I look back on this season with a lot of pride and satisfaction, and if I’m honest a little frustration too. We have moved forward from a year ago even though our final position in the WSL of seventh – compared to sixth last season – might not reflect that.
We went into the final game against Everton knowing victory would give us a record number of wins and points in a season, but we ended up drawing 1-1. The game rather summed up our season. We defended quite well but gave away a poor goal and then had the chances to win the game after equalising but couldn’t put one of them away.
We finished where we deserved to, but we can still be pleased with our efforts over a long season because the standard of the WSL has improved in each of the four years we have been in it. There are certainly no easy games and even if you look at Birmingham City, who were relegated, you have a club whose 2-0 win over them probably cost Arsenal the title and who were certainly motivated when they beat us just before the end of the season, even though they were virtually down by then.
Last year we rose from ninth to sixth and when we started this season with two wins expectation levels went up. We all realised that the top three – Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City – would eventually fight it out for honours and that’s what happened. The biggest difference between those clubs and the chasing pack is their ruthlessness, depth of squad and abundance of international experience. When they are expected to win they tend to do so.
The gap between the top three and Manchester United and the rest in terms has probably narrowed slightly but it’s still big. Breaking into the WSL’s top four is the club’s long-term ambition and I’m reluctant to put a timescale on when they might happen, but we are getting closer. In a one-off match, as we proved against Chelsea and Arsenal, we can test the best over 90 minutes. The next stage of our development is backing up a good result the following week against teams whom we’re expected to beat. We still need to find that consistency.
At times this season we were very good. I’m thinking about the 4-1 home win over Reading, doing the double over West Ham and scoring five goals in a WSL match for the first time against Birmingham. Let’s also not forget that we reached the semi-finals of last season’s FA Cup where we gave a decent account of ourselves against Arsenal. Those were the standout moments along with holding the champions Chelsea to a draw at home.
I couldn’t have asked any more of the players. In training and matches they never gave less than their all. They have been a driven and determined group throughout the last nine months and have represented the club with pride. I don’t like to single out individuals, but I must congratulate Meg Walsh who deservedly picked up the Players’ Player and Player of the Season awards. It rounded off a brilliant season for Meg, who also won what I hope will be the first of many international caps with the Republic of Ireland.
At the end of the season we said goodbye to six players, four of whom – Fliss Gibbons, Dani Bowman, Aileen Whelan and Emily Simpkins – have been with us pretty much every step of our WSL journey. Between them they have played more than 200 games and have been great players for the club and will be much missed. The same goes for Inessa Kaagman and Danique Kerkdijk, who have opted to return to The Netherlands. The pandemic was difficult for all our European players, who couldn’t spend much time with their friends and families back home, but Danique and Inessa were always supremely professional and loved being part of our squad. We will miss all six, but hopefully they will be back to visit us again in the future.
The planning for next season is already well underway. Six players leaving means there will be quite a few new faces, all of whom must improve what we already have, and we will try and utilise players in our own pathway if they are good enough. We have a lot to offer on and off the pitch at Brighton, and if we get our recruitment right there’s no reason why our year-on-year improvement can’t continue next season.
I’d like to finish by thanking the team behind the team – the coaching and backroom staff – for their hard work and backing this season and also a big thank-you to our fans, for their enthusiastic support.
Roll on September and the new season!