Sunderland Ladies – What happens next?

When the news was announced last week that the Sunderland Ladies season was over it was met with annoyance and frustration from the supporters, me included. Shortly after, a statement was released by the club that they would not be appealing the decision made by the FA. Things may develop with appeals from other clubs, in the coming days, but as things stand the ladies will start a new season with it all to prove again.

So what happens next with Sunderland Ladies? If a side were not able to survive financially, from the two higher leagues of the women’s game, due to the effects of the corona virus. Is it perceivable that the FA would look to the leagues below to replace them and would Sunderland be the beneficiaries of this, albeit in unfortunate circumstances.

If events were to unfold in a more traditional way, the girls would kick off again next season, whenever that may be, with the aim of gaining promotion to the second tier of women’s football. I take a look at what positives can be salvaged for the Ladies, in these difficult times we’re living in.

The ladies will have gained experience from the season. They had established themselves as the best side in the league. They can take this into the new season. The lasses have a fantastic attitude and work rate so it is highly unlikely that complacency will creep into their performances. When looking at the defence, they are a very solid unit. In Charlotte Potts and Grace McCatty they have a superb centre half partnership which will only get better.

When analysing an incredibly strong midfield, the quality has depth to it. The starting eleven in their last game before the season was curtailed, did not include Georgia Gibson and Katie Barker. Those two would start in most sides in the league. When I look at the all round game of 20 year old Bridget Galloway, she is hugely prolific and I don’t see her stopping improving anytime soon. She’ll need to, as teams look at ways to nullify her threat. I’m a big fan of both Neve Herron and Jessica Brown. They will use the season and it’s experiences to come back as better players next season.

I do however have concerns. It would be remiss of me not to highlight them. A number of Sunderland Ladies fans have suggested that clubs from the two divisions above them in the pyramid, could look to tempt players away. Do they want to stay for another season to put right a wrong that was not of their doing?

Also, how will the setback of a season with no promotion effect them? Let’s be brutally honest here. They were going to win the league. None of the squad would publicly admit it, but they most certainly were. Whatever happens between now and then. I can’t wait to see them in action again next season.

Bridget Galloway – Goal Machine

Bridget Galloway

I had the pleasure of speaking to Bridget Galloway, goal machine and front player for Sunderland Ladies. In the second of my interviews with the hugely talented and hardworking Sunderland Ladies team, Bridget explains what the team is looking to achieve this season and who inspires her in the women’s game, amongst a whole host of other things.

Bridget explains that she made her debut in 2016. She was at Newcastle School of Excellence and then joined Sunderland School of Excellence when she was 12 years old. She moved into the development squad and then into the first team squad. When asked about her toughest test this season, she quickly answered.

‘Definitely Birmingham in the FA Cup. We took a different game plan into the game and executed it well.’

WSL side Birmingham Ladies are a side two leagues higher than Sunderland Ladies in the football pyramid, but it didn’t show. The Sunderland Ladies side are a team that normally plays on the front foot. In that game, they played in different way and were aware they would not have as much possession as in league games. The ladies were unfortunate to lose the game 1-0. The match ultimately decided with a late strike, which saw their visitors go through to the next round. Bridget again played well and the Birmingham defence never had a moments peace, with the hard working and tenacious forward a constant thorn in their side.

The conversation turns to her stand out moments of the season so far, and I’m hoping there’ll be more to come, as the season reaches a dramatic end.

My hat trick against Hull and Middlesbrough and scoring as many goals as I have this season’.

The prolific goalscorer has 21 goals to her name to date. The latest of which was a coolly converted penalty in the recent league win against Sheffield.

Bridget has many strengths to her forward play.

‘My speed can cause problems for other teams. I’ve scored quite a few goals this season as well.’

I add, her phenomenal work rate. Fans that have had the pleasure to watch the Ladies team, would agree with that. When chatting about advice she would give young forwards, she quickly said;

‘Set short and long term goals and keep focused’.

When I’ve watched Bridget this season, young forward players would have plenty to take from analysing the game of the 20 year old striker. She is a prolific goalscorer, ruthless in and out of the box, incredibly hardworking and adept at leading the line with her movement and strength.

When asked about any players she models her game on, the name of Beth Mead is quickly mentioned. The former Sunderland Ladies star is held in high regard by Galloway.

‘Her finishing is great and also her creativity. I made my debut, replacing her, back in 2016. I worked with her in training, in the technical sessions and shooting drills. She has fantastic character and always shared knowledge and gave advice.’

