FAWNL Division One Midlands – Season Preview

Danny looks ahead to a historic season for NTFC Women in the FAWNL Division One Midlands.

NTFC Women are about to tread new ground. A historic promotion, an almost perfect record and goal after goal flying in each and every week.  With a mix of former giants, new faces and a huge local derby, this promises to be the most exciting season in NTFC Women’s history. 

So here’s a closer look at all the teams involved in this season’s FAWNL Division One Midlands…

Doncaster Belles

Last Season: 2nd

Manager: Andy Butler

Home Ground: Moorends Miners Welfare

Quite simply, one of English football’s most famous and successful clubs. Belles are six time FA Cup winners and were champions of the then National Premier Division twice in the early nineties.  Belles were one of the founder members of the WSL back in April 2011 but, in a farcical move, they were told, mid-season, in 2013/14, that they would be demoted to the new WSL2 the following year to make way for Manchester City no matter where they finished in the league.

Despite budgets tightening, Belles returned to the WSL in 2015 and 2016 saw the club sign eight players on a full time basis for the first time ever but relegation followed thanks to a return of just three points all season. By 2018, they were playing in the third tier having decided against applying for the restructured top two tiers for financial reasons despite winning the WSL2. In 2019, Belles were relegated again having finished second bottom of the FAWNL Northern Premier Division. 

The road back is long but after stabilising at this level and finishing just two points from promotion, it’s time for the Belles to roar again. 

Key Player: Jasmine Saxton – Consistent in front of goal in her second spell at the club, Saxton will be looking for more of the same this time out. Picked up the Belle’s Players’ Player of the Year award last season.

Leafield Athletic

Last season: 9th

Manager: Adrian Clements

Home Ground: Dickens Heath Sports Club, Solihull 

Back in 1997, Leafield were one of the first clubs in the Midlands dedicated to female players and count the like of Eni Aluko among their alumni. Now in their 25th season, they’ll be looking to steer clear of a relegation that loomed over them for the majority of last season.

After a poor start, it wasn’t until they felt like they were deep in a relegation battle that they really got going. With no wins between February and mid-April, things were looking dicey but then they produced a four game winning run that included a 1-0 win over eventual champions Boldmere St. Michaels to secure safety in some style. 

Manager Adrian Clements has a job on his hands to avoid getting drawn in again but that end to the season and some positive pre-season performances are encouraging signs. 

Key Player: Daisy-Mai Clement – No one player scored more goals than Clement’s 27 in 30 games across all competitions. Voted Player of the Match by the opposition ten times over the season and absolutely key to Leafield’s hopes. Clement also picked up the Players’ Player of the Season award for Division One Midlands.

Leek Town

Last season: 5th

Manager: Ian Smith

Home Ground: Harrison Park, Leek

After promotion to this level in 2020/21, Leek finished in a more than respectable 5th place last season. The season started in disappointing fashion with an 8-0 defeat to Solihull Moors but they soon found their feet and spent the majority of the campaign flitting between big wins (seeing off Peterborough and Burton 4-1 and 5-1) and big defeats (losing 9-2 against Doncaster Belles and 6-1 in the reverse fixture against Solihill).

Finishing on a minus one goal difference shows that they gave every bit as good as they got in a season where they punched at new heights. The difficulty they may face now is keeping it up for another season and improving on an already strong start to life in the division. 

For entertainment, though, Leek is one of your go to places! 

Key Player: Katie Maya – With thirteen goals last season, Maya will be heavily relied on once again to keep Leek moving in the right direction. 

Lincoln City

Last season: 3rd

Manager: Lee Mitchell

Home Ground: Moorlands Sports Club, Lincoln

After accruing 15 wins and 3 draws from 22 games last season, Lincoln can count themselves in a similar, unlucky, camp as Doncaster Belles in that they came so close to eventual champions Boldmere St Michaels. Just three points separated City from top spot. 

Indeed, had Lincoln beaten Boldmere instead of drawing with them with a few games to go, it may well have been they who had won promotion. A huge 22 goals in their final three games is enough to make them dream again, this season, though, and they should be among the front runners once again.

A run to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, beating the Cobblers in extra time in Round Three, was an added bonus last time out as they faced Liverpool, bowing out against the now newly promoted WSL team.

