Season’s over – but the celebrations continue. At least, here at Sent Her Forward they do. The much-anticipated honours are back, with some new categories, some familiar names and some to look out for in the future.
Welcome to part one of the Sent Her Forward honours 2016/17.
Ten months, 42 games covered (and a couple more watched minus notebook) and best part of 1,000 players viewed.
You can’t all pick up prizes, but in my view, you players, managers, coaches, secretaries, ground staff, parents and friends who help keep this beautiful game growing are all winners.
Featured in this section:
- Individual performance
- Significant contribution
- College team of the season
- Club of the season
- Manager of the season
I wish I could recognise all your contributions – and I try to highlight as many as I can throughout the season via this website and my Twitter account. But if everybody got a prize, the Sent Her Forward awards would not mean as much in the female football community as people tell me they do.
So to the awards. Over the next few days, I will publish the winners and shortlisted candidates in each category, culminating in my end-of-season Dream Teams – and even they have a new look this season, so keep a look out.
In 40-odd matches, I’ve seen some outstanding performances – often in the same game. Given the unique circumstances of each match, it’s almost impossible to compare the value of the respective contributions.
But I try to recognise those displays that stand out, those pieces of individual magic that make football such a compelling sport.
Here are my top 10 of 2016/17:
Leeta Rutherford (Lewes, v Crystal Palace, Nov 13 2016) Tackles, headers, interceptions, passes.
Angharad Hills (Worthing, v Cowfold, Jan 22 2017) String of vital, yet understated, saves helped clinch win.
Ini Umotong (Oxford U, v Brighton, Feb 26 2017) Pace, power, control. Even managed to give Vicky Ashton-Jones a hard time.
Emily Towner (BHASVIC, v Richard Huish College, March 15 2017) Controlled midfield in national cup semi-final.
Emily Syme (Richard Huish College, v BHASVIC, March 15 2017) Sublimely skilled. Magnificent in defeat.
Chloe Upton (Crawley Wasps U15 v Cuckfield Cosmos U, April 23 2017) Sensational performance against boys’ team.
Brooke Marshall (Worthing, v Burgess Hill Town, April 30 2017) Elegant and effective, including incredible goal-line clearance.
3rd: Megan Cave (Worthing, v Oakwood, Nov 27 2016)
The centre-back is one of a handful of players to be named Sent Her Forward player of the match more than once this season, and it was her second sparkling display that elevated her above most of her rivals in a season where defenders in particular seemed to shine in matches I covered, keeping the prolific Jade Page quiet in a Sussex FA Challenge Trophy tie.
2nd: Abbie Sandle (Collyer’s College, v BHASVIC, Nov 30 2016)
Another young defender; another outstanding display. Sandle was on the losing side in a college league game against the eventual league champions. Yet she outperformed every other player on the pitch, displaying a degree of composure I’ve rarely seen at this level.
I suspect – and truly hope – we’ll be seeing a lot more of this talented young lady in the future.
Sent Her Forward performance of the season: Cherelle Khassal (Chichester City, v Brislington, Sep 18 2016)
There are days when a player is, as they say these days, on fire and can’t put a foot wrong. This was one of them. Toying with defenders on both flanks, pressing them and generally leaving them for dead, the attacking wide player was at the top of her game. She even managed to pip team-mate Molly Clark to my player-of-the-match award.
Oh – and she scored four goals.
So much that’s good about women’s and girls’ football is not reflected in medals, trophies or even wins on the pitch. It’s about keeping clubs going, encouraging those who need a helping hand; dedication above and beyond, or inspired – and inspiring – performances on the pitch.
All of those named below have contributed greatly to this great game – many over a long period. But each has a special reason for remembering season 2016/17.
Sarah Smart and Brian Holmewood (Haywards Heath & Wivelsfield)
The captain and sometime manager and chairman of the club formerly known as Wivelsfield Green (and still, to me and many others, as Wivi) are intrinsically linked with it.
