Sent Her Forward honours 2016/17 – part two

Collage of Leeta Rutherford, Eleanor Keegan and Sarah Killick-Bird, Sent Her Forward's three players of the season 2016/17 (Photos: James Boyes, Sent Her Forward, Oakwood Ladies)

Three top centre-backs playing at three vastly different levels lit up season 2016/17 (Photos: James Boyes/Sent Her Forward/Oakwood Ladies)

Welcome to the second instalment of awards, rewards and recognition for those who have played big parts in making season 2016/17 what it is.

Featured in this section:

  • People’s choice
  • Student performance
  • Match
  • Team
  • Player

Take a look at part one.

And don’t forget the third and final part of the series, coming next – the Dream Teams.

People’s choice

This is the second year of the people’s choice category, and I’m delighted to say I have received many more nominations this time.

It has been open for anyone to suggest a name – or names – of individuals or teams who they believe have made significant contributions during the past season.

Whether anonymously, or publicly, each nominator has given reasons for their choices – and to my mind, they are often the most fascinating and revealing part of the entire process.

I have not been involved in the nomination process at all – just the final decision.

Take a bow every one of the 14 people/teams chosen by you, the people.

Ellie Ramsauer and Henna Butcher, of BHASVIC, Nov 30 2016 (Photo: Sent Her Forward)

Ellie Ramsauer and Henna Butcher were two of BHASVIC’s key players throughout their record-breaking college campaign

Henna Butcher (Lewes Development/BHASVIC, nominated by Joe McTiffen): This awesome young talent who can play virtually anywhere on the pitch was one of three nominations by BHASVIC PE teacher and team manager Joe McTiffen.

“After scoring 24 goals this season, Henna has been the standout player for BHASVIC. Scoring two goals in the National Cup final and the bulldozer in midfield, she is a player who will be missed at the college. A fantastic attitude on the pitch with a never-say-die attitude.”

Ellie Ramsauer (Lewes Development/BHASVIC, nominated by Joe McTiffen): Captain Fantastic. Rambo. The midfielder (who, of course, can also play anywhere) has had another wonderful season for club and college, lifting trophies and earning plaudits. 

McTiffen writes: “Captain fantastic! Has developed as a player over the past three years and is now one of the first names on the team sheets. A leader who gives everything, whether it be crunching into tackles or playing a sublime through-ball to the striker. Rambo is a girl who will have a great future if she continues to progress like she has done in the last three years.”

Nina Wilson (Brighton Development/BHASVIC, nominated by Joe McTiffen): Goalkeeper Wilson has excelled this season for club and college, one day standing up to Super League strikers; the next taking on teenage starlets, all the while growing in confidence.

McTiffen again: “Given the vice-captaincy this year and her experience on the field has been vital, organising her back four and making some vital saves during the journey to the national cup final. Nina is a very talented goalkeeper who will be one to watch in the future.

Roy Stannard and Emma Wood (Crawley Wasps U15, nominated by Dawn Keegan): Joint-nomination for a joint-role. Wood was manager of Crawley Wasps’ outstanding under-15 side during their adventurous season in a boys’ league, where they were regularly beaten but often admired. Stannard, her predecessor, was her more than able assistant, who stood in when Wood was needed for her paid duties with Brighton’s development side.

Keegan, Wasps’ child welfare officer, mother of the team captain and much, much more besides, writes: “Both Roy and Emma have been a fantastic management team for the girls, neither having children playing in the team but still putting in endless hours of top-class coaching and support for the girls.

“The girls have the utmost respect for both of them and were really saddened at Roy’s retirement, but fully respect his reasoning. Roy’s daughters both moved on… several years ago, but he continued to manage the girls and give up his only day off.

“Emma has always pushed the girls to be the best they can be and always encouraged them to attend trials and push that bit harder. They know she has always had their best interests at heart. I cannot sing their praises enough.”

Dave Cole (Crawley Wasps, nominated by someone who wished to remain anonymous): Assistant manager Cole, who had a similar role at Lewes, has added his expertise and vast knowledge of women’s football to the growing think tank at ambitious Wasps.