Key Player: Jess Rousseau – Ever since signing from Doncaster Belles in 2019, Rousseau has gone from strength to strength and took home the Player of the Year award last season. Her hat trick eventually put the Cobblers out of the FA Cup in the Third Round and she also hit 15 in the league.

Long Eaton

Last season: 4th

Manager: Leah Grant

Home Ground: Grange Park, Nottingham

After four successful years at the helm and a highest ever league finish last season, manager John Bennett departed Long Eaton over the summer and has joined Sheffield FC Women. How the squad reacts to such a long serving manager departing will be an interesting watch over the first few weeks of the season.

Stepping into his shoes is Leah Grant who spent almost ten years at Leicester City – five as a player and then almost five years coaching. Starting out in the youth section, Grant progressed to reserve team manager, where she spent four years before the move to Long Eaton in June. 

Grant has wasted no time in bringing in some exciting, attacking players with Lucy Copeland on loan from Derby, the skilful Monique Price from her former club Leicester and the prolific Jodi Hunter.

Closing the gap on the top three, to whom they finished ten points adrift from last season is job number one for Grant in her first season. 

Key Player: Tiana Hicks – After joining Long Eaton from Loughborough Foxes in the 2020/21 season, Hicks really stepped up last season with 17 goals in 24 games to help her team to fourth place. A strong and versatile midfielder, Hicks will be the one to watch again this time out.

Northampton Town

Last season: 1st (East Midlands Womens Regional Football Premier League)

Manager: Josh Oldfield

Home Ground: Harpole Playing Fields

50 points from a possible 54 available, 16 wins from 18 games, a goal difference of 70 and a ten point gap between themselves and the rest. There’s no doubt that the Cobblers were worthy winners of the East Midlands Womens Regional Football League Premier last season and the excitement is palpable as they prepare for life in Tier Four. 

It’s not been all smooth sailing over the summer with a superb strike force being broken up due to the retirement of Leah Cudone and the exciting move for Charlie Cooper to take up a scholarship in the USA. Alex Bartlett and Cesca Partridge were released and Rachael St. John Mosse also retired but Town have brought in some real quality with the likes of Kim Farrow and Gemma Whitchurch reinforcing the front line.

The stage is set for the Cobblers to make the step up and there’s no reason why this talented group can’t hold their own in their first ever season at this level.

Key Player: Rachael Mumford – The warrior in the middle of the pitch sets the tone of a game and will be absolutely key to breaking up play and getting moves going once again for the Cobblers. 

Peterborough United

Last season: 8th

Manager: Dan Lawlor

Home Ground: Mick George Training Academy

After a disappointing first half of last season, the Posh and manager Chloe Brown mutually agreed to part ways over the festive break. Dan Lowler took over as interim after stepping up from his position as assistant manager and led the team to three impressive wins in the league.

That was enough to convince the club to appoint him as full time manager. The appointment worked and led to United losing just three of their final eleven games Lowler has signed an extended deal in the summer and will be hoping that the belief shown in him by General Manager Bobby Copping will be enough to help him and his side steer clear of any relegation fears again.

The aim now is to become an established force at this level and if that sort of form continues then the Posh could be in for an exciting campaign. 

Key Player: Jess Driscoll – The midfielder, who won both the Players’ and Managers’ Player of the Year awards last season, made history this summer by becoming the first women’s player to sign a formal commitment with the Posh in the club’s history. Driscoll, a former Arsenal youngster, has made 89 appearances over two spells with the club and will be a massive part of Boro’s ambitious plans over the next couple of years.

Sheffield FC

Last season: 13th (Northern Premier League)

Manager: John Bennett

Home Ground: Home of Football Ground, Dronfield

Sheffield FC are back in the Fourth Tier after a difficult season last time out that saw them finish bottom of the Northern Premier League. A young squad struggled for the majority of the campaign, picking up just eight points and two victories. 

Graham Abercrombie decided to step down as manager at the end of the season to concentrate on his role as Sheffield F.C.’s Head Of Community and John Bennett comes in from Long Eaton to start the rebuilding job. Bennett brings with him a wealth of experience within the women’s game with long spells at Derby County before his time at Long Eaton.

