Sheffield United: '˜You are representing a very special football club,' Carla Ward tells her players as Bramall Lane's women prepareÂ to make history
Tomorrow, moments before Sheffield United Women contest their first FA Championship game, Carla Ward will gather her players together and remind them exactly what it means.
The match, against a powerful Durham side expected to push for a top three finish, is deeply significant occasion not only for those wearing red and white but Bramall Lane as a whole.
"It's something we're going to talk about," Ward admitted. "I want the girls to know what an important and historic moment this is and then put that into their game.Â "I think that's crucial and something we want to get across. We're playing for Sheffield United and Sheffield United is no ordinary club."
Ward's squad has been on a remarkable journey since plans were devised to reach the highest level of the game. TheÂ fixture with Durham, which takes place at Stocksbridge Park Steels (kick-off 5pm), also marks the culmination of over six month's hard work after United, who previously competed in the fourth tier, campaigned successfully to be awarded a place in the revamped division.
"It's been a case of rolling up your sleeves and having to get your hands dirty," Ward continued, reflecting on the vetting process at Wembley earlier this year. "There's been so much to take care of and get ready for. But that just makes you buy into it even more. We've still got work to do but everything will be put in place. That will, that desire to do it, is there"
With a flurry of new faces arriving at United in recent weeks, including captain Ellie Gilliat, the meeting with Durham represents a difficult baptism for Ward and her team. Although the resignations of Doncaster Belles and Sheffield FC, Gilliat's former club, have robbed United of four derby fixtures, they did provide two fresh sources of second tier talent. And, so it transpires, supporters too.
"Because we've got quite a few in from the Belles, I know some of their fans are coming to cheer on their favourites," Ward explained. "We're looking forward to a good gate and a good atmosphere as well. One of the things that's really delighted us is how people who go to watch them men have got behind us as well. That's great because we're out there representing Sheffield United. We're a part, officially, of Sheffield United and that's important."
'One of the things that's really delighted me is how many of the men have really bought into it,' she added. 'That tells you so much about the type of club Sheffield United is.'
United warmed-up for Durham's visit with Continental League Cup fixtures against Aston Villa and Bristol City, triumphing 2-1 in the Midlands thanks to goals from Danielle Cox and Tania Marsden. Despite tasting defeat in the south-west, Jade Pennock's early strike ensured they were competitive against top-flight opposition.
"There's a few nerves and butterflies," Ward admitted. "I was telling that to someone the other day. But, do you know what, I reckon that's a good thing. You can use them and feed off them. I'd be more worried if they weren't there to be honest."