This is the citation from the person who nominated him: “Dave is the most selfless man and far too good to be just an assistant manager. His desire is untouchable, he happily takes a back seat despite the effort and knowledge he has – and he would do anything for all the girls, all the way down to the little ones.

“He works hard for the club and gets very little credit for it because of the role he is currently in. Managers often get all the plaudits but Dave has been brilliant and many of the girls would not have enjoyed the season as much without him there. Paul Walker (the manager) also goes above and beyond, but my nomination goes to Dave.”

Lauren Dolbear (Lewes, nominated by Julian Kilner): One of two people to be nominated for a second consecutive season, Dolbear has continued to flourish as Premier League Lewes’s first-choice goalkeeper. Her nomination comes from somebody who knows a decent goalie when he sees one – Julian Kilner, who has been goalkeeping coach both at Lewes and Brighton.

He writes: “Got to be Lauren. I left her in really good form [when he moved to Brighton] and Radd [Reynolds, his successor] has carried it on. She worked hard, listened, trusted me and now is playing her best football.”

Oakwood (nominated by Emma Green): The only club to receive a nomination this year. Oakwood, formerly Crawley Town Girls, flourished under manager Trevor Warren, winning the Sussex County Women’s League in their first season under the Oakwood banner.

They were nominated by one of their players, Emma Green, who although she has since left the club, had some warm words for the team she left behind: “Oakwood because of what we achieved in such a short space of time with a new bunch of girls.”

Danni Cutler (Oakwood, nominated by Emma Green): One of two fine goalkeepers that the club boasts, Cutler – who can play a bit in the outfield, too – has had an outstanding season. Her former team-mate felt she deserved recognition, too.

“Not only for her performances this year but the way she’s grown and developed on and off the pitch with her maturity and attitude. One of the best shot-stoppers I’ve ever seen, and so quick off her line, she’s another who deserves the credit for (only) six goals conceded.”

Sarah Killick-Bird (Oakwood, nominated by Emma Green): Yep, another of Oakwood’s immense young talents, again recognised by her vastly more experienced former team-mate.

This is what Green wrote about the Oakwood captain: “Without doubt, Oakwood’s best player this year. With so much credit going to the attackers (Oakwood scored more than 100 goals in 15 league games), I feel she needs to be recognised for the fact we only let six goals in. I genuinely believe that’s because we have such a solid and tenacious centre-back who’s not afraid of anything or anyone.”

Billie-Jo Cobb (Lancing, nominated by Emma Green): Cobb’s nomination stands out because it has come from an opponent. Cobb was a striker with Oakwood’s title rivals Lancing and obviously caught Green’s eye.

“An outstanding attacker who causes any defence problems, not only can she whack a ball from a mile out, her pace and determination can pull a defence apart. Probably the only player I’ve seen get away from Sarah Killick-Bird this season.”

Andy Burling and Sarah Burling (Worthing, nominated by someone who wished to remain anonymous):

Andy and Sarah Burling at the club's awards evening, May 2017 (Photo: Worthing LFC)

Manager Andy Burling and his wife, Sarah, are the core of the Worthing Ladies “family” (Photo: Worthing LFC)

Andy Burling, the Worthing manager, is the second person to be nominated in both years of the award. He led his vastly changed team to the South East Counties Division One West league title – but he didn’t do it alone, as the nominator makes clear in this citation to Burling and his wife.

“He’s been the manager for over 10 years and dedicates everything to the team. He cares so much about every player and is so enthusiastic about the game, I think he deserves a special mention for all the hard work he puts in on and off the pitch.

“His wife Sarah also deserves a mention for everything she does off the pitch, starting with having to cope with Andy! She organises everything with the club and the opposition, and sorts out team sheets and washes muddy kit every week. I don’t think she gets the recognition she deserves but the team wouldn’t cope without her.”

Sent Her Forward People’s Choice: Brooke Marshall (Worthing)

The only person to receive two separate nominations this year, Marshall is your typical unsung hero/heroine. I include the two citations in full below, but suffice to say I concur with every word.

