Sheffield United: '˜This is a historic moment for our club as a whole' says co-owner Kevin McCabe
This weekend, when Sheffield United Women walk out at the Olympic Legacy Park, it will be a significantÂ moment in the football club's history.
Not simply because the fixture, against Championship rivals Leicester City, is the first time Carla Ward'sÂ side will compete at the stadium set to become their permanent home. But, as co-owner Kevin McCabeÂ explained last night, it also sees United take a step into previously uncharted territory; pitching their tentÂ in an area of the city better known for ice hockey, rugby league and the English Institute of Sport.
"It's a big moment for the team," McCabe told The Star, "But also for us as whole because we'll beÂ establishing a base somewhere United has never been before. So this is a really big deal, something to getÂ excited about. We are spreading our wings and broadening our appeal."
Chris Wilder, the men's first team manager, has spoken on numerous occasions about how he believesÂ United represent Sheffield's entire community. It is a message, repeated again ahead of tomorrow's visit toÂ Nottingham Forest, which is especially pertinent as they prepare for next week's derby against arch-rivalsÂ Wednesday.
McCabe, whose company Scarborough Group has been tasked with developing the OLP site in Attercliffe,Â described the decision to bring Ward's squad under the official United umbrella further strengthens theirÂ popular credentials.
"The women's game is growing and it will keep on growing, it's going to get bigger and bigger," heÂ continued. "The commitment we have made reflects that, together with how important the women are.
"We've always done a lot to produce young players but, until a couple of years ago, we didn't really have aÂ (women's team). That seemed strange, it didn't sit right, and so by doing what we did shows were areÂ serious about becoming a real force to be reckoned with."
Ward's squad took a significant step towards achieving that ambition when, following an exhaustiveÂ selection process, they were granted membership of the revamped competition. After losing their openingÂ two fixtures, United Women beat Aston Villa 4-1 at Bramall Lane before recording another win, away atÂ Crystal Palace, last weekend.
"Having their own home, at OLP, should help them continue their development," McCabe explained. "SomeÂ of the other teams, with all due respect, don't have that at the moment even though they've been at thisÂ level for much longer.
"We've got a great manager and character at the helm in Carla and really committed players."
Two of those, Sam Tierney and Ellie Fletcher, have been recognised at international level after receivingÂ their latest England under-21 call-ups earlier this week. The duo are scheduled to attend a training camp atÂ Warwick University which could, with Phil Neville's team also setting up a base in the Midlands, see themÂ invited to work with the senior squad.
"I'm looking forward to inviting a number of the under-21 team into our senior squad training sessions duringÂ the international camp," Neville said. "It will give them an excellent experience and allow me to see at first-hand how much progress they've made in recent months.Â
"Providing young players with the opportunity to progress into the senior team is something that (under-21 coach) Mo Marley and I are very keen to encourage, so having them on camp at the same time is a greatÂ opportunity for us to do just that."
Sunday's contest with City, (kick-off 2pm), marks the visitors' first outing since last weekend's tragic events atÂ The King Power Stadium when five people, including the Premier League club's owner VichaiÂ Srivaddhanaprabha died in a helicopter crash. United have offered their condolences, both in private andÂ publicly.
Ward described the win over Palace as a "well-needed boost" after United were handed a tough start to theÂ campaign. City, in fifth, are two places above United in the table and drew with them in pre-season.
"We're serious about what we're doing," McCabe said. "And we believe, with everything that's going onÂ and with the ambition we've got, that we're ahead of the curve."