They’ve been there since the start and they were still there when the great ship Wivi finally sailed into the sunset midway through this season, shorn of so many players – for a variety of reasons – that they could no longer muster 11 (or even 10) for games.
When Holmewood explained the reasons for his club’s plight, as he watched his beloved team fall to another heavy defeat in what turned out to be their swan song, he spoke with a heavy heart but with clarity and eloquence.
The decision to pull out of the league (rather than risk letting down opponents week in, week out) was an extremely difficult one to make. But it was the correct one.
And although their expressed wish to revive Wivi this coming season isn’t going to happen quite as they imagined, their spirit will live on in an exciting new adventure at newly formed Saltdean United, which will feature the remaining core of Wivi players and a host of exciting youngsters from Brighton’s impressive BHASVIC college side.
And it is only right that Smart, who was probably hit as hard as anybody by Wivi’s demise, should be a part of it.
That there was still a core of Wivi players at all is down largely to these two.
Emma Wood and Roy Stannard (Crawley Wasps U15)
This double act (pictured, top of the page) put their necks on the block this season when they pulled their multi-talented team of perennial trophy-gatherers out of the Sussex girls’ league and into a boys’ league.
Wood, the manager, and Stannard, her assistant, figured the girls’ development was being stunted in a league that could not provide the standard of opposition they needed to properly test them.
Switching a team who had not lost for two years into an arena where they were likely to lose most weeks was a brave decision, which I understand did not have universal support within the club.
But significantly, it did among the players – and in most cases, their parents, although after weekly thrashings at the hands of faster, stronger – but certainly not better – boys’ teams, the novelty did begin to wear off, raising doubts among some.
They emerged beaten but not bowed – significantly the better for it, according to the players and parents I spoke to, and also in the view of the management team who had taken the risk.
The girls voted to go back into a girls’ league next season, and it may well be with someone new at the helm. Stannard has stood down and Wood was waiting to hear about her work commitments with Brighton’s development squad before committing herself to another season where she expects them to return to facing lesser opposition.
Dick Semark (Chichester City Development)
Semark’s immense experience in men’s and women’s football was put to great use by Chichester City Ladies several years ago when manager Matt Wright used him as his sounding board.
Suddenly the quite-senior citizen was plunged back into the hot seat when he somehow found himself agreeing to manage the development side as they embarked on a tough adventure in the Premier League’s Reserve Division.
He commanded respect, and though gentle of manner, his message undoubtedly got through to youngsters a quarter of his age.
With his backroom team beginning to play a bigger role in running the side, Semark bowed out on a high when he finally retired (again) at the end of this campaign, with Chichester City Development Squad finishing third back in regional grassroots football after calling an end to their Premier League ordeal.
Sadie Wilson-Blakely (Chichester City)
She’s not going anywhere (as far as I know), but the former Portsmouth goalkeeper certainly made her mark when she joined Chichester City after taking a while out with her wife, Charley.
Wilson-Blakely joined the Greens when they were already flying high at the top of South West Division One of the FAW Premier League, unbeaten and having conceded only a handful of goals.
But her appearance, soon after the debuts of Charley and another former Portsmouth player, Molly Clark, coincided with a marked step up in performance, as they rattled in goal after goal.
Things were relatively quiet at the other end of the pitch, with Chichester’s defence continuing to perform impressively. But Wilson-Blakely brought a new level of organisation. If anyone did not know their jobs in a particular scenario, they soon did as the keeper bellowed instructions.
She also had a fair few saves to make, which she did with an air of authority that suffused the entire defence with new levels of confidence.
And in a game where stats figure more than ever, it’s worth noting that Wilson-Blakely did not concede a goal until the 84th minute of her seventh match – 624 minutes of clean sheets – earning a place on Sent Her Forward‘s “well done” list.