Sarah Burling: “Brooke has played for us for 12 years; has never ‘gone sick’ and has probably played many times when she wasn’t fit. For the last two years she’s been at Canterbury Uni. Despite this, she travels back for every game. From away games I often have to take her to the nearest train station, still wearing her kit, to catch her train home.  From home games it takes her three-and-a-half hours to get home. She is a 100% girl, in our opinion one of the best defenders in the league, but above all, she loves her footy and is an ‘always’ girl. The team love her. She’s not often available to socialise with us but Andy and I know we always have her unfaltering support.”

Steph Carter: “Could easily get player-of-the-match week in, week out. An absolute rock at the back. Has been travelling back from uni every weekend to play for us. Brooke plays a massive part in the team and a lot of her hard work goes unnoticed sometimes. In a winning team the defence is not always praised as much as it perhaps should be and Brooke is an unsung hero. Easily the best defender in the league and wouldn’t look out of place in a women’s premier league team.”

Many, many congratulations to all those nominees who have clearly done so much to be appreciated. That’s what my awards are all about and I am privileged to be able to convey news of their contributions to a wider audience.

And in particular, of course, congratulations to Brooke Marshall, a most worthy People’s Choice.

Student performance

Action from Newman-Lewes Academy v Worthing College (Photo: Simon Roe)

There were plenty of top-class student performances in Sent Her Forward’s first venture into college football (Photo: Simon Roe)

Another award category especially for students after I made my first foray into college football this season.

As I mentioned in part one, when assessing the college team of the season, it’s extremely hard to compare performances when colleges are at such disparate levels or points in their evolution.

But to give an idea of how impressive the youngsters have been, three of them also made it into the overall performance-of-the-season category – an achievement I would not have thought possible before I started seeing them in action.

All three feature below, of course, but there were plenty more to choose from.

Alice Chambers (BHASVIC v Collyer’s): On any other day this lively and enterprising winger would have walked away with the player-of-the-match award. See below for why she didn’t.

Ellie Ramsauer (BHASVIC v Richard Huish College): Above-average performances in every game, but she stood out in a slightly more unusual defensive role in her college’s crucial cup semi-final.

Nina Wilson (BHASVIC v Richard Huish College): Assured, commanding and confident. I wrote that it would take something special to beat her. Nothing did – thanks, not least, to an outstanding diving save.

Henna Butcher (BHASVIC v Richard Huish College): This footballing phenomenon just gets better. Still so young, yet such an accomplished athlete. She wasn’t even my player of the match against Richard Huish College, but her two goals were pivotal in their national cup semi-final.

Emily Towner (BHASVIC v Richard Huish College): My player of the match in a game that featured so many top-class performances.

Emily Syme (Richard Huish College v BHASVIC): Pipped to the match award largely because she was on the losing side. But she didn’t deserve to be. The young England player took on a rampant BHASVIC almost single-handedly.

Sent Her Forward student performance of the season: Abbie Sandle (Collyer’s v BHASVIC)

This young lady has already earned a stunning reward for her solitary performance in front of Sent Her Forward this season, finishing second in the highly competitive section for best overall match performance.

In this college contest, the cultured centre-back was incredibly effective against an outstanding opponent in Alice Chambers, largely through her impressive reading of the game which enabled her to time her challenges and interceptions to perfection.

The Horsham college she plays for were second-best to a team that swept almost all before it. But they gave BHASVIC a scare in this game – and that was in no small part due to Sandle’s performance.

Match

Does top-rank football mean better matches? Not always, as the statistics from the games I watched this season indicate.

I reported on 42 matches, between a sterile pre-season friendly in July and a sun-drenched feast of Super League football at the Amex in May.

Eight were youth or college matches; 12 Premier or Super League and the rest grassroots adult football.

The table below gives an indication of which were the most entertaining over time, based on my match ratings, out of 10, that I award in my match reports.

Competition Matches Avge rating Competition Matches Avge rating
SCWGFL Women’s Div 2 8 London & SERWFL 3 6.67
FAWPL Div 1 SW 3 7.33 Mid Sussex Youth & Minor League 3 6.67
FAW Super League 3 7.33 Women’s FA Cup 2 6.5
Sussex FA Trophy 5 7.2 SECWFL Div 1 West 3 6.33
FAWSL Development 1 7 FAW Premier League Southern 5 6.2
Sussex County League Cup 1 7 FAW Premier Reserve League 1 6
Sussex FA Challenge Cup 1 7 Capital Intermediate Cup 1 6
SCWGFL U16 Cup 1 7 SECWF League Cup 1 6
College competitions 4 6.75 Friendlies 2 5.5

Interestingly, the most junior of the three grassroots adult leagues I cover regularly – the Sussex County Women and Girls Football League – comes out best, albeit from just two games watched in a disappointingly small division.