Two home games up first give them the chance to start the new era in style and Bennett will be looking to steer the team affiliated with the World’s First Football Club back in the right direction.

Key Player: Molly Waite – With tope scorer Yasmine Mason departing for Huddersfield, it’s a chance for Waite to step up and take up the baton. 

Solihull Moors

Last season: 7th

Manager: Tom Blaymires

Home Ground: Abacus Lighting Community Arena

Last season got off to a slow start for Solihull Moors with manager Dave Healey departing after a run of four game without a win in all competitions towards the beginning of the campaign. 

After an extensive recruitment process, Moors appointed the proven and experienced Tom Blaymires in November in an attempt to move away from danger. Blaymires previously led Leafield and Redditch United to the top end of the West Midlands Regional Premier League table and, after stabilising the team, took them six wins from their final nine games.

In his first full season, don’t be surprised to see that experience shine through again and four wins from four in pre-season, rounded off by a 5-0 win over Chesterfield at the weekend, indicates that they’re raring to go. 

Key Player: Emmalee Hornsby – The Coaches’ Player of the Year last season was back in scoring form in pre-season. Having only signed in January, the winger was a major part of the rejuvenation of the side in the second half of last season. 

Sporting Khalsa

Last season: 6th

Manager: Kelly Williams

Home Ground: Guardian Warehousing Arena, Willenhall

Established in 2015 following a merger with FC Reedswood, Sporting Khalsa boast five female teams, and a thriving ‘Wildcats’ centre for 5-11 year olds. 

The epitome of a mid-table finish for Khalsa last season saw them finish seventeen points clear of the relegation zone but nineteen away from bothering eventual champions Boldmere St Michaels at the top. GoalS also evened itself out as they finished on a Goal Difference of 0.

A similar middle of the road run had started the curtailed 2019/20 season and the challenge now is for Khalsa to make the next step up and become challengers at the top end of the table. 

Key Player: Laura Smith – Smith was awarded her Manager’s Player of the Year award last season and gave the club a massive boost by signing a new contract in the summer.

Stourbridge FC

Last season: 1st (West Midlands Regional Women’s Football League)

Manager: Andy Fisher

Home Ground: Stourbridge War Memorial Athletic Ground

A historic season for Stourbridge as they topped the WMRWFL with a stunning 21 wins from a possible 22 games and racking up a goal difference of 115. Their one defeat came to Sutton Coldfield, who finished second, and they also took home the league cup. 

They enjoyed a record-breaking run in the Women’s FA Cup, knocking out tier three Derby County and tier four Cambridge City, both away from home, before losing at home to Sheffield United of the FA Women’s Championship in the Third Round, and reached the semi-finals of the Birmingham County Women’s Cup.

Promoted to the Women’s National League for the first time in their history, they will be looking to leave their mark at the higher level this time out. 

Key Player: Alex Nicklin – Nicklin signed in the summer of 2020 and has become an established presence in the middle of the park. She also netted sixteen goals last season and swept the board on awards night.

Wem Town

Last season: 10th

Manager: Ronnie Green

Home Ground: Butler’s Sports Ground, Wem

Prior to the 2020/21 season, Wem Town were known as The New Saints Ladies and affiliated to the Welsh club, playing at TNS’ Park Hall home in Oswestry, close to the Welsh border. But a dispute in 2020 led to the entire squad, angered at the lack of prioritisation of the women’s team, relocating to launch a team at Wem’s village club with TNS disbanding their own team.

Their first season under the new name was heavily disrupted and abandoned due to the pandemic but did see them progress to Third Round of the FA Cup where they were beaten by Middlesbrough. 

In their first proper season as Wem Town, they finished in 10th place in the FAWNL Midlands Division One but despite finishing in the relegation zone they were reprieved of demotion because of the imbalance of promotions and relegations elsewhere in the pyramid. They’ll be hoping that they can make the most of their second chance as they start the season against the Cobblers on Saturday.

Key Player: Katie Doster – A lot of Wem’s hopes will be pinned on the striker who hit seven goals last season. Doster’s experience and quality will be key to them staying afloat and avoiding another struggle. 

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