Albion Rewind: 'The best goal of my career'

Two-goal Kate Natkiel recalls Albion’s Play-Off Final win in May 2016.

By Luke Nicoli • 09 April 2020

Kate Natkiel in action against Crystal Palace earlier this season.

Albion’s FA Women’s Premier League Play-Off Final win against Sporting Club Albion is, arguably, the biggest victory in the team’s history to date.

With the Southern Division champions meeting their northern equivalents, a place in FA WSL 2 was at stake for the winner.

Victory would not only secure a place in the Women’s Super League for the first time, but provide an opportunity for the Albion players to turn professional. It would also bring the club’s longer-term aim of joining the game’s elite division within reach.

A fixture of real pressure, certainly, but as the teams stepped out on a sun-baked late May day at Wycombe Wanderers’ Adams Park ground, Natkiel recalls a quiet confidence within the ranks.

“We’d had a couple of months since the end of our league season and that allowed our injured players to get fit again, so we were ready,” reveals the attacking midfielder. “George Parris [appointed interim manager the previous month] was a really calm guy and that rubbed off on the players. He helped settle any nerves in the build-up to the game, making sure we didn’t feel any undue pressure.

By Geoff Penn
Kate Natkiel scored twice in the 2016 Play-Off final.

“He knew many of the girls from his work within the centre of excellence and with his own experience of playing at the top level, he set our sessions up really well. He was also adamant that we would prepare the same as any other game that season and that helped when it came to the day itself. While there were a few butterflies leading up to kick-off, I remember just being excited to get going.”

While Albion started the game as favourites, Sporting proved they were not here to make up the numbers and took the lead on 15 minutes when Leigh Dugmore headed home from close range.

“The fact it came so early in the game meant there was no panic from us,” Kate recalls. “Sporting had a couple of chances after the goal, but we still had a good feeling that once we got into our stride we would impose ourselves on the game.”

Albion cranked up the pressure and on 41 minutes grabbed a deserved equaliser when Natkiel picked up the ball inside the Sporting half, skipped past one player before letting fly with an effort that flew into the top corner from 25 yards. An unbelievable strike that took top billing on the day.

By Geoff Penn
Catherine Cooper and captain Vicky Ashton-Jones celebrate Play-Off success.

“That’s been the best goal of my career and the best I’m ever likely to score,” she smiles. “I caught it on the sweet spot and as soon as it left my foot I knew it had a real chance of going in.

“But to see it hit the back of the net left me in shock – I didn’t know how to celebrate! It was a great time to score though, just before half-time, as it gave us that extra boost and momentum going into the second half, whereas it would have left them a bit flat heading back into the changing room.”

Indeed, it was the Seagulls who went on to take the lead and it was Natkiel at the double, pouncing on a ricochet before tucking the ball past advancing keeper Rebecca Thomas on 68 minutes.

“I remember a clearance came off one of our players and I was through on goal. I was in the right mindset having already scored but to see it go in, and with my left foot, was an amazing feeling.

“At 2-1 it was one of those – do we stick or twist, and we decided to twist. It could still have gone either way with the chances created by both sides but we were rewarded for the way we approached that second half, definitely.”

By Geoff Penn
Albion celebrate their Play-Off success.

Albion all but put the game out of reach when Sophie Perry scored another superb goal, curling home a free-kick from 20 yards into the top right-hand corner, before Amy Taylor looped home a header from Perry’s cross to make it four. Substitute Karen Clough then netted a late consolation for Sporting on a day when Albion emerged as worthy winners.

“When that final whistle blew, I just cried,” Kate revealed. “We knew the importance of the game; this was like a cup final but even bigger given what was at stake. Our whole season, and the season before that, led up to this point so it was pure emotion which came out from all of us at the end.

“It was also great to lift the trophy in front of so many of our fans, who had been on this journey with us. Our celebrations continued on the coach journey home but it was such a hot and emotional day that when we did get back to the city to celebrate that night, it was nothing too major. We were all so tired and mentally drained.

“When I look back, it was such a great day, for the players, the fans and also the hierarchy at the club – who had backed us every step of the way and continue to do so. It’s a day that will live long in the memory, that’s for sure.”