Samantha Quayle (Portsmouth):
Sammy Quayle also had a big impact when she joined Portsmouth – though a big difference was that she was not joining a high-flying team full of confidence.
Pompey are rebuilding and are consequently inconsistent, both in performance and results. But the bubbly, bustling Quayle’s approach did not reflect what had been going on around her.
She scored a total of 17 goals in 20 starts – nine in 14 league games (plus three substitute’s appearances). And she was a regular contributor to other people’s goals, too.
Her contribution in her maiden season was probably summed up during a week in March when, just a few days after helping the University of Portsmouth to their league title, she put in a player-of-the-match performance for her club, scoring four as they retained the Hampshire Cup against Southampton Women.
Jen Weller (Cowfold):
The Cowfold captain is the first name on husband/manager Steve Weller’s team sheet. Or at least, it was. Weller has announced her retirement from playing, and my guess is Cowfold’s extremely good side will notice her absence possibly even more than they think they will.
Weller is the sort of player everyone wants on their team but nobody wants to play against. She is uncompromising, extremely strong, deceptively quick (though I imagine she might be beginning to feel otherwise) and an exceptionally good reader of the game.
At home in defence or midfield, the game is played through her – and everybody benefits. She will be much missed by her former team-mates, but hopefully, her influence will remain in some shape or form.
Brooke Marshall (Worthing):
The Worthing centre-back has already had a mention in this page (and who knows – there could be more to come). She has been with the club more or less since the start, and she has barely missed a game.
Which is all the more remarkable for the fact that she is now at university in Kent, yet travels to every game – often by train – returning to Canterbury long after most of her team-mates have already finished their roast dinners.
She’s rightly highly regarded by her team-mates, even though the team is full of high performers – and what’s more, she’s a top, top footballer.
College team of the season
This season marked my first venture into college football – and I liked what I saw. Having already seen many student players at adult clubs, I knew to expect some decent performances.
But in the games I was lucky enough to watch, I was extremely impressed by the standard, the commitment and especially the quality of management and coaching from the sidelines.
BHASVIC – Brighton Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College – featured in three of the four games I saw. The other teams were Horsham’s Collyer’s, Newman-Lewes Academy, Worthing College, Somerset’s Richard Huish College and Onslow St Audrey’s Academy, from Hertfordshire.
Choosing one team was difficult, as they all play at different levels and are at different stages of development. But I narrowed it down to Worthing College and BHASVIC, who both not only won trophies but set new heights in their establishments’ histories.
Worthing College is blessed with top-quality players, many of whom feature at a high level in adult football, and two of whom joined the England Colleges set-up this season.
The college is the academy of Super League Brighton, and some of the team have been playing for the club’s development squad in their maiden Super League season.
As such, one would expect the team to be high achievers, and a CV that this season read Sussex School FA Cup winners; national college and under-18 semi-finalists, both for the first time; national play-offs and national championships participants after winning the regional qualifiers, is some list.
But in my opinion, the achievements of their Sussex neighbours just about top Worthing’s.
Sent Her Forward college team of the season: BHASVIC
Every so often a team, club or, in this case, college inherits a golden generation. This Brighton college has just that, with a host of quality teenagers who are going to develop into top footballers, capable of playing at the highest level.
Managed with boyish enthusiasm by Joe McTiffen, who kicks every ball from the dugout during games and has the respect of his charges, and led by their rapidly maturing captain Ellie Ramsauer, BHASVIC soared to new heights this season.
Already the holders of the Sussex FA Schools Ladies League title for the past two seasons, this year they retained it with the bonus of the League Cup for good measure. They also won their division in the Association of Colleges League and reached the semi-finals of the Sussex Cup.
But most impressively of all, the college reached the national cup final, exceeding McTiffen’s target and winning a number of new admirers along the way.
And now they have yet another award to add to their collection. Congratulations BHASVIC, Sent Her Forward‘s college team of the season.
