In front of an expectant crowd at Hornchurch Stadium, goals from Lily Mellors, Kelley Blanchflower, Sarah McCrea, Emily Masters and skipper Stacey Little saw the Hammers crowned queens of Essex, with a late Barking goal proving to be nothing more than a consolation.
The Ladies have endured a difficult season on and off the pitch, with high profile players in Toni-Anne Wayne, Becky Merritt and Rosey Sullivan departing the club this season and a change in management after boss Mark Saunderson’s resignation last month, but last night represented a glorious triumph for the hard work and dedication shown by the Ladies during a testing campaign.
The midfielder declared that winning the Essex County Cup was the highlight of her career and lifting the trophy was ‘a dream come true’.
“I was nervous throughout the whole day, when I was at work thinking about it, I just wanted to get out and play and get it done. I wasn’t too bad when I got here, I think being amongst the girls, I calmed down a bit and just took it as it came.
“It was difficult, the pitch was so hard and bobbly, it was difficult to get the ball down and play the football that we wanted to play, the ball bounces up, your touch ain’t right, it bounces about all over the place so considering the conditions weren’t the best, I think we did quite well.
“I think getting an early goal just calms it down and obviously from then on from there we were just pushing to get another goal to secure the lead.”
Little put the icing on the Ladies’ cake with a pearler of a strike from the edge of the box for the Hammers fifth goal to seal the win.
On the goal, she said: “To be honest, I’ve tried those all season, I try them in training and they don’t quite come off and I thought that Dan [Danica Revell] wasn’t going to let it run through to me and it just came and I just had one aim in mind, to strike it as sweet as I did and beat the keeper.”
The skipper immediately ran to celebrate with her family after the goal and told of her family’s pride at her and the team’s achievement: “Captaining the side and being able to lift the trophy means a lot to me and I think they’re very proud so I had to get them involved in the celebration.”
The Ladies have three league games left now and Little wants her side to use the cup victory as a springboard for momentum to end their league season on a high as well and said: “Obviously the league ain’t been great this year but hopefully this cup win can spur us up to push up a couple of places out of the last three games we’ve got left.”
Director of football Julia Setford praised her captain and said that the Ladies could use the win as momentum to push on next season.
She told us: “It’s amazing for our club tonight. We’ve had such an up and down season and after players coming and going and the change of management, we’ve really had to focus the girls and to turn it around tonight and win this has put a positive spin on the end of the season and now we can go on next season and really push forward, so we’re pleased.”
Setford hailed the teamwork of her side as the driving force behind the victory, saying: “We’ve got the group together and they’re playing as a team now, we’ve got no individuals, no one’s better than anybody else and we like to keep them all on an even playing field and keep them grounded, and they’re enjoying their football now and you can see that and it’s starting to show on the pitch which is nice.”
She added: “They deserve this. It’s nice, especially for people like Stacey, obviously it’s her first time as captain, obviously she’s been at the club and she’s West Ham through and through, so for her to be able to lift the trophy, it’s lovely for her and her family and great for us as a club. For some of the senior players, such as Vicky, she’s been at this club for 15 years and that’s the first full cup final she’s ever played so it’s brilliant for them.”
By Alex Shilling and David Blackmore