Southampton Women is gearing up for Great Escape as the undefeated club strives to finally rise from the fourth tier
The irony will not have been lost with the Southampton Women’s players as they settled for another shutdown session.
In recent months, they, like any team, have had to find inventive ways to maintain solidarity at a social distance. And one method felt particularly appropriate.
“We escaped from rooms above Zoom,” said manager Marieanne Spacey-Cale.
The Southampton Women’s team has been frustrated by Covid-19, which has slowed their progress
Not a concept that needs much explanation from its team. Not if they’ve faced their own lock-in for the past two seasons. The only difference? Their players have made all the right moves and yet the doors will not open.
Almost three years have passed since Southampton and Manchester United – both recently re-established – signed up to compete in the championship.
United’s bid was accepted, and Spacey-Cale’s squad was forced to start in the fifth level.
Thirty-one league games later, their record is: 30 wins, one draw, no losses. Their last defeat of any kind came in February 2020.
Manager Marieanne Spacey-Cale has overseen the maintenance of an intimidating track record
Southampton’s first season brought promotion, but in each of the latter two they sat atop National League Division One South West when Covid-19 curtailed the campaign. And so they get stuck in row four.
At least this season, the FA Cup offers a route back to the field and on Sunday Southampton entered the fourth round with a 3-0 victory over third tier Yeovil United.
There is hope that an escape route from the National League may emerge this summer as well.
Southampton is believed to be one of the teams to sign up for promotion after the FA announced plans for ‘upward club moves’.
“We are very focused on where we want to go, but we understand that we have to be patient,” said Spacey-Cale, who has won 91 caps for England and led Southampton since their reform.
The Saints promoted in their first season as a club and have continued to win ever since
‘It feels like a few years have been lost. But in a strange way they have been lost on the field, but they have been gained from it. We are probably better prepared for what comes next. ‘
Without the chance to train or play, the focus went elsewhere.
“All we try to do is fulfill our ambition and vision to be among the top two in football – develop players, develop the club. It was a great opportunity to get the infrastructure and integration really right, ” added Spacey-Cale.
‘To get ahead on the field, you have to have everything in place outside too. Whatever the competition looks like in 2021-22, we are ready. Southampton continues to build their regional talent club for girls aged 10-16.
Last year they became one of only four clubs with Tier 1 plus status. Now players in the first team are filtering.
Southampton invests heavily in their wives’ design and has big ambitions for them
“Southampton is synonymous with developing talent,” says Spacey-Cale.
Sports scientist Laura Bowen is now one of eight full-time employees after moving from Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team. Spacey-Cale also used lockdown to create her own version of the Southampton Playbook.
None of this comes cheap and in January Southampton reported a loss of £ 76.1 million.
The club has invested heavily in their wives’ setup and without promotion they have been hit harder than most. Yeovil proves that even a ticket to the WSL doesn’t provide immunity from financial struggles – they needed FA funds to end the peak 2018/19 season.
Southampton was leading their fourth division on both occasions when the league closed
Saints will hope that the roots they have planted will sustain their strength, especially as the pot of gold shines brighter than ever.
This week marks the 10th anniversary of the WSL, which recently signed a groundbreaking £ 24 million deal with Sky Sports and the BBC.
For Southampton, next week’s fourth-round clash with second-tier Lewes will be another useful measure.
“We trust the process,” says Spacey-Cale. ‘And try to play a leading role in the women’s game in 10 years’ time.’