By Rich Laverty.
Manchester City Women’s Football Club have come a long way and are now looking to follow in the footsteps of the men’s team by challenging the top teams in their league.
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On 23rd January 2014, Manchester City Women’s Football Club was relaunched, bigger and better than before and ready to launch an assault on the top teams in the new FA WSL, as their male counterparts did in the Premier League a few years before.
There have been big changes both on and off the pitch in the 14 months that have passed. The CFA (City Football Academy) has been built, giving Manchester City as a club common ground for all their teams, plus a dedicated stadium for the women’s team, as well as City’s academy side and their EDS team.
It holds 7,000 supporters and the facility itself cost £200 million to build. The reception hosts a swish seating area, a refreshments area and a large patio looking straight out across the pitch towards the player’s tunnel. The bridge crossing the main road from the Etihad Stadium itself has a mini Wembley Way feel to it and whether you support City or not, you can’t help but be impressed by the facilities and the effort put in to giving all their players – not just the first team – the best chance possible of success.
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The Offside Rule Podcast attended the launch of MCWFC last year and spoke exclusively to some of their key players. Manager Nick Cushing and Head of Football Gavin Makel weren’t fooling around; England internationals Steph Houghton, Jill Scott, Toni Duggan and Karen Bardsley were stellar signings and whilst the squad itself wasn’t ready for an immediate FA WSL challenge, the foundations had been laid on the pitch and off it.
“We want to go out there and show people what we’re capable of, that we’re not here because of money or anything. We want to enjoy ourselves first and foremost and see where it gets us,” striker Toni Duggan told me last January. Those sentiments were echoed by England captain Houghton and the club certainly got more than they bargained for when they won the Continental Cup late last year.
Izzy Christensen’s header against Arsenal sparked wild celebrations and Manchester City confirmed they were now on the map where the women’s game is concerned. Earlier in March, the club once again hosted a launch day, a chance again to get close to the fans, something the team and their players have been fantastic about over the past 12 months. There is a real family feel and the players have already come to know some of the regulars at games, particularly the younger girls who aspire to be the next Duggans and Houghtons of the world.
The fans got the chance to watch the team train up close, take penalties against them and get up close and personal in an awards ceremony after the training session. But it was also a reminder of how far the club has come as they trained on the pitch at the CFA where they’ll play all their home games this season, starting against Doncaster Rovers in the FA Cup this weekend.
The club also showed off their new signings and a real commitment to the young stars of the game. Twelve months on from the eye-catching signings of full internationals, City have put their faith in youth and brought in players from abroad as well as the WSL’s second division. Demi-Lee Stokes, Nikita Parris, Lucy Bronze, Jennifer Beattie, Sarah Wilshere and latest signing Natasha Harding – who had been announced as a Blue on the day of the launch – were all shown off to supporters after the session.
Captain Houghton is the leader of the team and is looking forward to the new season getting underway. “We’re all ready, we’ve been working hard during the winter and we’re just keen to get back out there and show what we can do again.
“The Continental Cup was great for us; we hadn’t really set a target for silverware, so it was brilliant to be able to show people we’re up there and with the new signings we’ve got this season, I think we can really push on.
“As you saw, last season was really close and hopefully, this season we can be involved on the last day with it being us going for the league.”
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Manager Cushing has done a great job with the team since taking over and it’s clear on the training pitch he has a great camaraderie with all his players. Whilst it’s serious business, and he’s happy to tell someone when they’ve made a wrong pass, he’s also seen laughing and joking when all is going right. He certainly has the respect of his squad and he, too, is looking forward to the new season.
“We want to build on where we ended up last season, we think we can make that extra push and everyone here is working incredibly hard to do that.
“There’s a commitment here to bringing in the best people possible, not just on the pitch, but off it. Everyone on the staff buys into what we’re doing and the new players we’ve brought in know that. We look for that when bringing people in and I’m confident the new girls can help us go that extra bit further.”
City were part of a dramatic final day that was broadcast live on BT Sport last season. It was the first time I’ve seen women’s football talked about so much across social media; it captured the attention of people who wouldn’t usually watch and the news this week that the FA Cup final will be held at Wembley for the first time is great news for the sport.
Whilst the WSL will be interrupted in the summer for the 2015 World Cup, Manchester City are showing that women’s football is important, it does have a place and they are all set for the new season.
Read more from Rich Laverty here!