Club of the season
Three strong contenders for this award, all with compelling cases. For the club of the season, I aim to look beyond the achievements of a single team within a club and honour those where there is evidence of success at various levels (and by implication, a promising future beyond the immediate first team).
All three on my shortlist conform to that ideal.
3) Chichester City
It’s been an unprecedented season for Chichester City Ladies & Girls Football Club, whose first team won promotion to the FAW Premier League Southern after an unbeaten league campaign.
Their development side, after pulling out of the Premier Reserve League, finished a creditable third in the Premier Division of the South East Counties Women’s Football League.
More encouraging still, though, was the performance of the club’s under-16 side, who were declared joint-winners of the Sussex County Women and Girls Football League Under-16 Division (where goal difference is ignored) and who clinched the double when they won the League Cup on penalties.
2) Charlton Athletic
Club officials at Charlton Athletic will have mixed feelings about this season. They were highly fancied to go one better than last year and take the Premier League title, but fell short in the face of Tottenham’s remarkable campaign.
But they did not end the season empty-handed. They reached three cup finals – though that was tempered somewhat by the fact that they had to face Spurs in all three – though won only one: the Capital Cup.
They also inflicted one of only two defeats on their London rivals in the Premier League – admittedly by which time the title was all but done and dusted.
And their young reserves, featuring some players from their disbanded grassroots development string – finished second in the demanding Premier Reserve League (to Spurs’ reserves) and reached the semi-finals of the Capital Intermediate Cup (where they lost to… yes, you’ve guessed it).
… Which brings us to our winners.
Sent Her Forward club of the season: Tottenham Hotspur
— Spurs Ladies (@ThlfcOfficial) June 4, 2017
It’s going to be hard to better this season, Spurs.
Their senior side didn’t lose a game until March, when they were given a reality check by Super League Arsenal, who dished out the sort of hammering that Spurs themselves had been giving to teams all season – 10-0 in the FA Women’s Cup.
There followed three more setbacks – league defeats to Charlton Athletic and Cardiff City with the Premier League all but won, and to Charlton again in the Capital Cup.
But this was Tottenham’s season. As well as the league title, they won both the Ryman and Premier League Cup for a marvellous treble, which was topped on the final day of the season when Karen Hills’ amazing side beat Blackburn Rovers 3-0 in the Premier League Championship play-off to earn promotion to the Super League.
And for good measure, their reserves (remember, this award is supposed to reflect a degree of future promise in the whole club) won the Premier Reserves League and Cup double – and the Capital Intermediate Cup.
Manager of the season
The usual proviso accompanies this award: sometimes the greater achievement is guiding a team of disparate individuals of varying ability to nothing more than respectability.
However, this year the success of the three leading contenders is tangible – and unavoidable.
There have been some admirable managerial feats all around the South East, but ones that stand out to me include Andy Burling‘s continued success with Worthing, who with a largely rebuilt side, won the South East Counties League Division One West and the Sussex FA Trophy, as well as reaching the League Cup final and the semi-finals of the Ryman Cup.
Trevor Warren led a team of many talents (mainly very young ones) to the Sussex County League in their first season under the Oakwood banner, totting up a century of goals, and then clinching the double with victory in the League Cup.
Joe McTiffen deserves a mention for his leadership of Sussex’s BHASVIC college side. The talented teenagers won trophies and plaudits – and reached the final of the national cup for the first time, all the while appearing to enjoy every minute playing for their young manager and PE teacher.
And so, too, does last year’s winner. Hannah Haughton has had another incredible season with her Southampton Saints under-16 side, leading them to back-to-back league, League Cup and county cup success with only six of last season’s all-conquering side (most of the rest are now in either the reserves or first team).
Her achievements – on top of keeping goal for the third-best team in the FAW Premier League South West Division One – made her an outstanding candidate to retain the Sent Her Forward award.
But I have decided to recognise three bosses who guided their teams of talented adults to – in two cases – new heights, and in the other, back to where they belong.
