Sent Her Forward exclusive
Chichester City have made another stunning capture, adding former Portsmouth striker Charley Wilson-Blakely to a team already bulging with Premier League talent.
The ambitious Premier League South West Division One leaders have transformed their squad – which finished second last season – signing a host of players with Premier League top-flight experience.
And manager Liam Greenfield believes the free-scoring Wilson-Blakely, who left Portsmouth under a cloud last season, could be the final part of his masterplan to take Chichester to promotion, ensuring those new players a quick return to the Premier League’s top division.
“She’s obviously a good signing, but the players know her as a good person, as well,” Greenfield told Sent Her Forward.
Wilson’s surprise move is one of the highlights of a hectic week of transfer activity among the league’s southern sides.
Wilson’s former club, Portsmouth, have brought in Brighton trio Charley Boswell, Lisa Fulgence and Kate Natkiel on loan, while their own stalwart, Leeta Rutherford, has left them for a second time, joining John Donoghue’s Lewes, who have also picked up a couple of Brighton loanees – Kirsty Barton and Charlotte Young.
But it’s Greenfield’s coup that will send shock waves through women’s football in the region – and in the South West division in particular, with Wilson’s experience and goalscoring record providing another potent weapon in Chichester’s armoury.
During the summer, former Brighton, Portsmouth and Lewes striker Cherelle Khassal joined the Chichester revolution, and free-scoring Jade Widdows returned from a brief spell with Brighton, adding to their already impressive striking options, which include Kally Ambler and Shannon Albuery.
Jess Lewry, a key figure at Southampton Saints, and Portsmouth’s classy midfielder Molly Clark signed for the Greens earlier this month, and had an instant impact at Oaklands.
Now Wilson-Blakely has joined them, although how long it is before we see the real Charley Wilson – the lethal striker who helped Portsmouth to the Premier League title 18 months ago – remains to be seen.
She and goalkeeper Sadie Blakely, whom she had married in the 2015 close season, left Portsmouth just over a year ago after an internal disagreement, ensuring an enforced break from the game.
But Wilson, 31, is chomping at the bit to get back on the pitch and to help Chichester to promotion.
She told Sent Her Forward: “It’s been a little while, but I’m glad to be back, and I think I’ve made the right decision – with the right team, as well.”
Greenfield revealed he first approached Wilson last season, after she left Portsmouth, as his side pushed for promotion.
But she was not ready to sign then, and Chichester lost out on a place in the Premier League Southern by three points.
But this time he’s captured his target, and she goes straight into the squad for Sunday’s match at St Nicholas.
Greenfield said: “Kerrie (Ryan, his Ireland defender) had a year and a bit out with a knee injury. Cherelle (Khassal) only really played half a season last year, and now she’s back and playing really well.
“Maybe there is a little bit of rustiness, perhaps, but if we can get [Wilson-Blakely] back to the sort of player she was before she stopped playing, then we’ve got a great player on our hands.”
Understandably, after going so close last season with a smaller squad, Greenfield has no complaints about some of the difficult selection decisions he is now going to have to make, with the likes of Clark, Rebecca Barron and Jade Widdowson competing for midfield places and Khassal, Lewry, Ambler, Albuery, Widdows and now Wilson-Blakely vying for those coveted attacking berths – not to mention competition at last for places in the back four.
“I keep reminding all the players that it’s now not a case of if you’re a good player, you’ll play, because we’ve got a lot of good players. So it’s got to be judged on whether you’re fit or you’re coming back from an injury, or you’re playing well.”
Pompey capture talented trio
Another club with a lot of good players is Wilson’s former club.
Portsmouth have had a tough time since winning the Premier League Southern title in 2015.
They missed out on promotion to the Super League to a stoppage-time goal in their play-off, having lost their two senior goalkeepers to suspension and the Premier League’s labyrinthine rules respectively.
They struggled to bounce back last season, finishing fifth after losing Blakely and Wilson – and then top goalscorer Ini Umotong to Super League Oxford United – before manager Perry Northeast also announced he was leaving at the end of the campaign.
And this time round, under new boss Craig Taylor, it’s proved even tougher, with the club currently seventh, having conceded 18 goals in five games, including an 8-1 defeat to Coventry United in their last match.
Defender Jess Frampton has joined Umotong at Oxford, and now Rutherford, their vastly experienced midfielder-turned-defender, who also experienced the Super League with Millwall, has left them for Premier League Lewes.
But in a sign that the tide might be turning on the south coast, Taylor has lured Brighton trio Boswell, Fulgence and Natkiel to the club, for a month, at least.
Speaking on the Portsmouth club website, Taylor said: “Although only for a short period, I know all three will help the squad during this time, where games are coming thick and fast.”
The trio were all key figures in Brighton’s Premier League title triumph last season and are part of a club that will figure in FAWSL 2, next year.
But with the new Super League season still best part of six months away, the deal stands to benefit all parties.
Boswell, a right-sided player, blessed with pace and skill, found a high level of consistency under former Brighton boss James Marrs.
Natkiel, who knows Taylor from their days at Super League Watford, had a brilliant campaign with Brighton, scoring 17 goals in all competitions, while Fulgence, who was returning after long-term injuries, finished the season with 10 goals in two starts and 13 substitute appearances.
Taylor also paid tribute to the departing Rutherford, who will considerably enhance Donoghue’s options at Lewes. He told the club website: “We’re all really sad to see Leeta go. However, this sounds like an exciting challenge for her, and we wish her the very best.”
Donoghue prizes her experience and believes she will be an example to the younger players in his squad. He told the Lewes club website: “We have some great experience, but adding a player that has won the Premier League and played [in the] WSL can only improve the squad.”
Albeit shorter-term, the arrival of midfielder Barton and defender Young will boost Donoghue’s attempts to steer Lewes away from the lower stretches of the Premier League.
He managed both during his spell in charge of Brighton, since when Barton has blossomed into one of the league’s most talented midfield players.
All five Brighton players could be renewing acquaintances sooner than they might have thought – Lewes play Portsmouth on Wednesday.