Kevin Gage’s Sheffield United Column: It’s the international break… so come and give United’s excellent women side a watch!

Blades boss Carla Ward
Blades boss Carla Ward

So all things considered, we’ve made a good start to the new season I reckon.

Unbeaten in the warm up games, 18 new faces in the squad, and an excellent away win against Aston Villa in the first competitive match followed by a decent performance away at Bristol City, an established top division team.

Now, before you think that I’ve lost the plot and am getting slightly confused in my old age, let me quickly explain that I’m talking about the OTHER senior team that come under the Sheffield United umbrella.

It’s not the marvellous males. It’s the fabulous females in the shape of our new Sheffield United Women’s team! This season the club got the green light to compete in the new revamped and renamed ‘FA Women’s Championship’, formerly the Women’s Super League 2, and we’ll compete alongside many long established women’s teams such as Villa, Spurs, Millwall, and London Bees (Brentford) and also newcomers with the calibre of Leicester City & the mighty Manchester United!

It’s a daunting prospect but the board of United are committed to the long-term future of the women’s side of the game, and alongside the FA, they realise that it’s set to be a huge growth area in the next decade after making great strides in the past few years.  

Add into the mix that approximately 25 per cent of United’s season ticket holders are female and you can also begin to see the reasoning and logic behind the commitment.

At this stage, I suppose I must declare an interest. My youngest stepdaughter Izzy Ford has been playing for the SUFC girls teams since the age of 10, when we spotted her ability and potential aged about eight years old! She’s also played for England U15s and now the U16s, has left school a few weeks ago, and enrolled in the club’s education course.

She currently trains with the first team and was allocated squad number 15 by manager Carla Ward a few weeks ago.  Therefore, you’ll understand that I’ve seen hundreds of football matches over the past few years, ranging from grass-roots girls games to full England women internationals, and have watched the rise of the women’s game at very close quarters, so I think with my professional football background, and despite my family connection, I can try to give an fairly honest opinion of it’s standard and entertainment value.

And, I have to say, hand on heart, I think it’s bloody great.

I’m sure all football fans have caught TV snippets of women’s football over the years. The England team’s games were screened live as they reached the semi-finals of the World Cup a couple of years ago, and you often see bits and bobs on football related TV shows.  

But I can assure you that until you see a match ‘in the flesh’ and witness it live at close quarters, you will not appreciate just how good the standard of the female game is at the higher levels.

These girls are, to coin a phrase that I’m told is hip and trendy, ‘ballers’!  The techniques and ability are on a par with the men, and if you think it through logically, why shouldn’t they be? In golf, tennis, cricket and all other sports, the girls are as talented as the boys, with the difference just being the speed, pace, power, etc that naturally occurs between the two sexes.

Obviously, some women are quicker & stronger than others, but it doesn’t take on quite the importance it maybe does with the men. In women’s football, this slightly slower pace of play does allow more skill and natural talent to flourish as teams simply cannot rely on the aforementioned strong physical attributes alone to gain an advantage.

If you’ve never watched a women’s game before, it will probably take you about five minutes to get used to the speed of play. By then you will have forgotten all about the fact that they are females and you will just see them as footballers.

Another enjoyable feature in the women’s game is the absence of too much ‘aggro’ and intimidation, which so often leads to a fractured, stop-start, physical men’s game.  These girls are 100 per cent fully committed and determined, believe me, and will fly into a 50/50 tackle without a second thought, but you will very rarely see any ‘afters’ or anything with any real intended malice.

The  Blades left-back and captain Ellie Gilliatt epitomizes this attitude and her non-stop, all-action, fully-committed style is an inspiration to all…..think a female Stuart Pearce and you won’t be far out!

Add into the playing mix the stylish ‘Glyn Hodges-esque’ left foot of Alethea Paul on the left of midfield, the coolness, class and technique of Sam Tierney alongside the drive and speed of Jade Pennock in centre-midfield and Bex Raynor linking it all together ‘Duffy style’ in the No10 role, and you’ll see, along with the other girls not mentioned, we have built a very accomplished squad for our inaugural season in this league.

A special mention should go to Tania Marsden, a mum of two, who has made the step-up to remain in the new squad this season and who scored the winner in her 280th appearance for the club last week!  What a fabulous story and achievement.

Sheffield United have built very firm foundations over many years now on the youth side of the girls game with their excellent Regional Talent Centre operation and it’s great to see the transition into being an active and hopefully successful member of the professional women’s game.  

With Manchester United now competing it means that all the Premier League big guns now have female equivalent teams and it’s great to see our club realizing the growing stature and popularity of this side of football.  We are now competing against some of the very best, and given that it’s Sheffield United, I’m sure we’ll give it a damned good go.

So if you fancy an afternoon out watching your beloved Blades represented by these fabulous females, then find out where the games are to be played and give it a whirl.

Trust me, it’s good…. very good, and if you love your football, you’ll love this!

See you there soon.

Tickets for United's first ever game in the second tier of women's football are available in advance or on the gate on Saturday, priced £5 (adults), £3 (concessions, juniors, students, over 60s).

Fans can also purchase a season ticket to watch the women play, priced £40 (adults) and £25 (concessions).

Kevin Gage owns The Manor House: bar/hotel/cafe, High St, Dronfield.  @ManorHouse_S18

Follow him on Twitter: @gageykev