3rd: Karen Hills
Hills, along with right-hand man Juan Carlos Amoros, is getting all the plaudits she deserves after guiding Tottenham Hotspur Ladies to their greatest ever season (mentioned in detail above).
They have been the southern division’s standout side, earning praise and respect from people at all levels of the game, with a fine foundation from which to succeed at the next level.
But I hope she won’t mind if I put the achievements of two young managers who aspire to reach her level ahead of her for the purpose of my awards.
2nd: Jack Wheeler
What a turnaround at Gillingham. The club was left in the lurch nearly three years ago when manager James Marrs and most of their star players chose to reach for the stars at Brighton. Those left behind could not quite avoid the drop into South East Division One, but they very nearly bounced back at the first attempt, initially under the joint-stewardship of Jack Wheeler and Darren Hare and subsequently Wheeler alone.
They finished creditable runners-up to Crystal Palace – who went on to establish themselves in the Premier League’s southern division – before going one better this term, with a radically reshaped team.
Wheeler (pictured, top of the page) made clever use of the unexpected availability of former Gill Fliss Gibbons, who left Super League Millwall, and several other ex-players, some of whom were kicking their heels ahead of the start of Brighton’s first Super League campaign this spring, plus Charlotte Gurr and – briefly – Jay Blackie, who had both been among those who left Brighton in the wake of the departures of Marrs and Tracy Doe a year ago.
With the likes of Gibbons and Gurr – Sent Her Forward‘s player of the season last year – on the goal rampage and the likes of Vicky Ashton-Jones and Cat Cooper at the other end of the pitch, Gillingham romped to the title, despite valiant challenges from Cambridge United, AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons, losing just once and scoring more than 100 goals on their way to promotion.
Sent Her Forward manager of the season: Liam Greenfield
Chichester City’s fortunes have mirrored uncannily those of Gillingham: runners-up last season in South West Division One, in their first season under Greenfield, they went one better this year after the manager brought in a number of new faces, including several with Super League or top Premier League credentials.
Not afraid to break up a promising side, Greenfield put the likes of striker Kally Ambler on the bench for huge chunks of the season (although she still played a crucial, committed role in the team’s success); he offloaded top players who he felt no longer fitted the club’s ethos, and he bade farewell to a goalkeeper who had conceded only a handful of goals in the team’s brilliant start to the campaign.
And in their place he appointed Sadie Wilson-Blakely, the goalkeeper who won a Premier League title medal with Portsmouth, her goal-crazy wife, Charley, who had done likewise; he brought in Cherelle Khassal, who had shone all too briefly at Pompey, Lewes and Brighton, and Jess Lewry, a midfielder-cum-striker, who had regularly bagged goals at Southampton Saints.
All blossomed at Chichester in a sensational, unbeaten league season.
But somehow, he also managed to lure Portsmouth midfielder Molly Clark to Oaklands, where she played all but a handful of games, even after signing to play for Yeovil Town in FAWSL 1.
Playing alongside the brilliant Becky Barron, Clark was the fulcrum on which Chichester’s attacking game pivoted, and she helped herself to 11 goals from 12 starts (after adjustments following the exit of Shanklin), featuring in their title decider against Plymouth and their penultimate match of the season when promotion was finally sealed, despite having been on Yeovil’s bench 24 hours earlier.
Chichester won the league in style, scoring 120 goals and earning a goal difference of 112 before the two results of the games against Shanklin were expunged. They still hit 100 and boasted the meanest defence in the division, winning 19 and drawing one of the recalculated 20 games they played.
Greenfield inherited a fine bunch of players from previous manager Matt Wright, but Wright would be the first to acknowledge that his successor and protegé has done things his own way in ruthlessly leading Chichester to the promised land.
For all his transfer activity, Greenfield also found room for youth player Loulou Robson, who made her first-team bow just days after her 16th birthday, and who looks set to play a big part in the club’s promising future.