Both games, significantly, involved the same two teams in opposition – league winners Oakwood and runners-up Lancing (each winning one of the games).

The other two – the London & South East Counties and the South East Counties Women’s Division One West – come around the middle of the entertainment table – and an SECWF League Cup match that I saw near the bottom.

The Super League (and Super League development) games feature high up, but the Premier League Southern and Reserve matches at the other end.

Mercifully, it was the pre-season friendlies which produced the lowest average, which is totally forgivable, given that they are not about entertainment but learning and preparing for the season ahead.

The various youth and college matches I watched come right in the middle.

And so to the best, all of which received eight out of 10 from me:

Lancing 4-0 Haywards Heath & Wivelsfield (Nov 20 2016): Entertaining and good-quality game (despite Wivi having only eight players)
Lewes 7-2 West Ham United (Aug 21 2016): Magnificent Premier League curtain-raiser
Oakwood 8-0 Lancing (Dec 11 2016): Quality and effort
Lancing 1-0 Oakwood (Jan 29 2017): Hard-fought game with total commitment and an abundance of skill
Brighton 3-1 Sheffield FC (May 21 2017): Brilliant one-sided first half and enthralling, far more even, second
Chichester City 7-1 Brislington (Sep 18 2016): Thoroughly enjoyable spectacle

Sent Her Forward match of the season: Cowfold 2-3 Worthing (Jan 22 2017)

Action from Cowfold v Worthing at Worthing (Photo: Sent Her Forward)

Cowfold and Worthing staged an excellent contest between the two best teams in their division

Two of the best teams in the South East Counties League put on a terrific display in their much-delayed Sussex FA Challenge Trophy semi-final. The game, due to be played at Cowfold recreation ground, had been switched to Worthing FC’s all-weather pitch – a surface that Cowfold manager Steve Weller openly dislikes.

But his side, who spent most of the season trying to play catch-up with the league leaders, put on a marvellous, battling performance against a team at the height of their form.

Worthing were 3-1 up by half-time, but a Gemma Worsfold own goal midway through the second half set up a nail-biting finale, with Andy Burling’s side holding on to reach the Trophy final – which they went on to win, as well as clinching the league title by one point – from Cowfold.

I described it as “A really good, exciting and compelling cup tie which was in the balance until the final few minutes.”

Team

It would be easy to share the prize among every divisional champion and every cup winner. But it doesn’t work like that.

Sometimes some fine performers have to make way for sides who have achieved even greater success, in my opinion.

Four or five teams can count themselves desperately unlucky not to make the final 10.

BHASVIC; Chichester City Under-16s; Leyton Orient; Maidstone United; Oakwood, Parkwood Rangers and Worthing all did.

But this is the top three:

3) Gillingham: Absolutely cracking season, with a century of goals and a plethora of top-class performers lifting the standard in South East Division One. Their season, inevitably, ended in promotion – though several other quality clubs took them nearly all the way.

2) Chichester City: An almost identical campaign: another 100 goals, no defeats and plenty of players who should be playing at a higher level. Next season they should get their chance after joining Gillingham in the Premier League Southern.

Sent Her Forward team of the season: Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs celebrate after beating Blackburn Rovers to win the FAW Premier League play-off, May 2017 (Photo: Clive Jones)

Spurs’ sensational, trophy-laden season culminated in promotion to the FAW Super League (Photo: Clive Jones)

But they won’t be playing Spurs. Karen Hills’ side romped away with the Premier League title; then defeated Northern Division champions Blackburn Rovers in the Championship play-off which doubled as the passport to the Super League.

The first team to win both my club and team awards in the same season, Spurs spent most of the campaign unbeaten, but when the pressure was really on, the multi-talented side still delivered. And now they will get a chance to prove themselves among the domestic game’s élite.

