Ladies Ready To Hit The Ground Running
After a debut season in the in the top tier of the FA Women’s Premier League, the mighty Palace Ladies are looking forward with real ambition and anticipation to the new campaign.
Confidence was sky high going into the last season but it was unknown territory so any initial ambitions were realistic. Early form was such that Palace would not be out of their depth which surprised many outside of the South London set-up.
Manager, Dean Davenport reflects;
“We came into the season buoyant after such a great promotion year and believed we could carry it on. From quite an early stage, we could sense that the players were confident and adjusting their ambitions accordingly. This manifested itself into some very positive and encouraging displays and results. It was not too long before it was clear that many teams were taking us very seriously.”
The fine efforts did indeed continue and the Eagles finished in a very credible fifth place behind the perennial high finishers Tottenham Hotspur, Cardiff City and Coventry City. In fact, in all games against these teams there was never more than one goal between Palace and their rivals, proving just how close the new girls were to those around them. The final league position won Palace many plaudits and much praise, something that all involved were proud of, albeit tinged with the feeling of being so near, but yet so far.
League leading goal scorer Gemma Bryan summed up the feelings of the squad perfectly;
“We were rightly very pleased with our first season in the top FAWPL league, and achieved more than many expected. However, based on our performances, as a group, we knew that we were close to achieving much more. There were certainly a number of points that with a little more experience and awareness at this level, we could have secured. This serves not as disappointment but motivation, and we have that in abundance right now.”
As the season wound to a close, much effort was being made off the pitch in order to ensure the club were in a position to keep progressing with their new-found peers. Speaking of the new pressures on the set-up, chairman Richard Spokes commented;
“Certainly in the higher places, clubs quickly find themselves in a new situation in terms of continued progression. Whilst it is visible on the pitch, with the quality of teams that we play against, what is needed off the pitch is not so obvious to everyone. The simple way of explaining it is that you have a number of clubs close to WSL standard, with very similar requirements and commitments but based in a league where there are generally far less funds available. We were now among teams that had been working to these new parameters for some years. Thankfully, as part of our long term planning and ever-developing position with Crystal Palace Football Club, we were able to work with them in an effort to bring some of our plans forward by a year or two. With the support of Palace and the continued backing of our sponsors and partners, we were in a position to work with our existing players and some targets that Dean had, to start shaping the 2017-18 squad good and early.”
Despite the highest ever levels of funding and support being available to retain and build the squad, Palace were still surprised by the feeding frenzy that took place from late May, as Davenport explains,
“Because almost all players at this level are not under FA sanctioned contracts, it effectively makes them free agents at the end of every season. As a result, we became the target of many clubs looking to add quality. Every day seemed to bring new interest in our players with multiple approaches for some (we had something like seven inquiries for one player – including from clubs in the WSL). As a result, everyone at the club and ably supported by CPFC worked very hard, very quickly to put deals in place that would enable the stability and continuity that we needed.”
Despite the concerns over losing players, the Eagles were able to retain almost all of those who had been part of the 2016-17 season. as Davenport adds:
“Momentum was key. As players saw their peers commit, others followed. I think they were very reassured that we were not looking to rest on our laurels and that we were realistically able to push on.”
If new signings were anything to go by, the intentions of Palace were clear when they swooped for the hugely experienced and talented duo of Megen Lynch and Nikita Whinnett from the 2016-17 title winning Spurs squad. The reaction to this both inside and beyond the club was a recognition that Palace meant business, as a very pleased Davenport explained;
“We did not need wholesale changes and only wanted to add in certain areas and only with players who were the right calibre and personality. Megen brings a wealth of experience and ability, as we have found to our cost in the past and Nakita adds to our threat up top, with pace and energy to burn, added to a real eye for goal.”
With new additions comes departures as Davenport conceded;
“Sadly, Sarah Jones decided to take the offer of a place in a WSL squad, at Watford. We can understand the lure of this, as it is something we all want. It was sad to see an integral part of recent squads leave, but we have to accept these situations and are already in the process of bringing in new defensive strengths and options with players such as the experienced Ria Collins. Leanne Bell also made the move to Watford, a club that seemed keen on Palace players, making multiple approaches for other players, albeit unsuccessfully. We still have a few other targets, but will keep these to ourselves until we know for sure. Needless to say, they may come as a surprise!”
So, with the squad almost settled, a air of calm has descended to allow pre-season to take shape. So far Palace have played MK Dons and Stevenage, running out 6-1 and 7-1 winners respectively and have been keen to step up the levels of the friendlies as they build towards the first match of the season (v QPR on 20th August) and have lined up some WSL opponents as part of this.
“The tougher challenges will be a good guide as to where we are,” commented Davenport, “The only problem we have found is that a number of WSL teams who did commit, have now pulled out, but we will take that as some form of compliment, I guess.”
With the days counting down to what could be another historic season, Palace will continue to play their home matches at Bromley Football Club. There is a real air of anticipation building in and around the club and if recent seasons are anything to go by, the ever-growing number of Palace fans, who have become an integral and well respected element of the progression of the Eagles, will not be disappointed.
All existing and new fans are welcome and are assured of an entertaining game, a warm welcome and a fun enjoyable experience. All this, including a match programme and a chance to meet the players for less that a tenner, for two adults and two children under sixteen. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon!
The first match of the season for the Palace Ladies is against Queens Park Rangers on 20th August.
YOU CAN FOLLOW THE FORTUNES OF THE PALACE LADIES THROUGHOUT THE SEASON RIGHT HERE ON TEB AS WE CONTINUE OUR COMMITMENT TO HELP PROMOTE WOMEN’S FOOTBALL.