Becca Fay raring to go with Cambridge City Ladies' new dawn in the FA Women's National League
It will be a trip into the unknown for Cambridge City Ladies this season, but it is difficult to think of a side that could be better equipped to deal with the challenges.
The Lilywhites will be heading into FA Women’s National League, Division One South East after an unprecedented rise through the ranks in the last few years.
From the team that won the S-Tech Girls’ League, Under-18 Division in 2014/15, they have continued to go from strength to strength to make it four promotions in five seasons.
“We’re expecting a big step up,” says City captain Becca Fay, “we’re expecting it to be tough.
“I don’t think we were really challenged (during the promotions) so I think it will be a bit of a shock to the system when we go into the league and all of a sudden we’re not taking three points from every game.
“It will definitely be naive of us to go into that league thinking that it’s going to be similar to the last couple of years because it won’t be.”
The age of the City squad is striking, with an average of around 20, but it is not surprising given that the first team has only been re-born in the past five years.
In 2009, City and Cambridge United merged to become Cambridge Women, the place for senior football in the city.
However, in 2015, Cambridge Women affiliated back to Cambridge United, leaving City with no senior side.
It was the rise of current manager Tim Rapley’s youngsters through the divisions that ultimately led to the likes of Fay, Robyn Phillips, Hannah Bodily and Laura Mills eventually returning to the club of their youth football.
“At the time, there was only the one side and you didn’t look at City if you were playing women’s football because they didn’t have the side,” said 24-year-old Fay.
“There were a good handful of us that went through the same route, and came back to City as soon as we could really.
“It’s taken a long time to get where the club is now, it didn’t happen overnight.
“We’ve got girls’ teams from under-8s to 16s and 18s, and we’re hoping for three women’s teams this season.
“It’s not just girls playing football, they are decent and playing at a good level. Our under-13s are national champions, the under-12s aren’t far behind. They are good footballers and give it a few years and we’ll all be pushed out!
“We’ve now got up to seven players who are 18 and below who have come through City ranks and broken into the first team.”
Therefore, you can understand why the experience of Fay, Phillips, Mills and Bodily, who also had a spell at Aston Villa, will be beneficial to City this season.
Fay is under no illusions about the task ahead, as when she was last in the division with United can recall opponents all seeming to be a lot older.
What is also apparent when you watch City is their size, they are quite a small team with the exceptions of centre-backs Fay and Phillips, so it is easy to see why their understanding could be crucial.
“When I was there (United) with Robyn we formed a centre-back partnership and we’ve played together now for the last four seasons,” said Fay, who started as a central midfielder before switching initially to left-back at United.
“You build that partnership and it’s almost as if you know where the other person is going to be without even looking. You get to know each other’s style of play and ours fit together quite well.
“Our friendship definitely helps because we have an understanding of each other’s body language so when her head goes down I know what to say to bring her back up.”
Therein also lies one of the key strengths of City – the close-knit bond of their squad given their development from within the club.
“I think that is the thing with City, because the players do stay the whole way through as a team we’ve been playing together for the last three or four seasons with the odd addition of one or two,” said the captain.
“It goes beyond it for a lot of the girls because we do a lot outside of football together, and a lot of team building as there are friendships because it’s not just one or two seasons that you’re playing together.
“You can’t force it. It is what it is and that’s what we’ve built at City.
“It doesn’t happen overnight and is one of those things that is a gradual process and the sustainability of the club all the way through has proven that.”
There may be times when it will be tested this season as City adjust to the new league but, so far, they have adapted to everything thrown at them in the rise up the divisions.