Relief all round as women's game given green light

Whittlesey Ladies vs Peterborough United Ladies Women's FA Cup

Whittlesey Athletic, who sit second in the Cambridgeshire Women's County League Premier Division, will return to action in April. - Credit: Ian Carter

Women’s football coaches across Fenland have described their relief after it was confirmed the grassroots game will return for the first time this year. 

The FA confirmed that tier 7 of the women’s football pyramid can restart their season with permission to extend the campaign into June as Covid-19 lockdown restrictions ease. 

It means the likes of Whittlesey, March, Leverington and Park Ladies who all play in the Cambridgeshire Women’s County League, can return to action from next month. 

Our teams are perhaps even more fortunate after the FA declared the season between tiers 3-6 incomplete due to the ongoing pandemic, subject to ratification from the FA Board. 

Leverington Ladies in Cambs League action with Fulbourn.

Leverington Ladies (orange) in Cambs League action with Fulbourn Institute Bluebirds during the 2020-21 season. - Credit: Narice Britton

“I think it’s hugely fortunate that our league is still able to go ahead,” Shaun Harley, manager at Whittlesey Athletic Ladies, said. 

“This will be massively beneficial on a mental level given how difficult the last 12 months have been, being able to get out on a pitch doing what they love.” 

For Leverington Ladies, who play in the county’s premier division, playing again provides a chance of escape, but allow higher-league teams to take advantage of no action. 

“I know that my players would have been very deflated if the season had been ended prematurely again,” Euan Simpson, Leverington boss, said. 

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“I do feel sorry for the teams in tiers 3-6, but I fear there could be an influx of players dropping down to tier 7, forcing regular players onto the sidelines.” 

March Town Ladies in action vs Park Ladies.

March Town Ladies in action during 2020. - Credit: Steve Hone

Gary Davis, manager of March Town Ladies, is confident that his team can be a great benefit to mental health. 

“Many see the return of football as something to focus on and needed for their own health and wellbeing,” he said. 

“If the results are positive, great, but the main thing is giving the players the opportunity to get the frustrations of the last four months out of their systems.” 

It is believed over 90 per cent of Cambs League teams wanted to restart if the season can finish by June. 

Park Ladies first game since November Covid-19 lockdown.

Park Ladies (right) returned from the second Covid-19 lockdown with a 10-goal thriller against Cardea Ladies. - Credit: Carl Rumble Photography

For Park Ladies, a return cannot come sooner as they look to continue their progress in the Championship North Division. 

“We can’t wait to get back playing, but we may treat this return as a development opportunity now rather than a promotion push,” Rob Mitchell, manager of Park, said. 

“Ultimately, the main focus is health and mental wellbeing for the players.” 

The FA also said clubs from tier 7 can still apply for promotion, as well as the possibility of expanding the Women’s Football Pyramid. 

It said: “The promotion pool, allowing club movement from tier 7 to tier 6, will remain active, with the deadline for application extended to May 1, 2021.  

“All clubs seeking promotion will need to apply, with champion clubs no longer receiving automatic consideration. 

“It's hoped that facilitating club movement will support the stability and integrity of the Women’s Football Pyramid following the disruption to the last two seasons.  

“This is likely to result in expanded divisions at tiers 3-6 for the 2021-22 season, something which leagues have indicated they could accommodate.”