is no player from Portsmouth, who featured heavily last season when they won the league; none from Coventry United, or CK Basildon, West Ham United or Plymouth Argyle, or South East Division One, or most of its South West counterpart.

And none from the Tottenham and Portsmouth second strings that ran Brighton so close in the Reserve League.

It’s my views, on the players I’ve seen. And after viewing 17 games involving Premier League teams, I think it’s a fair reflection of what I’ve witnessed over these past 10 months.

Top 10:
Vicky Ashton-Jones (Brighton)
Lauren Dolbear, Danni Lane (Lewes)
Jade Widdows (now Brighton), Amy Found, Jenna Fowlie (all Chichester City)
Hannah Haughton (Southampton Saints)

3rd: Sophie Perry (Brighton)
Already an established Irish international, Perry has stepped up a gear or two this season, in my opinion, performing consistently well on both flanks, whether as a full-back, wing-back or winger. Her pace and power are tremendous assets, and she weighs in with a fair share of goals. But her understanding of the game is a big factor behind the many assists she also provided in a superb side.

2nd: Deanna Cooper (Brighton)
Last year’s winner of this award, Cooper came oh so close again, having – if anything – an even better campaign. The tall centre-back is as good a defender as I have seen in this league – and a better ball-player than most midfield and attacking players – and after leaving Brighton in the wake of the sackings of manager James Marrs and Tracy Doe, she is now proving herself in the Super League with London Bees.

Charlotte Gurr, Brighton (Photo: Geoff Penn/BHAFC)

Charlotte Gurr was outstanding for Brighton before her sudden dramatic departure (Photo: Geoff Penn/BHAFC)

Sent Her Forward Premier League player of the season: Charlotte Gurr (Brighton)
She’d have to be good to pip Cooper, and Gurr certainly was that. Picking up three of my player-of-the-match ratings (the only player ever to do so in a single season), together with 20-odd goals, the attacking midfield player was always going to be in the running.

But she was far more than that. She was the attacking fulcrum on which Brighton’s magnificent season was based. Playing in front of the similarly influential Jay Blackie (who once again made the Sent Her Forward shortlist), Gurr’s sureness of touch, clever movement and accomplished finishing made her the standout player of 2015/16 for me.


Player of the year (Grassroots)

It was a grassroots game that kick-started my interest in going to watch women’s football and prompted me to set up this website.

I have been – and remain – a big advocate of the game at this level, aware that while academies and centres of excellence might “hot-house” inherently talented footballers through the élite system, there are considerably more females who might not possess the same ability or commitment but would still like to play competitive football every weekend.

And there has still been plenty of evidence to suggest that if you’re good enough, the big clubs will still come calling – particularly now that the likes of Sent Her Forward highlight girls’ and women’s football at all levels.

No fewer than four of last year’s grassroots player-of-the-season shortlist are now at Premier League clubs – Danni Ritson (Prince of Wales to West Ham United); Danni Lane (Worthing Minors to Lewes); Jade Widdows (Worthing Minors to Brighton via Chichester City) and, more recently, Rebecca Carter (Crawley Wasps to Lewes).

Who knows how many of this year’s list could make it? I’ve narrowed my selection down to 10, but the longlist from which I selected them contained 36 names – many of whom will feature in my Dream Team squad, to be published later.

Top 10: 
Emma Kendall, Suzanne Davies, Rebecca Carter (Crawley Wasps)
Emma Chrimes, Angharad Hills (Worthing Minors)
Clara Walding (Abbey Rangers)
Anne Astiz (Rottingdean Village)

3rd: Nicholle Smith (Crawley Wasps Reserves)
Whenever I have watched Wasps this season, Smith has usually looked the most threatening attacker, with her pace and close control frightening defences. She has weighed in with nearly 20 goals but must have created countless more from the flanks.

2nd: Naomi Robinson (Worthing Minors) 
When Minors made a host of new signings in the close season – including regular goalscorer Emma Chrimes (who also makes my top 10) – I identified Robinson as the key signing. She had shone in a mid-table Burgess Hill Town side the previous season, playing in a division higher. So I was sure she would stand out for Minors. And she did. She ran the midfield every time I saw her and always featured in my list of best players in games, twice earning my player-of-the-match verdict – one of only three players to do so.

Rachel Johnson, Abbey Rangers (Photo: Neville Dalton/Sent Her Forward)

Rachel Johnson was the SECWF League’s top scorer for the second successive season

Sent Her Forward Grassroots player of the season: Rachel Johnson (Abbey Rangers) 
If it’s goals you want, Johnson is the one to turn to. She scored nearly 50 in all competitions – 40 of them in the league – bagging double hat-tricks in each of Abbey’s opening two games of the campaign and seven other hat-tricks throughout the season.

She was the league’s top scorer for the second successive season – her club’s only two in the South East Counties Women’s Football League. And if she can put behind her the injury and health problems that restricted her number of starts – though not her eagerness to participate – she will surely blossom into one of the finest female footballers the region has produced.


Choice of the people

For the first time, Sent Her Forward invited readers to nominate players, officials or teams who they considered deserved recognition.

It’s been a  bit of a slow start this year, but those that I received were so enthusiastic and sincere that I have decided to list all of them, together with a few words from the nominators (who will remain anonymous this year).

People’s Choice winners:

Andy Burling (manager, Worthing Minors)
Andy was the only one to receive two nominations after leading his much-changed team to fourth place in South East Counties Division One West a year after taking them to the title.

Nomination 1: “We are very lucky to have such an amazing group of girls. Just think [he] does an outstanding job with his ways, his fairness, treating everyone equally.”