The conversation moved on to the aims and ambitions for the rest of a potentially hugely successful season for Sunderland Ladies.

‘We want promotion and to win the cup’. When asked about her personal ambitions, she said ‘I want to improve as much as I can, keep scoring goals and developing as a player. To keep playing every minute of every game’.

Galloway has always been into sport. When she was younger she played with her two older brothers and her Dad. She enjoyed athletics, swimming, gymnastics and tennis. She watched her brothers play and enjoyed a kick around at half time, she explained enthusiastically.

‘I want to score as many goals as possible and to try and win the golden boot’.

Her ambitions in the game indicate a hugely determined young lady.

‘I want to play full time, at the highest level I can, and become the best I can’.

Sunderland Ladies have a great team spirit. She mentions her close friends within the team, Mollie Lambert and Louise Griffiths. Also, Claudia Moan and Georgia Gibson who she also studies with at university.

I ask what it’s like working under manager Melanie Reay.

‘She’s a great coach and motivator. She is able to get the best out of everyone. She takes no shit and you know where you stand with her. Her training sessions are excellent. She was a really good forward herself and the shooting drills are great. She’s really experienced, but she has a laugh at times.’

We talk about the Sunderland Ladies fans.

‘Thank you so much for your incredible support. Let’s go on and get promotion.’

Galloway is a pacy forward, who cites team mates Mollie Lambert and Katie Barker as fellow speed merchants. As we finish off our chat she is keen to state that they are taking it game by game. Sunderland Ladies fans could be in for a treat as the season moves to its conclusion in the coming months. There could be a league and cup double on the horizon. These ladies will do all they can to achieve that. The least we can all do is get to as many games as we can to support them. Please come along, I can guarantee you’ll enjoy it and it’s a fantastic family atmosphere, whether you attend the home games at the Hetton Centre or Hebburn, the home of Hebburn Town.

One thing is for sure, we’ll be seeing more goals from Galloway from now until the end of the season.

Sunderland Ladies – Claudia Moan – Number One

Sunderland Ladies really are a superb side to watch. I’ve enjoyed every game I’ve been to, and as the season moves to it’s conclusion, the games are only going to get more tense and more dramatic. The Ladies are working towards a league and cup double. That’s my thoughts on the Ladies team, however, as I found out when Sunderland Ladies goalkeeper Claudia Moan, kindly took time out of her day to speak me, she’s focused and taking one game at a time.

Moan is a player I’ve particularly liked watching this season. In football, I’ve always thought that you don’t win anything without a quality goalkeeper. Sunderland Ladies have got one in Moan, don’t worry about that. She signed in July last year, having previously been at rivals Newcastle. She’s focused and ambitious and I get the feeling she’s not the only one, in this strong minded, hardworking and technically gifted side.

As as goalkeeper of 21 years of age, she’s got a long career ahead of her. She explained that a full time career in the game is one of her many ambitions. There was no hesitation from Moan, when asked, about how she approached pre-season with the Ladies.

‘I was going into it looking to improve in every session. I wanted to play regularly this season. It was really hard, but so enjoyable’.

Speaking to Moan, and having watched the Ladies this season, it’s clear to see these girls aren’t afraid of hard work. What’s impressed me and the rapidly growing ranks of lasses fans I’ve spoken to, is the quality in every area of the team. This is isn’t a side that relies on one or two players. This is a team oozing with quality.

When she was asked about her toughest tests this season, she quickly replies.

‘Birmingham definitely. Nottingham Forest too, they were straight at us. The weather was bad too. Stoke was another hard game’.

When asked about who she’d include in an all star 5-a-side team, she paused. The answer shouldn’t have surprised me. I’d said, no Sunderland Ladies players allowed. I could tell she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the question. I knew what she was thinking, so I said ok, including your teammates. She immediately started listing players from her side. That for me, tells you all you need to know about the team spirit and togetherness that brilliant team manager, Melanie Reay, has fostered within the lasses camp.

When asked about the many strengths of her game, she was typically modest.

‘When I’m playing my best, my distribution. Starting moves from the back’

I excitedly interrupted with shot stopping. Anyone who saw the save against Southampton, in the cup semi final, would agree with me on that. When she was asked what message she’d give anyone who was thinking of coming to watch for the first time. She replied

‘really enjoy it. It’s a really positive atmosphere. Once you’ve been, please spread the word to other people.’

Moan was happy to tell me about what else contributes towards the incredible team spirit in the camp.

Charlotte Potts and Georgia Gibson are great for positivity and Mel Reay can be a laugh with the things she says.’

