Fresh from their rebrand from West Ham United ladies to West Ham United women’s team, the Hammers have completed their pre-season and are now preparing for a historic and ground-breaking campaign.
The announcement that their application to join the newly-restructured 11-team FA Women’s Super League 1 had been accepted in May seems like yesterday, but so much has changed at Rush Green since then.
Now, the club, under the guidance of new manager Matt Beard, who has a wealth of experience managing some of the best women’s teams in the world, are just a few days away from their competitive football.
On Sunday afternoon, the new-look side will travel to Boreham Wood to face Arsenal in their first South Group match of the 2018/2019 FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup.
The Gunners are defending champions and while their first WSL encounter isn’t until mid-September, the match will give them a taste of the kind of calibre of opposition they will go up against at this level, having spent a number of seasons in the WPL Southern Division.
From facing opponents like C&K Basildon and Coventry United, they will now be going head-to-head with the like of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool on a regular basis.
To prepare for such a demanding first-ever season in the WSL 1, the top-flight of women’s football in England, a strong pre-season was needed and at one stage, it looked to be in jeopardy.
A number of the pre-season friendlies they were due to play got cancelled, leaving them with only three on the calendar, all of them away from home, to London Bees and Lewes, who now play a league below them, and Charlton Athletic, who went up with them.
Despite having only three full matches under their belts, the confidence in the camp at their training base of Little Heath in East London couldn’t be higher after a fantastic unbeaten run.
Pre-season began with a modest draw at the Hive at the hands of the Bees, but a positive performance where they deserved more, Leanne Kiernan cancelling out Taylor O’Leary’s early strike, just after the break.
Two weeks of intense training later, they travelled to Oakwood to do battle with Charlton, a team they defeated in the final of the goodmove.co.uk Women’s Cup last season.
History was to repeat itself with Beard’s team romping to a 0-4 victory, on the scoresheet that day was Jane Ross, Brianna Visalli, a trialist and Esmee De Graaf, all goals coming before the half-hour mark.
The Irons went one better the next week in their final friendly before the serious stuff gets underway on Sunday, thrashing Sussex outfit Lewes 0-5 at the Dripping Pan.
Ross was in the goals once again this time, netting a 75th-minute penalty, this came after a Kate Longhurst double and Vyan Sampson header and before a late Kiernan goal.
The three results were highly-credible ones for the up and coming outfit and have prepared them as much as possible for the stern challenge ahead, which starts with three Cup group matches.
First up is the Gunners and then home ties with Lewes and fierce rivals Millwall Lionesses, in the run-up to the first league clash, against Reading at Rush Green Stadium.
What perhaps makes the results all the more impressive is the fact that virtually all members of the squad are still getting to know each other, both on the pitch and off of it.
All but two of the teams that finished last campaign in mid-table were not offered professional contracts to continue on in Claret & Blue and help lead the club into the new era.
The only two to sign professionally and remain in East London were 2017/2018 captain and forward Rosie Kmita and ex-Arsenal defender Simpson, who only joined the Hammers on a short-term contract for the end of last campaign.
This means that no fewer than 15 new recruits have been captured by Beard and his backroom team, which includes General Manager Karen Ray, who turned down the opportunity to become manager after leading the team on a double-cup-winning run while in interim charge earlier in the year.
The club’s recruitment strategy has been praised from far and wide, throughout the footballing world as they have brought in title and cup winners and Internationals of a range of countries.
You would be hard-pressed to find a new signing who hasn’t played International football of some description, Claire Rafferty and Gilly Flaherty have both represented England, the aforementioned Ross, Scotland.
De Graaf and Tessel Middag have both played for the Netherlands, Brooke Hendrix the USA, Julia Simic, the International powerhouses that are Germany, Alisha Lehmann, Switzerland, Ria Percival New Zealand and Kiernan, the Republic of Ireland.
A number have also played youth International football, including Dutch Lucienne Reichardt, goalkeepers Becky Spencer and Anna Moorhouse and local girl Kate Longhurst, have played for the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, bringing valuable experience and quality to the table, along with ex-Chicago Red Stars’ star Visalli.
With so much buzz and excitement around the club, so much to look forward to, new exciting players and a world-renowned manager, there is no reason to suggest West Ham United women can’t make their first season in the WSL a highly-successful one.