As the clock struck 4 on the afternoon of Sunday 6 November, the 2016 FAWSL 2 season drew to a close.
It has been an enjoyable time to watch and cover the second division. One could argue that, over the course of the year, it has in act provided significantly more entertainment than FAWSL 1. A hoard of goals, young players being given their chance to shine, and a final day title challenge have all contributed to making this its best season to date.
While the clubs at the bottom of the table have struggled – partly due to internal problems more than anything else – there has been evident progress amongst many of the clubs. Yeovil, Durham and Sheffield have all impressed, making obvious strides forwards while Bristol have managed to retain their standard to bounce straight back up (no easy feat!)
The FAWSL 2 was always going to take a few years to come into its own – it is easy to forget that it is only three years old and that it began with some very young clubs. While there is still a way to go – illustrated by the struggles of Doncaster and, to a lesser extent, Reading in the FAWSL 1 this year – the improvement in quality and standards can only be encouraging.
The season began at the end of March with champions-elect Yeovil not getting off to the best of starts. They lost narrowly to Bristol on the opening day. Durham, on the other hand, were impressing, opening up their 2016 campaign with wins against Sheffield and London Bees to top the league.
Bank holiday madness made for the first thriller of the year. After being delayed significantly due to impossible traffic, Millwall and Oxford engaged in an eight-goal thriller that saw the London side come away with a 5-3 victory. The game finished at around 11 the evening!
April was a good month for the three title favourites – Everton, Bristol and Yeovil continued to rack up the points and remained unbeaten for the month. The other challenger, Durham, suffered their first defeat at the hands of Aston Villa, a side who remain consistently inconsistent. Under Dave Edmondson’s command, London Bees were beginning to get their form together while newbies Sheffield struggled for goals and points before the mid-season break.
As the first half of the campaign came to an end, it was Yeovil who took control. A win against nearest rivals Bristol followed by a 4-2 victory over Aston Villa sent them in ahead at the halfway point. More impressively, they came from 2-0 down in that final game with the ever-influential Sarah Wiltshire scoring a hat-trick.
Yeovil and Bristol continued their hot streaks as the season restarted, beating Durham and Oxford respectively. Perhaps the surprise of the season came when Watford, stuck to the bottom of the table, beat Everton 2-1 and delivering a blow to their title chances.
However, the top sides were dropping points across the board, keeping the promotion push competitive. Bristol were held by a last minute equaliser away to Villa while Yeovil were also stopped in their tracks by Oxford on a drizzly night in Abingdon.
Meanwhile, Sheffield’s fortunes were beginning to pick up as they began an unbeaten run that included a strong victory at home to Everton and a 5-0 win over the Bees. Millwall were also continuing to pick up points, albeit one at a time, while Oxford and Watford continued to struggle.
With Yeovil suffering a rare blip, losing comprehensively to Everton, Bristol and Durham continued to keep up the pressure. The Toffees made things even more interesting with a somewhat controversial win away to Bristol while Yeovil endured another loss, at the hands of London Bees.
As the run in to the finish line began, Yeovil and Bristol remained unbeaten while Durham’s challenge tailed off with four games to play. Promotion was eventually decided on the penultimate weekend. Yeovil proceeded with a pretty straightforward 2-0 win over London Bees. Bristol, on the other hand, had a somewhat trickier journey, eventually overcoming Everton 3-2 after a crazy 90 minutes of football.
With promotion secured, the final day of the season was all about the title. Bristol did all that they could, putting five past Oxford, but Yeovil were always a step ahead. They beat Sheffield 3-0 to lift the trophy on goal difference and become worthy champions.
Team of the Year
Player of the Year
However, our final choice has been a young player that has fitted seamlessly into the FAWSL 2. Jodie Brett joined Bristol City on a season long loan from Chelsea, having been confined to the Blues’ development side and a few senior substitute appearances over the last year. She fast became their lynchpin in the middle, producing consistently high performances as well as providing assists and goals aplenty. Willie Kirk showed how much faith he has in her by making her captain in the absence of Hayley Ladd despite there being older, more obvious figures in the side. She became indispensable over the course of the year and securing her services permanently should be the highest priority for the Vixens as they return back to the top league.
Manager of the Year
This one was not so tough with Jamie Sherwood a clear contender for best manager. The progress Yeovil have made under his stewardship both last year and this season has been impressive. With few resources than most, Jamie has managed to bring together a team with a winning mentality. The team spirit and ethos of hard work was evident for all to see throughout the campaign, especially when the chips were down. The biggest example perhaps was when Sarah Wiltshire had to take time out halfway through the year due to pregnancy. Losing arguably their best player would be hard to take for any team but Jamie ensured that the team regrouped immediately and continued to get the results that led to their eventual promotion. Winning the title was just the cherry on top!
Special mention, however, has to go to Dave Edmondson at London Bees. When he took charge at the start of the season, there was barely a squad present at the Hive and a mid-table position looked somewhat unlikely. With some sensible acquisitions – such as Nikki Watts, Jo Wilson and Emma Beckett – he began to form a side with a strong core that delivered from week to week. There is no reason to think that they can’t progress even further next year.
Goal of the Year
- Sarah Wiltshire v Durham
- Ashlee Hincks v Oxford
(credit: Dion Farnes)
- Charlie Emslie v Everton
Club of the Year
Alongside their progress on the pitch, Durham have become one of the front-runners off the pitch. It is important to be realistic about where the league is at to be able to market it appropriately and their marketing guys have hit the nail on the head. Promotions throughout the year, including a reduced price for season ticket holders of other clubs, a combined ticket scheme with Sunderland, #BringYourBoots and “Teams for a Tenner” have gone down a treat as well as a wealth of infographics for all you need to know when attending a game.
Best Matchday Experience
We always love a trip to Bristol and Sheffield while Oxford are also up there in terms of an enjoyable day out but the award this year has to go to Yeovil. Moving to Huish Park at the beginning of the year has been beneficial and with a strong support behind them, there is always an atmosphere. In addition, the option of a hog roast is a definite bonus!