Captain Echo Barrett, and manager Duncan Muller freely admit that AFC Whyteleafe Women’s 2022/23 season did not get off to the greatest of starts.
“We were really struggling for players at the very beginning of the season, “ says Duncan. “Although I managed to bring in a few women that I knew, and Echo did the same, we were lacking quality, and we lost the first four games badly.”
Looking back at the team’s recent history, it is perhaps understandable that they took a while to settle into the new season. Following Irama Sports’ purchase of Church Road in June 2021 there followed a period of uncertainty for the clubs that called it home.
The women’s team, who at that point were playing in the premier division of the London & SE Regional Football League, stayed at the ground under the umbrella of the youth teams, but the disruption saw them finishing the 2021/22 season at the bottom of the table and being relegated to Division 1 (North) in Tier 6.
Duncan, who had recently left his role as head of women’s football at Sutton United, was contacted by Kelly Waters, manager of the revitalised men’s first team AFC Whyteleafe, to see if he would be interested in taking on Whyteleafe Women. He said yes, and a new regime was ushered in.
After the rocky start, the squad recruited two new goalkeepers and additional outfield players, and started to improve, completing a good cup run and going unbeaten in the league for almost five months. They finished seventh in the table, a position reflecting the number of games that ended in a draw.
Echo considers their last season to be a good one, even if they didn’t finish as high up the table as they would have liked.
“I thought it was successful. Maybe not as much as we’d hoped for, but if you think about how we started, we came on so well. Duncan and his team are great coaches and really professional. We increased our training session to include a fitness one run by our new strength and conditioning coach Mary, who is also a player. We’re also practising more on grass because Church Road is a 3G pitch, and we found that we were struggling at away games as the game plays so differently on grass!”
Duncan is quick to credit Echo, who has just turned 23, for the strides forward that the team has made.
“It wouldn’t have been achievable without her. I made her captain when I first arrived, and she’s really lived up to the role, not just on the pitch but off it as well. She does so much in a practical sense, from the recruitment of players, giving lifts and helping with social media, but also within the team itself. Echo communicates well with both me and the players, discussing and helping to sort out any issues that arise. She is very young for a captain and is still learning but she really cares about the team and wants it to be successful. We couldn’t ask for a better leader.”
The team is now focused on their next achievements, and Duncan says their aspirations are high.
“We want to finish top of the table this season, get back into the premier division and progress from there up to Tier 3. And we want more people to come to the games!”
“By the end of last season, our fan numbers had increased, but we want even more this season. We’re really proud of being a diverse team, and we’re striving to be role models for all the girls in our community that want to play, so we want people to know we’re here and really get behind women’s football.”
The team has two friendlies in August, at home to Newhaven on the 6th (KO 14:00) and away to Crawley AFC on the 10th (KO 20:00), before the 2023/24 season proper begins on 20 August.
Fixtures are available on the AFC Whyteleafe website , and the team would love you to come down to Church Road and show your support.
If you’re interested in the various sponsorship opportunities that AFC Whyteleafe Women has to offer, email email@example.com for more information.