It’s the biggest match in a decade for Fulham Women as they take on AFC Wimbledon in the Capital Cup on Sunday (20 November) at Craven Cottage.
Since their relaunch in 2014, the women haven’t graced the big stage, but a large crowd is expected to cheer them on in this London derby, with very affordable tickets still on sale.
Head coach Steve Jaye, now in his fourth season with Fulham FC Women, said: “Everybody’s excited to be playing at Craven Cottage on an excellent pitch against great opposition. The opportunity to play in a big stadium is always something players and staff aspire to.”
Kids for £1
With tickets for youngsters for just £1, it’s also a chance to ride the wave of enthusiasm for the women’s game which ignited during the 2019 World Cup in France. It reached a crescendo as England won the Euros at Wembley this summer.
More than 2,000 tickets had already been sold by last weekend, with the Johnny Haynes stand predicted to be rocking on Sunday.
Fulham hope this showcase fixture could prove a springboard for further selected games being staged at the club’s famous riverside stadium.
Until now, all the women’s home matches have been played at Fulham’s Motspur Park training ground, close to the A3 in south west London.
While Jaye says the pitches there are very good, and his players benefit from full access to all the grounds’ facilities, playing a match at the Cottage will be extra special. “There’s just an exciting feeling that we’ll be at a stadium that can hold so many people,” he said.
Highs and lows
Fulham FC Women have had their ups and downs since being set up in 1993. The highs include being the first women’s team in Europe to turn fully professional in 2000, with big-name stars such as Rachel Yankey and Katie Chapman, who captained England U18s and went on to captain Chelsea Women.
But there have also been lows. The team have been disbanded and revived several times, though since 2014 the foundations have been strong. Last season they finished third in the London and South East Women’s Regional Football League, and currently sit third in the table.
The players are also determined to put a poor result last Sunday behind them when they were knocked out of the Women’s FA Cup by Watford.
Their recent record in the Capital Cup has been more positive. Last season they made it to the third round, before narrowly losing on penalties.
Craven Cottage is no stranger to major women’s games. In October 2018, the ground hosted England Women v Austria in the build-up to the World Cup, attracting a raucous, enthusiastic crowd.
The next level
Steve Jaye, who studied sports coaching at uni, goes into Sunday’s match knowing the opponents well, having managed AFC Wimbledon’s junior sides for three years.
But his focus now is on getting Fulham to the next level with a mission to grow the women’s game in Hammersmith & Fulham, ensuring the pyramid is broad and sturdy at community level to boost the size and quality of the player pool.
“If that allows us to then progress as a team to compete at the highest level in club football, then that would be excellent, of course,” he said.
“We’re all competitive and we all want to play at the highest possible level, but we want to do that in the right way and make sure we grow the programme around the local community and involve as many people as we can so we’re sustainable and supported.
“We’ve done a lot of work over the last 12 to 15 months in terms of promoting the women’s team, what they’re about, and the individuals that play for the team. This is another part of the journey.”
The bounce that women’s football experienced following England’s summer Wembley success in the Euros has been immense.
Spectator numbers for Fulham FCW have doubled this season, and there’s now an enthusiastic supporters’ club, Fulham Lillies.
“We’ve seen an exponential growth in people wanting to get involved and support us, which gives the whole pyramid a boost,” said Steve Jaye, who reckons the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France was the start of the new era.
Fulham Women share the men’s training facilities at Motspur Park, the club organises travel to matches, and the women players are fully insured for all medical needs... something not all clubs at Fulham’s level offer.
A distraction that Jaye regrets this coming weekend is a scheduling clash with Chelsea Women which means that as Fulham Women play at the Cottage, Chelsea are hosting a rival London derby – against Spurs – a mile up Fulham Road at Stamford Bridge.
“The challenge that we have with women’s football generally is that a lot of the kick-off times, all the way from youth to senior football, clash with each other,” he said.
Fulham FC Women kick off at 2pm on Sunday, 20 November, against AFC Wimbledon Women in Round 1 of the Capital Cup. Tickets, £5 (juniors £1), can be booked here.
Becky can’t wait for kick-off
Fulham vice-captain Becky Stormer has played football since she was six, representing the Whites from ages 12 to 15 before joining Millwall.
After university she rejoined Fulham, and is now in her fourth season back at the club.
“Normally I’m a centre midfielder, but this season, and last, I’ve played more as centre back which I’m really enjoying,” she said.
Playing on the big stage at Craven Cottage is a dream come true for the 26-year-old, who is also a qualified chartered surveyor.
“It will be a fantastic experience… and nerve-racking,” said the No8. “It’s a beautiful stadium and pitch and as the most we’ve ever had at a game is about 450, to play in front of many more will be amazing. Walking out with all our friends and family there will be a unique feeling.”
Fulham currently sit third in the London & South East Regional Women’s Premier Division, the fifth tier of the English women’s football pyramid, but over the coming seasons she believes promotion is a realistic aim.
“Definitely,” she said. “We have such a great set-up at Fulham and some fantastic players. Our league is tricky; it’s highly competitive, and only one team a season gets promoted, with no play-offs, which is something I hope is changed soon to allow greater fluidity between the leagues.”
There is cause for optimism. Fulham have already achieved league wins this season against Sutton United, Enfield Town, AFC Acorns, New London Lionesses and Aylesford... an 8-0 victory on 16 October which saw both Helen Ogle and Ede Buchele scoring hat-tricks, and Georgia Heasman netting twice.
Becky agrees that England’s success in this summer’s Euros has been a major factor in stimulating interest in the women’s game.
“The impact of the Euros has been unbelievable; after so long the women are getting the recognition they deserve,” she said. “I followed the England team throughout, and went to the quarter-final, semi-final and final. The atmosphere at all of them was incredible, but for me it’s the smaller things that show just how much we’ve come along.
“I was in a tiny pub in a small village in the Cotswolds during part of the tournament and heard a couple of older men raving about the women’s game, how much more character it has than the men’s, with no theatrics, and how they were so excited for us to bring it home. It made me quite emotional!”
Players she admires include England defenders Millie Bright and Leah Williamson.
“They were phenomenal at the Euros, and I loved watching them play together. They both offer something different, and complement each other. I’m also a huge fan of Keira Walsh, and love how she plays.”
As one of the tallest members of Fulham’s squad, Becky’s height advantage is useful when defending set pieces. “We had the best defensive record in the league last season, which I’m very proud to be a part of. Hopefully that continues through the 2022/23 season.”
Her message to fans? “Please come and support us on Sunday! Hopefully Fulham Women playing at the Cottage will become more regular.
“But this occasion, being the first, is such a huge moment for us and we’d love to get as many supporters there as possible.”
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