Player

Fraught with risks but uplifting and inspiring: picking individual players of the season can only ever be my decision. It might not reflect their entire campaigns – I might only have seen them on a couple of good days.

But my decisions are based on growing experience not only of watching football but of the women’s game. My choices are weighted by their consistency over games that I have witnessed – if they have regularly performed at a consistently high level, they are more likely still to reach that magic shortlist.

A team’s best players might not even get a mention here. It’s a subjective decision based in good faith on what I’ve seen, or believe.

There are plenty who haven’t made it this year whom I respect and regard extremely highly.

Young

Wow! This is a tough category. Not least because I find it difficult to define young. To me, every player is young – yes, even Tammy “For Ever” Waine and Jen “Ageless” Weller!

And I don’t want to put an age limit on it, not least because I don’t know the ages of a lot of the young players who light up my Sundays, but also because a 22-year-old in some adult teams might feel more junior than a 19-year-old in the college side she has represented for two or three years.

I could have confined the category to colleges – Goodness knows, I’ve seen enough talent there this season.

But I wanted to cast the net wider, and this is what I’ve come up with.

Narrowing it down to a top 10 has been all the more difficult when judging from such a wide spectrum of players, and means I have had to sacrifice some who have truly delighted with their skills, endeavour and commitment this season.

But here’s that 10, with extra details on the top three.

Andrea Barnard (Haywards Heath & Wivelsfield)
Henna Butcher, Ellie Ramsauer (both Lewes Dev/BHASVIC)
Danni Cutler, Abi Knight (both Oakwood)
Lauren Graves (Crawley Wasps U15)
Abbie Sandle (Collyer’s College)

3) Abi Mason (Worthing): A bit of an unsung hero: she features among my top players almost every time I see her play. Attacking or defending, passing or taking players on, Mason has got it all and has a promising future ahead of her.

2) Sarah Killick-Bird (Oakwood): Talking about promising futures… I’m a sucker for a ball-playing centre-back who can remain composed under pressure and read the game so well that she barely needs to get her kit dirty – yet can stand up to the intimidation of a muscular, threatening centre-forward. That’s why the brilliant Sarah Killick-Bird – a future Super League player, if ever I saw one – gets my vote.

And yet…

Sent Her Forward young player of the season: Eleanor Keegan (Crawley Wasps U15)

Eleanor Keegan in action for Crawley Wasps Girls (Photo: Dawn Keegan)

Crawley Wasps U15 captain Eleanor Keegan has led by example as her side took on the boys (Photo: Dawn Keegan)

This young lady is all the above. But she’s only 15 years old.

She wowed me when I first saw her with Crystal Palace’s much-vaunted under-16s’ centre-forward in her pocket during a friendly. She impressed me every time I saw her play a league game – not least because the 14- and 15-year-olds she was facing were male as her club chose bravely to test their abilities in a boys’ league.

And she impressed me yet more every time I spoke to her: her eloquence, enthusiasm and knowledge of the game’s subtleties are staggering for one so young.

Keegan was having trials with Brighton. She also trains with Chelsea. If she can continue to test herself against the best, she will walk into either of those sides by the time she is an adult.

Grassroots

As with last year, grassroots football, where I watch most of my games, provided the longest list of candidates: no fewer than 26 thoroughly deserving names, which I’ve somehow managed to whittle down to a top 10.

Two of last season’s 10 make it into this year’s shortlist, too, while injury, illness, pregnancy and transfers to a higher level exclude some of the others.

Unfortunately for her, last season’s winner, Rachel Johnson, didn’t stand a chance of defending her crown this time as I never got to see her Abbey Rangers team play. Likewise, with Hannah Haughton, of Southampton Saints.

I sincerely hope I can put that right next season.

And while Worthing have the largest number of players on the list, reflecting a plethora of star performers during their successful season, Crawley Wasps can count themselves most unlucky that only one of their players made the final 10 – no fewer than five of their excellent side were on the longlist.

