Stevenage's battling women's side aim to grow the game despite stinging defeat by Crawley Wasps
PUBLISHED: 11:48 19 September 2018 | UPDATED: 11:48 19 September 2018
The Stevenage women's first team hosted Crawley Wasps at Hertford Town on Sunday. Read on for Layth Yousif's special report
Hertford Town’s evocative ground Hertingfordbury Park is ringed by weeping willows.
While the trees with sweeping foliage likened to tears may have been mourning Boro’s heavy 7-2 defeat by a lively Wasps side – the North Herts club affiliated to their League Two parent club, Stevenage FC, have every reason to be proud of their efforts to grow the women’s game.
With the new Women’s Soccer League attracting record audiences after the BBC and BT Sport streamed the opening week’s fixtures, interest has never been higher in the top division of the ever-growing sport.
Yet the fight for new supporters is being waged at grassroots level too.
Boro’s impressive new boss Mark Dicker is a passionate advocate of women’s football.
Speaking to CometSport after the match he said: “It’s huge. It’s massive. It’s only going to go one way and that’s up. It’s already at the point where interest is at the highest it’s ever been in the country.
“It’s an exciting time to be in women’s football but there’s so much more capacity for it to grow. There’s so much more we can do.
“It’s small steps at our level but we certainly want to put more bums on seats. I’d say to fans of the men’s team come over and watch us.
“We are affiliated with the men. We play under the same name, the same badge, the same banner. We are all Stevenage. I’d say give us a chance.”
There have been discussions about the women’s side possibly playing a match or two at the Lamex as a warm-up ahead of a men’s League Two match on a Saturday in the not too distant future, a far-sighted plan which can only boost interest further.
With dynamic CEO Alex Tunbridge at the helm with a brief to take the club to the community through a number of worthy initiatives it can only be a matter of time until a men’s first team home game will also offer the chance for fans to watch the women’s side.
Mark adds: “I completely understand the men take priority. That’s where the money is.
“But it would be nice to maybe have a chance of playing at the Lamex before a first-team game.
“We played at Cambridge’s Abbey Stadium the other night and the pitch was like a carpet. It was fantastic to experience.
“It would give us a huge boost [to play at the Lamex]. Last season we played at MK Dons Stadium and the buzz we got from it was superb.”
The Stevenage Foundation have backed the women’s game with two adult teams. The organisation have also launched a development scheme for 16-year-olds this summer which offers not only a pathway towards the women’s game but which allows talented and hard-working young girls the chance to gain qualifications.
“It’s a brilliant idea,” Mark says. “Stevenage FC are committed to women’s football and youth football.”
Mark has been with the club since January and says he’s loved every minute of his time with the team. He had previously coached at girls grassroots levels before making the step up. He has completed his UEFA B badges and is looking to kick on.
However, like so many at grassroots level he combines his love of the game with a full-time job, working for Marks & Spencer in their warehouse operations.
What do his colleagues think of his job?
“On Monday mornings I’ll either go in deflated or buzzing. That’s part of football, the team always gives their best and that’s all you can ask for, although it’s probably best to avoid me after a defeat”, he adds with a rueful smile.
His reticence was understandable given the loss he had just suffered.
Dicker’s side faced touch opponents in a Wasps side that had been unbeaten in 22 games prior to kick-off having won their opening four league games in Division One South East, scoring 24 goals in the process.
Having beaten Norwich 6-0 and AFC Wimbledon 5-2 over the last week the latest Wasps’ latest rout was started by Sian Heather as they raced into a 4-1 lead by half-time.
Kemina Webber fired in on the turn, via the under side of the bar, to double the visitors’ advantage before Faye Rabson pounced on a stray ball in a crowded box and slotted home.
Megan Stow then finished an excellent move after making an intelligent run through the defence, with Nicole Emmings pulling one back for the hosts.
Stow grabbed the fifth shortly after the break, while substitute Suzanne Davies fired into the top corner following an exchange of passing with Webber.
Wasps skipper Naomi Cole added the seventh, although Emmings reduced the damage for Stevenage slightly late on.
Analysing the match, a disappointed Dicker told CometSport after the match: “It’s been a tough day at the office. I can’t ask for more. They’ve gave everything.
“My team never gives up but as soon as the first goal went in it seemed to spiral.
“Technically, as a team we are one of the best in the league.
“I’ve only been in the job for a few weeks and it’s a work in progress in terms of implementing how I want to play. We’re playing four at the back for example. We haven’t played four at the back for 18 months.
“We like to play out from the back but if you can’t play out from the back can you play a 20 or 30 yard pass? If we can’t go short we’ll go longer – but yes, technically we’ve got it in the locker. It’s just putting it into practice.
“My team have given me blood, sweat and tears and we want to show what we’re about.”
Follow Women’s football expert Layth on Twitter @laythy29.