Nomination 2: “We are a very small team and it’s our team spirit and values that keep us going. I’m 100% sure that if you spoke to anybody in our squad they would tell you how supportive, sporting, kind and caring he is.”

Gabin Sinclair (manager, Charlton Athletic Development) 
Nomination: “We struggle with recognition at our club but he will put in 100%. If we have six at training or if we have 13, he will always give his all. He has managed to get us far in this league with the [shortage of] players we have.”

Rebecca Hawkins (goalkeeper, Charlton Athletic Development)
Nomination: “Our development goalkeeper has also been playing for Arsenal under-17s and played in the FA Cup final for their age group.”

Chichester City 
Nomination: “I think Chichester deserve some recognition for their achievements this year.”

Amy Kirwan (Anchorians 2nds) 
Nomination: “Player of the match on numerous occasions. We’ll be lucky to keep hold of her for next year.” 

Danni Lane (Lewes)
Nomination: “Player of the season? Danni Lane, Danni Lane and Danni Lane. Brilliant for us this season, she’s developed really well. Moved from a midfield sub to the main striker in recent weeks. Her progress this season has been nothing short of outstanding and I hope she sticks around for a while.”

Lauren Dolbear (Lewes) 
Nomination: “Got to be Lauren Dolbear for me as [she is the] most improved player in the Premier League.” 


Team of the season

So many to choose from. So many winners, all deserving of acknowledgement and appreciation of their success and the immense efforts that went into achieving it.

So many hours spent weighing up the relative merits of all the candidates.

In the end, as usual, I’ve tried to assess the achievements against markers such as how emphatic their success was, and the resources at teams’ disposal.

So I might give extra weight to a title won in a particularly competitive league but might counter-balance that against their vast pool of players or support facilities.

Ask 100 people for their team of the season and you’ll get a variety of answers. This one is simply my team of the season. But I congratulate every single one that either won a trophy or performed above expectations, who avoided relegation or maybe who just survived as a team to fight another day.

Top 10:

Chichester City: No gongs but a very impressive first season under Liam Greenfield. Chichester were never far from the top of South West Division One of the Premier League, even leading it for a while before finishing second to a very impressive Swindon Town.

Swindon Town: Very impressive winners of said league. Swindon were denied promotion to the top tier of the Premier League the previous season because of an administrative error, but the disappointment merely intensified their efforts this time round as they won 15 of their 18 matches, adding the Wiltshire County Cup for good measure.

Parkwood Rangers: The Kent side made rapid progress through the lower leagues but suffered a setback in 2014/15 as they began a rebuilding programme. But it seems to have clicked into place as they cliinched the South East Counties Premier League title long before the end of the campaign.

Tottenham Hotspur: A trophy double of the Premier League Cup and Ryman Cup is a pretty decent return for a side who are not too far away from being a fair bet to win the Premier League, either.

AFC Wimbledon: The Dons will be competing within the Premier League structure next season after winning the London & South East Regional League at a canter. They also reached the Surrey County Cup final.

Lewes Foundation: Comfortably one of the better sides in the Sussex County League in 2014/15 – their first season in adult football – they were unlucky to be the only one of the top half not to be promoted. They made up for it this season, running away with the title in a division still admittedly short on class, but long on endeavour. Martin Perkins has continued to steer them in the right direction, playing the right way, with many of his charges getting opportunities in the club’s senior sides.

Hangleton Rangers: Those of you who read Sent Her Forward regularly will know how much I enjoy youth football. Two years ago Hangleton’s under-18s particularly impressed me, and this season their current under-16s stood out (along with Crawley Town) in the Sussex County League’s youth set-up. They pipped their rivals to the league title and beat them in the final of both cup competitions. Many of their key players will be gracing a higher stage next season. Unfortunately, it won’t be with Hangleton.

3rd: Crystal Palace: Twenty wins and two draws in 22 league games; 90 goals and only 17 conceded. Palace really did step up a gear or two this season and won the Premier League’s South East Division One – a league that also contained an impressive Gillingham side – by a mile. They will join the big guns in the Premier League Southern next season – and if they can build on the achievements of this campaign, I doubt they will be going straight back down.

2nd: Anchorians 2nds: If you thought Palace’s achievement was impressive… The team that had spent a single season as Anchorians 3rds became the club’s second string in a reshuffle of resources at the Gillingham-based outfit. And they celebrated in style, running away with the Kent Division of the South East Counties League, winning all 16 league games and taking the Divisional Cup for good measure. 

Brighton celebrate winning the Preemier League play-off, May 2016 (Photo: Clive Jones)

Brighton won the Premier League Southern and then the play-off for national champions (Photo: Clive Jones)

Sent Her Forward team of the season: Brighton 
An outstanding campaign that could so easily have ended in heartbreak after stunning developments off the field at the end of the season. In fact, it did end in heartbreak for some as head coach James Marrs, his assistant Lee Hayes, élite manager Tracy Doe and three of the players left the club for various reasons in the days following their Premier League Southern title success.

Those left behind could have paid a big price, but under the guidance of centre of excellence chief George Parris, they held their nerve and defeated Northern Division champions Sporting Club Albion to become only the second club – and the first from the South – to clinch promotion to the Women’s Super League.

They did it playing a finely tuned version of the passing game that is a hallmark of Marrs’ sides. They won friends with their style and trophies (they also retained the Sussex County Cup) with their ability.

Brighton lost only two games all season in a very high-quality league featuring a handful of teams I believe could hack it in the Super League. And having finished second to Portsmouth last year, they earned their just rewards this time.

And now they have another honour to add to their list. Congratulations Brighton, Sent Her Forward team of the season.

In the final part of the season review: the Sent Her Forward dream teams.

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