Here’s the magical shortlist (including the extra info on the top three):

Megan Cave, Brooke Marshall, Naomi Robinson (Worthing)
Billie-Jo Cobb, Claire Katoroz (Lancing)
Emma Green (Oakwood)
Faye Rabson (Crawley Wasps)

3) Angharad Hills (Worthing): Last year she made the top 10; this time the top three, as the goalkeeper returned from surgery apparently even stronger – and madder – than before, putting in some awesome performances to help her team to two trophies and a runners-up prize.

2) Jen Weller (Cowfold): Another outstanding season from the experienced Cowfold captain. Every time I watch her play she is either player of the match or on the shortlist. To be honest, that’s true of most seasons, but she has particularly stood out when I have seen her in what has proved to be her final campaign. There’s nothing like bowing out on a high. 

Sent Her Forward player of the season (grassroots): Sarah Killick-Bird (Oakwood)

Sarah Killick-Bird in action for Oakwood at Burgess Hill Town (Photo: Dave Burt)

Sarah Killick-Bird has had a magnificent season for Sussex County League champions Oakwood (Photo: Dave Burt)

Second in the young player category, this magnificent centre-back goes one better in the grassroots section, fighting off the challenge of some magnificent players (as she has done all season) to take the adult award.

I can’t overstate her value to the Oakwood side she captains; nor the elegance with which she plays her football.

Many congratulations Sarah Killick-Bird, Sent Her Forward grassroots player of the season.

FAW Premier/Super League

And so to the creme de la creme… the pick of the players I’ve seen in Premier League and Super League matches.

As in previous years, I can only apologise to those who have been outstanding for their clubs but I’ve either missed them or seen them on a rare off day.

Or to those whose brilliance was overshadowed by team-mates on the days I watched them.

Alas, I never got to see a very successful Gillingham – or an even more successful Spurs – this season. So their magnificent teams are not represented in my final list.

Last year, Premier League champions Brighton supplied four of the top 10 – including the entire top three. This season, their first as a Super League club, I have seen them only three times – in the spring series, where the standard of opposition week in, week out, makes it a little trickier to excel.

But none the less, several of their side have made their mark in the games I’ve watched, and several made my longlist. But this year it is time for other clubs’ own superstars to shine.

Top 10:

Lauren Cheshire, Cherelle Khassal, Charley Wilson-Blakely (all Chichester City)
Lauren Dolbear, Rachel Palmer (Lewes)

Sarah Kempson (Portsmouth)
Alessia Russo (Brighton)

3) Tammy Waine (Lewes): The former Brighton striker was excellent last year for Chichester City, but this season, in my view, she performed even more impressively – on a higher stage, and in a different position. Manager John Donoghue’s decision – whether by accident or design – to place Waine in defence, where her reading of the game, tenacity in the challenge, ability in the air and mastery with both feet made her a natural, proved inspired.

2) Molly Clark (Chichester City): Another managerial masterstroke. The midfielder must have been one of the first names on the team sheet at Portsmouth, but when she moved on, Liam Greenfield didn’t need asking twice to invite her to join the fun at Oaklands Park, where she controlled the champions’ midfield for most of the campaign – even after signing for Super League Yeovil Town, where she teamed up once again with former Pompey colleague Lucy Quinn.

Leeta Rutherford and Tammy Waine in action for Lewes v C&K Basildon (Photo: James Boyes)

Leeta Rutherford (foreground) and Tammy Waine have forged a superb partnership at the heart of the Lewes defence (Photo: James Boyes)

Sent Her Forward player of the season (Premier League/Super League): Leeta Rutherford (Lewes)

That she did not collect any of the club awards at the team she joined from Portsmouth early in the season speaks volumes for the breadth of quality at the East Sussex club now.

They may have finished in much the same position as last year, but manager Donoghue now has more options at his disposal. And one of the best is Rutherford. Converted by then-Portsmouth manager Perry Northeast from a midfielder to central defence on her return to the club after a spell in the Super League with Millwall, the robust, tough-tackling player has been magnificent for Lewes, both at the back, where she has formed a superb partnership with Waine, in particular, and back in midfield.

A superb striker of the ball but an even better tackler, Rutherford gave two player-of-the-match performances in the four games I saw her play (and she was not far short of the best player in one of the others, either).

Congratulations Sent Her Forward Premier League player of the season, Leeta Rutherford.

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