Ahead of third-tier Chichester City Ladies hosting former FA WSL champions Liverpool Ladies in the FA Cup fifth round on Sunday, Rich Laverty caught up with manager Matt Wright and captain Emma Alexandre. Can the underdogs take a surprise victory?
Chichester City Ladies face the biggest test they’ve ever faced this Sunday when two-time FA Women’s Super League champions Liverpool travel to West Sussex for their SSE Women’s FA Cup fifth-round tie.
The match-up is Chichester’s reward for beating C & K Basildon, Luton Town and The New Saints so far this campaign, but a Liverpool side which will include an eleven of full-time players and many internationals leave the Lillywhites with almost no chance of progression.
To put things into context, Chichester are fully part-time and train just twice a week in basic facilities and their players juggle commitments with jobs outside of football. Both manager Matt Wright and club captain Emma Alexandre are under no illusions off the task they face this coming Sunday.
“We’re preparing as we would do for any game,” says Wright. “We’re training 100% and the girls are all switched on. We’ll try and set up a system which will somehow try and counter what Liverpool are going to do and help us get something out of the game.
“But if we’re honest this is David vs Goliath and we’re just going into it to enjoy ourselves and say to people ‘This is us’ and put ourselves on the map a little bit. We’ll give it 110% but they’ve got full-time international footballers and we’ve got a team of volunteers.”
Alexandre echoes her manager’s statements that Chichester will prepare as they always do but the team have to enjoy and look forward to such an encounter.
“We’re just going to work hard and work as a team, that’s one of our biggest strengths. We’re just looking forward to the test, it’s a massive, massive challenge in front of us but hard work pays off.”
Despite playing a side ranked one tier lower than themselves in the last round of the cup, it wasn’t all plain sailing for Chichester to get to round five, particularly Alexandre.
In a match that lasted over two hours, there was a half-hour delay during extra-time as Alexandre had to be stretchered off after picking up a nasty head injury. Her team-mates would go on to win the ensuing penalty shootout but Alexandre couldn’t even sit and watch due to her concussion.
“I took a bit of a knock to the head which resulted in me getting knocked out for a bit. I think that moment summed up Chichester, it could have easily broken them and changed the game but the team worked even harder for each other.
“I was in the ambulance when they were taking their penalties, but I’ve seen videos and I could hear the celebrations but then I was on the way to hospital so I couldn’t be there.”
Unfortunately for Alexandre the incident means she will miss this weekend’s clash against Liverpool but the rest of the team now have just 48 hours to wait until they can walk out alongside one of the best sides in the country.
Wright isn’t wrong when he describes the match as ‘David vs Goliath’ with Chichester sitting 7th in the FA Women’s Premier League South at the moment and he’ll have seen Chelsea beating a London Bees side with FA WSL status 10-0 in the last round.
Such is the lack of money available to the club, they train outside of Chichester at several different facilities, a world away from their FA WSL counterparts.
“We really struggle for resources here at Chichester,” he says. “There’s a situation here where there’s no 3G or 4G pitches within a wide radius. We train twice a week, one at a facility 20 miles west of where we are and then on a Thursday night at a facility 20 miles north.
“It’s a real struggle to get things going and the teams we’re playing against all have far greater resources than us, even at FA WPL level. But you can’t fault the girls who come in and play for us because they could go somewhere else further up the ladder and get a wage.”
With any sort of wage out of the question, like everyone at FA WPL level both Wright and Alexandre have to earn their income elsewhere.
“I work at Chichester college running the academy there and Emma is actually employed as one of the coaches,” says Wright. “The college really support the club and what we do in the community and provide is with resources, they’ll let us use the gym and facilities when we need them. It’s difficult to juggle a full-time job with football but the college are really supportive.
While Alexandre is also involved with coaching the academy, she’s also juggling the job and football with finishing her degree this year.
“I’m in my third year of football coaching performance, I work with Matt at the academy and I also head up the youth team at Chichester. I’m also very fortunate where I’m in a profession where I get backing from the college and the Uni because it makes it easier if we have to go away for the weekend or anything like that.”
While the odds are against Chichester making it past Liverpool on Sunday, there will at least be one non-FA WSL side in the quarter-final draw with Cardiff City facing Charlton Athletic.
Local rivals Lewes FC are facing the other half of Merseyside in Everton while Leicester City go to FA WSL 2 high-flyers Durham and both feel this year’s FA Cup has been a good advert for the growing level of football at Premier League level.
“It does it the world of good and I think the WPL lacks the coverage it sometimes deserves,” says the manager. “We’re moving into a system with the FA at the moment where it seems to be very top-heavy like the men’s game. We seem to be focusing a lot on the top-end teams and a lot of the finances go to the top teams too.
“It’s great to see Lewes playing Everton just down the road on the same day and this can be only good for our level and hopefully the attention brings a few more people down to the grounds.”
Alexandre adds, “The gap between WPL and WSL 2 isn’t as big as people think and you saw Cardiff beat Oxford in the last round. The FA WPL is a very good standard at the moment and it’s only increasing.”
Follow Rich on Twitter at @RichJLaverty