They’re in only their second season as an adult team – their first under the Oakwood name – and most of their squad are still eligible to play youth football.
But Trevor Warren’s precociously talented youngsters are celebrating their first title in the women’s game, promotion to the regional league (subject to ratification) and a possible league-and-cup double.
It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for Warren and Oakwood – who, as Crawley Town, had already shown plenty of evidence that they were part of a golden generation of young footballers.
Two years ago, as under-15s, their compact little squad – featuring eight of the players who have just clinched the Sussex County Women and Girls Football League title – won their league by a mile, unbeaten with 11 victories in their 12 games.
At the same time, some of the older girls, who had won the Sussex Under-16 Cup the previous season, moved to Surrey’s Under-18 League when a dearth of players forced the Sussex League to disband its own under-18 competition.
By last season those older girls were back in their home county, in the women’s league, finishing second to Lewes – the other club to boast a golden generation – while the younger age group were still playing girls’ football, coming runners-up to Joe Carter’s brilliant Hangleton Rangers in the Under-16 League, the League Cup and the Sussex FA Under-16 Cup.
And now the two age groups are together, forming one of the youngest adult teams around, with many of their squad still not 18 – but continuing that winning habit.
Following a path uncannily like that of Lewes, Warren’s youngsters – boosted by a couple of 20-somethings, including the hugely influential Emma Green – romped away with the league and could have sewn it up sooner, had it not been for a shock off-day against title rivals Lancing a couple of weeks ago.
They finally clinched that first adult trophy on Sunday when they beat Horsham Sparrows 5-0 in the first of three consecutive fixtures against their neighbours.
Goal-crazy Oakwood on verge of title
Holders taken all the way by Oakwood teenagers
Oakwood show their class against title rivals
Page three helps cut Burgess Hill down to size
Crawley crown comeback with cup victory
Unusually, their top scorer, Jade Page, was not on the score sheet, so she remains stuck on “just” the 37 goals from 16 starts and a substitute’s appearance.
But second-top scorer Green did – bringing her haul to 28 from 14 games, one of which was as a substitute.
The pair’s goals – 60 of them in the league between them – have been largely responsible for Oakwood breaking through the 100-goal barrier from just 13 games, an astonishing achievement for such a young team in adult football.
Yet arguably it’s their defence that has been the most impressive element of this highly watchable, enthusiastic young side.
Their captain, central defender Sarah Killick-Bird, has been outstanding in virtually every Oakwood game I’ve watched, while Jade Dancaster and the likes of Chloe Higham and Abi Knight, who are as comfortable in attacking roles as in defence, add still more class to the backbone of the side.
And behind them has been one of the many pluses of their season – the phenomenal form of goalkeeper Danni Cutler, herself a member of that title-winning under-15 side just two seasons ago.
And when she has been out, through injury, Beckie Kirkham has stepped in, conceding just one goal in her four league appearances.
In their 14 matches, Oakwood have conceded just six goals – half of them in a 3-3 draw at Lancing in October.
- Rebranded as Oakwood this season after previously playing as Crawley Town
- Distant runners-up to Lewes Foundation last season – their first in the women’s division
- The younger players were runners-up to Hangleton Rangers in last season’s Sussex U16 league
- Have scored 107 goals, with one game to go, in their 14 league matches, conceding six
- Top scorer: Jade Page – 37 in 17 appearances (one as sub)
- Did not concede a league goal until their sixth game, which they won 3-1
- Dropped their first points in their seventh – a 3-3 draw at Lancing
- Suffered their only league defeat to the same opponents in their 13th match
- Have kept 10 clean sheets in those 14 league games
Green, who joined in the summer from local rivals Crawley Wasps, was always confident Oakwood would shine, but even she has been taken aback by the pace of their improvement.
She told Sent Her Forward: “I chose to join Oakwood after two difficult seasons with an ankle ligament injury. I knew that a step down in leagues would enable me to recover fully and also aid the development of younger and less experienced players.
“It becme quite apparent in pre-season that we would compete for the title, but the manner in which we have done is probably the most pleasing thing.”
Green had no regrets on switching from Wasps, where she had been a linchpin in the development squad which had earned promotion from the Sussex League to the South East Counties.
“From my first training session, I admired the determination of Trevor Warren and Darren Kirkham (the club’s chairman) as they strive to grow and develop the club.
“I’d say I’ve probably brought experience and maturity to the team… and we’ve definitely exceeded my expectations.
“Highlights have been nurturing the girls through their first season in ladies football and watching them grow as individuals and a team.
“Danni Cutler, our goalkeeper, has been crucial and has certainly come out of her shell, commanding her area, and being an all round superstar, only conceding six goals all season.
“Jade Dancaster, another who is only 16, can play anywhere in defence or midfield and has been a vital part of the team with her consistent performances.”
Their record so far
Green, 25, has struck up fine understandings with both Chloe Chesworth, who, because of the club’s extraordinary strength in depth this season, has figured in only 10 games, weighing in with six goals, and more potently still, 18-year-old Jade Page.
Page’s 37 goals include 32 in the league. She scored five and four against Worthing Town Reserves and four against both Lancing and Pagham.
Green herself netted six in their club-record 20-0 victory over Worthing Town Reserves.
Next season Warren hopes to add a few more names to the mix – including an assistant coach – as Oakwood look to establish themselves at the higher level, just as their predecessors as Sussex champions, Lewes Foundation, have done this season.
They also have the opportunity to emulate Lewes’s Sussex League Cup win – which Martin Perkins’ side achieved in their debut season in women’s football.
They meet Horsham Sparrows in the semi-final on February 26.
Ironically, Horsham, the scene of Sunday’s title triumph, also stand between Oakwood and a couple more records.
Already boasting a goal difference of more than 100, a victory by eight goals would take them above those achieved by the Hassocks Reserves and Eastbourne sides of 2010/11 and 2011/12 respectively; a 10-goal margin would take them joint-second in the league’s scoring charts, and 11 would confirm them as all-time second-highest scorers, overtaking sides who played considerably more games.
And while the 123 scored by Hassocks Reserves in 2010/11 is likely to remain out of reach, it would take a brave person to bet against them reaching those other achievements.