What advice would she give aspiring young girls or boys on goalkeeping.

‘Don’t give up. Don’t let anything get you down. Positive thinking.’

Our conversation turned to the Sunderland Ladies support.

‘They’ve been great. The fans have been enjoying the games. We’re thriving off it’.

Claudia lives and breathes football. If she’s not playing or training for the lasses, she’s doing the same for her university. She’s also got her studies, which she’s due to complete in the coming months. When it’s not the football season, she trains with a personal trainer to keep fit for the season ahead.

She counts the people who have a a big impact on her career so far.

‘My Mam, Dad and my two older brothers. They help me have a positive mindset and to push myself on’.

What are her thoughts on her, and the lasses, for the future.

‘I would like to see us get promoted and to win cup finals. I would love for us to have more and more support and for more funding’.

Moan and the rest of the team have a testing end to the season. Who would bet against a league and cup double for Sunderland Ladies? Not me.

SAFC Ladies – Well worth a trip to see them in action

SAFC ladies

I’ve been fortunate enough to have watched the Sunderland Ladies team, on a number of occasions over the last couple of months. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of the games I’ve seen. There’s a lot of things that have contributed to my enjoyment of the matches. I think for me, I was surprised at the team spirit that the manager has fostered. In the games I’ve watched, whatever the conditions, whatever the other team has thrown at them, they don’t seem fazed at all. They appear unflappable and focused. I think this may be in the mold of their manager, I’ve never met her, but have only heard good things about her.

The players seem like a real approachable set of women. I’ve seen from my own experience, and from that of others, that they interact with fans on Twitter where they can. They really appreciate fans coming along to support them. If you’re thinking of going along to watch a Sunderland Ladies match, I’d ask you to do so, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

Goalkeeper Claudia Moan is a superb performer. It’s testament to her concentration, that her levels never seem to drop. In some games she doesn’t have a lot to do, but when she does, she doesn’t let anyone down. However, as seen in recent games against Birmingham Ladies of the WSL, and Southampton, top of their league, she’s been a lot more busy and has performed well. She’s definitely one to look out for in the future. Let’s be honest she’s only going to get better.

At the back, the Ladies look particularly strong, both McCatty and Potts would not look out of place at a higher level. Their reading of the game is exceptional. When looking at the midfield, Maria Farrugia is so tenacious and is great to watch on the ball. Do I need to try and say something about club legend Ramshaw, that hasn’t been said before. This girl is a classy performer on and off the pitch, by all accounts.

Every quality side needs someone who can put the ball in the net on a regular basis. The Ladies certainly have that and a lot more. Step forward Bridget Galloway, she is the proper all round centre forward. She scores lots of goals, she can run the channels and she never gives the opposing centre half a minute of peace. In Herron, they have a young player of quality and huge potential. She’s destined for the WSL. Let’s hope it’s with Sunderland Ladies.

Finally, the atmosphere at the games is great. There’s no negativity and the players are approachable after the final whistle, with time for fans photograph and autograph requests. Get yourself along, you’ll thoroughly enjoy it.

The Fanzines

I felt compelled to write a piece on the fanzines covering our club. I’m just a fan like you. My say is as valid as yours is. I genuinely believe most of the writers, podcasters and contributors to the fanzines think the same.

I struggle to see why they get so much criticism. I have read tweets from contributors to the fanzines, stating they welcome constructive criticism and that is going to be helpful for them to improve their content. However, some of the tweets I see are not constructive in nature, in some cases they are just abusive.

I have seen during my time using Twitter that some of the contributors are working towards a career in journalism.

The way I see it, it’s fantastic that these lads and lasses have the platform in which to speak to former players and members of the current Sunderland set up. I’ve seen that two of the lads who I’ve enjoyed engaging with on Twitter have gone on to work for the club, and the other is working for a local media outlet. It’s great that they can do this in the north east of England. Also, there are many other contributors who do it solely because of their love for the club and to engage with fans on their opinions.

I don’t always agree with their opinions, but I don’t go onto Twitter to give them personal abuse because of this difference of opinions. Their content is usually really interesting and gets you thinking about the club. This can range from new signings, to ticket allocations, to reminiscing about games from back in the day.

I’ve never seen them state that they speak for all fans, which is part of the criticism I have seen levelled at them over recent weeks. I don’t actually know any of the contributors to the fanzines, other than the Twitter conversations we sometimes have, but I personally thank them for the work they do bringing us the podcasts, articles and appearances at the fan zones. It costs nothing to us as fans and supporting the club would be a lot less fun if they didn’t do what they do.

