The amazing rise of Sheffield FC Ladies
Sheffield FC have never been closer to boasting a top-flight side in their 159-year existence - and it is all thanks to the achievements of their women's team.
The world’s oldest football club, formed in 1857, were toasted by of Sepp Blatter and Pele in 2007 when 150th birthday celebrations took place.
At that time the women’s side, formed in 2007, were taking tentative steps in the lower leagues.
But after conquering the Yorkshire & Humberside League, the Northern Combination, and the Women’s Premier League to reach the second division of the Women’s Super League, Sheffield FC Ladies stand a tantalising step away from competing at the highest level.
And while this season, their first in WSL2, is about gaining a foothold at the semi-professional level, the team are nothing if not ambitious.
Captain Carla Ward has spent six years driving the team’s charge up the league ladder from her midfield station, and the Isle of Wight-born player is relishing Sheffield’s remarkable rise.
She has more experience than most, having previously played for Leeds United and Lincoln, two one-time powerhouses of the women’s game, and Spanish side Alicante.
“I’ve been at this club for six years now and the main reason I joined was because of the ambition of what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go,” Ward said. “There have been a lot of Sheffield girls who’ve had the opportunity to go and play WSL football in the last few years but they’ve stuck it out knowing we can get there ourselves.
“It’s another major chapter in the club’s story. Sheffield FC Ladies have only been going for about 13 years, so to go from county league to WSL football that quickly, especially with the history of this being the world’s oldest football club, it’s something else.
“A lot of people probably think we’re linked to Sheffield Wednesday or Sheffield United, but the story written by Sheffield FC Ladies is something remarkable.
“Wednesday and United don’t seem to be too interested in women’s football from what I’ve seen. It’s a shame, and when they see which direction women’s football is heading in I’m sure it won’t be too long before they’re knocking on the door.”
Recent backing from Qatar Airways has allowed Sheffield to take the step out of the amateur ranks, but Ward says the players earn “pocket money”.
“We’ve got seven players on contracts,” she said. “They’re not huge wages - part-time wages. I would play no matter what - I’d pay to play - but it helps with bringing players in.
“The beauty of Sheffield FC is that it’s very different to any club I’ve ever been at. You go in and they want to look after you immediately. They want to know all about you. It’s a family club and everyone is well looked after and once you’re settled it’s very difficult to leave.”
Sheffield FC Ladies won their first WSL2 match lass week, at the sixth attempt.
Ward missed the 3-1 victory over Bristol due to concussion, but it came as a welcome result for all concerned with the club.
They now have a six-week mid-season break that means they cannot swiftly build on that result, however much Ward and co might want to kick on. But the skipper’s message will still hold true when the season resumes.
She said: “I’ve said to the girls that we don’t want to be making the numbers up, we want to compete.”