When I recently visited the National Football Museum in Manchester I enjoyed looking at the grainy pictures of early footballers at the start of the 20th Century.
Alongside these grinning men with slicked back hair and enormous shorts were glass cases with century-old brown boots worn by some of these legends of yesteryear. Th e museum puts these alongside the images of today’s millionaire footballers with their peacock boots to make an excellent point. I got the point, and I looked at the West Ham Ladies playing now and wondered how history would record their endeavours in a hundred years.
Th e pictures we take now of our players, training three nights a week and playing at weekends for little or no pay reminded me so much of those early days. I wasted no time when I got back and immediately bought our captain Katie Bottom a new pair of boots. I wanted to preserve the boots that scored that first and only goal by a woman in a competitive fixture at the Boleyn. In the future that right boot will be important to those looking back at the history of women’s football.
Th at match was undoubtedly the highlight of a crazy season. Wins, big losses, great results against stronger opposition, and that win against Spurs at the Boleyn in front of a record crowd that beat many League Two attendances on that same night.
We have had everything. Some players left , some more willingly than others. We signed an international goalkeeper who became a media sensation who won awards and won us many friends. We promoted development and U18 players to the senior team whilst mixing them with signings from Super League clubs.
We have been guests on a TV show and at the Bend It Like Beckham musical as well as attending a number of West Ham United matchdays and events. We finished the year with a table at the Players’ Awards Dinner in Park Lane necking beers with the millionaires the National Museum now celebrates.
This past season was about the club forming an idea about what we might achieve. We have spent the year reviewing the quality of coaching from U12 upwards. As a result, we now have a clear plan for the next three years to improve every aspect of the playing side of the club. We are now taking steps to create our first U10 side to feed to our U12s which will help us produce the West Ham and England stars of the future.
The junior set up, from U12 to U18, have all be phenomenally successful this season winning almost every competition that they entered. Our junior structure is producing some exciting players and it is always a pleasure to see them break through to the senior sides. This coming season we will make changes by moving our U18 into our senior system so that they can train alongside the senior side and increase their opportunities to fight for places. It is inevitable that with the excitement and promise of a new signing or promoting a young player comes the releasing of an older player or one that has not quite made the cut.
I can’t imagine what it must be like for a player who has come through from U12 to the senior team only to be let go. For me that’s the least enjoyable part of the football business. I hope that those players who leave this summer will keep in touch and remember their time at West Ham Ladies with fondness. I hope they stay in football and find new clubs.
We began this season with the aim of making every player a star and every game an event. That aim continues. It has been a wonderful experience for me to meet so many great characters who have proven themselves to be worth investing my time in. We have doubled the backroom staff this year and we will try and double it again this season.
A great team needs great support and that starts with the coaches, physios, administrative staff and media team. It needs great fans as well. Everyone at the Ladies will be working hard to make the women’s club something for all West Ham fans to be proud of.