It has been 3 months since the whistle blew on last season, but the #FAWNLBigKickOff is nearly upon us – new memories will be made. Dreams will be realised. Tears of agony and ecstasy will fall. The beautiful game means so much to so many – it isn’t just part of our lives – it dictates our lives. We love it. We occasionally even hate it. But after months of waiting, we inevitably miss it and are ready to board the emotional roller coaster that is football once again.
Life is a little different for football managers, though. For the decision-makers the season never really ends and preparations for the following season begin almost immediately; long before players put on a training bib, begin those dreaded lung-burning sprints and start to wonder ‘I’m a centre-back, how often do I make 50 yard runs, gaffer?’, you can rest assured the managers have already put in many hard yards to reach that moment.
So, as we approach the opening day of the season, which sees Poole Town make a considerable 250 mile round trip to face Gloucestershire side Cheltenham Town, we reflect on their pre-seasons and the hard graft undertaken to prepare for the moment the ball gets rolling.
Cheltenham Town Ladies
For Cheltenham, 2018/19 was a season of milestones: a fourth-place finish – the highest in their history – and a record crowd of 375 fans attending their game at Jonny-Rocks Stadium among season highlights.
Alex Cheal had a solid foundation to build upon from last season, so retaining the core of his squad while strengthening in key areas was naturally his approach during close season. Cheltenham recruited well, securing the services of Mai Butler and Charlotte Criddle both joined from Wolves Women, while Sarah King (Swindon Town) and Sammy Hallsworth (Watford) also committed to the Robins for the 2019/20 season. Their most notable signing though is undoubtedly Kerry Bartlett. Bartlett, formally of Keynsham Town, won the FAWNL Division One South West Golden Boot last season, scoring an incredible 63 times and helping Keynsham win the league title in the process.
As expected there were some departures: Briscoe, Walters, and Purvis were among those to leave the club for pastures new.
The biggest absence for Cheltenham this Sunday is last season’s top scorer, Annie Martin, who misses out due to an injury she sustained during pre-season. Not only will she be a huge miss, it means that the exciting prospect of a Bartlett-Martin partnership – likely to strike fear into the hearts of defenders and delight Robins’ fans in tandem – will have to wait.
Poole Town Ladies
After back-to-back promotions which led Poole to the FAWNL Division One South West, the 2017/18 saw them secure a very respectable fifth-place finish, but rather than progressing the following year, they experienced a very tough 2018/19 season, finishing bottom (on goal difference) with just eight points.
The majority of last season’s first-team regulars remain: Paynter, Chrippes, Hawkins, Ellwood, Marshallsay and club captain, Becca Witherington, have all re-signed for the upcoming season. Steve Butcher has made a considerable number of new additions to freshen up his squad, too, as Katelyn Wyatt returns, while Danielle Maidment, Hannah Varney, Georgia Kemp, and Georgia Lowe, among others, have signed for the Dolphins. In total Poole have recruited over 10 new players in a bid to climb the table.
Amid a number of exciting signings, there have also been a number several departures as well, with Poole’s biggest loss arguably being last season’s top scorer, Hollie Agombar, who instead opted to drop down a division and join Winchester City Flyers.
A Results Business?
Friendly games can be viewed in many ways: an exercise in building familiarity between squad members, the opportunity to experiment with the knowledge of knowing that the outcome holds little weight, a chance to gain fitness, momentum and so on.
Regardless of how you perceive friendlies though, there is one constant: when the whistle blows on the opening day of the season, the only thing that matters is those 90 minutes. History has shown that a successful pre-season, while could be considered an indicator of performance and good confidence builder – not to mention a way of keeping some fans from tail spinning into an online frenzy – doesn’t always translate into success when it matters the most.
Cheltenham Town manager, Alex Cheal, expressed similar sentiments recently saying: “It has been up and down but for us, it is about finding a settled group of players and a new coaching philosophy that’s coming together really nicely. Ultimately August 18 is the key one for us.
Having said that, both teams have experienced somewhat mixed results during pre-season. Cheltenham bested Wolves, Redditch United, and Birmingham & WMLFC, but lost to Cardiff City and Oxford United. While Poole drew against Winchester City Flyers, beat Torquay and Dorset FA Rep squad, and lost to Yeovil, Plymouth, Eastleigh and Moneyfields.
In a game which saw the corresponding fixture finish 6-2 to Cheltenham last season, it could be considered a tough task for Poole. Youngster Georgia Brown was their main tormentor that day, scoring four times.
But regardless of the result, one game does not a season make. This is a new season, with new teams and one common goal: build on the previous year. For Cheltenham, that will mean finishing above fourth and pushing towards the very top places in the division. And for Poole, who seem to be going through a transitional period, it means surviving relegation, turning back the clock a little to take inspiration from their impressive fifth-place finish the year before last and pushing up the table as much as possible.