Enjoy the content these fanzines produce, or if not, try to be constructive in your criticism.

Sunderland…. it’s a tough place to play

Ah…. Sunderland it’s a tough place to play. We’ve all heard it before, the myth, the legend. The absolute load of rubbish. It’s always rolled out by a player who got found out by the crowd, or the lazy pundit who has seen a few highlights from their comfy seat in the studio.

I want to go on record to say its probably one of the easiest places to play. We just ask for 100 per cent in every game they play. We don’t ask for anymore. If the quality isn’t there, that’s not their problem. It’s that of the recruitment team that brought them in.

Look at the recent games at the Stadium of Light. The fans have seen a side that has a game plan, adding fantastic work rate and we’ve really bought into that. We’ve fed off each other. It’s great to have that feeling of togetherness. The fans are frustrated that we’re in League One, but we know we can help the team achieve our end of season target of promotion.

Whilst I’m having a mini rant. I also give you ‘expectations’. The fans have high expectations. If you call not being happy playing our football in the third tier of English football, than yes we’ve got high expectations. It’s quite laughable really, isn’t it?

When you’re at a big football club like ours, there will be a certain amount of pressure that comes with it. Any player would surely relish this and look forward to the challenge and adulation that success brings. I attended a talk in with Peter Reid and Kevin Phillips late last year. They said to play for Sunderland you need ‘big bollocks’. I agree wholeheartedly, however this only involves giving 100 per cent, showing for the ball, getting stuck in and not hiding away when things aren’t going to plan.

So Jack Rodwell doesn’t find it an easy place to play, because he has a heart the size of a pea and he was found out in no time at all. Someone like Lee Camp doesn’t find it an easy place to play here because even when you watched him in the warm up, he never looked prepared to give everything he had, even though it was obvious he wasn’t good enough to wear the shirt.

Take a look at some of the players the fans have taken to their hearts over the years I’ve been a Sunderland supporter. John Kay, Kevin Ball, Lee Cattermole and Luke O’Nien, to name but a few. They have differing levels of ability, but ‘big bollocks’ as Reid and Phillips so aptly described it.

So please don’t give me the hard place to play narrative. They’ve got high expectations up there sob story. Get your head down, work hard and engage with the area. You’ll become a legend at this club simply by adding quality to what we ask as minimum requirements.

Short term pain. Long term gain.

I don’t currently know what to think, it’s a strange time for us Sunderland fans. I want us to win every game we play, however I’m aware that a win buys the manager more time in the job. I can’t see the owner spending money in the transfer window and perhaps that’s a good thing. I like things straightforward. You have a committed and financially strong owner in place. There’s a manager who has the backing of the players and fans, then you can move on together with the common target of promotion.

That’s not the case currently at our club.

It seems that we may have to accept another season in League One. Stewart Donald is trying to find a buyer, but how long is that going to take. I always felt that the finances were not in place to do what is necessary during the January transfer window. The for sale sign at the club gives the current owner less of an inclination to provide any funds. Some may point to the departure of De Bock and imminent exit of McGeady as allowing potential for some incomings in this window.

I’m not sure if any money will be spent. I think we will need to make do with loans and potential free signings, where clubs may allow a player to be released early, when coming to the end of their contract in the summer. With the previous record of our current recruitment team, it’s going to be a lot to ask to make a minimum three or four successful signings, from the market we’ll be shopping in.

I think the short term pain of another season in this league may be what is required to enable time for a new owner to come into the club and assess the situation we find ourselves in. There must be a long term plan put in place when this happens. We can’t afford to stumble from one poor short term decision to another. In my humble opinion, when a new owner is in place, they need to speak to a person who knows the club and what it takes to be successful at Sunderland.

The first name that comes to mind for me, would be Kevin Ball. There are a number of other people who would also be adept in this area. The new owner could then look to bring in a manager who would galvanise the players and the fans to believe that we can get out of this league, and ultimately stabilise the club in the Premier League, in the long term.

I read from some fans that the manager’s job at Sunderland is not at all desirable and that we as fans are somehow demanding and have high expectations. I think most football fans would agree that believing we shouldn’t be playing our football in League One, is fair enough indeed. We expect 100% effort from our players in every game, but for me we also need to improve the quality of the squad in certain areas, to see us move up into the Championship.

So in short, this season may possibly end up in mid table obscurity, which is utterly unacceptable for this football club. However, if Donald could find a buyer in that time, with the right resources, it may possibly be a price worth paying.