Promotion is the word on everyone’s lips at the Sheffield United Academy: but it’s not about the men.
Moving from the East Midlands Premier League to the WPL Midland Division 1 is a massive step for the Bladettes, Sheffield United’s ladies squad who are intent on achieving three promotions in five years.
The team’s General Manager, Lee Walshaw, is full of smiles; “It’s been fantastic,” he says, “the girls have had a bit of pressure on them from the club.”
The team’s lofty ambitions have come from chairman, Kevin McCabe, who questioned why the club weren’t higher in the women’s leagues.
A few years ago support for the ladies was minimal in terms of kit and financial support. All that has changed incredibly quickly and the ladies are now a key aspect of the Sheffield United brand.
“The club is really buying into it,” says Walshaw, “and the girls are really loving being part of Sheffield United.”
As Walshaw continues there really is a sense that both the men’s and women’s teams are really coming together. As well as training at the academy ground in Shirecliffe, merchandise can now be bought for the ladies squad.
The Bladettes also get involved in the social side of the club taking part in last year’s Christmas hospital visits and just this week two of the team’s players were given prizes at the club’s annual awards night.
Walshaw laughs as he explains that groups from the men’s and ladies team’s even bumped into each on a night out, completely unexpectedly.
Great scenes at the players awards!! pic.twitter.com/z1a3A0Cewu
— Sheff United ladies (@SUComLadiesFC) 1 May 2017
This season saw the Ladies play at Bramall Lane for the first time for an FA Cup game against Leicester City. It was a special moment for the team and a particular highlight for Walshaw who had just joined the team at the time.
I ask him whether the folding of WSL 1 club Notts County has had any effect on teams in the lower leagues; he believes that it has.
“It’s a warning shot. Especially for those trying to set up teams.
“It get’s alarm bells ringing. Teams have to grow within their means.”
The team have two games left in their season against Kettering and Peterborough Northern Star. After that they have a couple of weeks off before starting summer training programs, programs that are designed to mirror their male counterparts.
Walshaw would highly recommend that those who are new to women’s football come down to watch the team play; “People will be surprised at the level. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the standard.
“They are footballers not women’s footballers.”