Last season Sheffield FC made their debut in FAWSL after becoming the first ever team to be promoted from the Women’s Premier League via the play offs. After a tough start to the season Sheffield started to get to grips with playing at a higher level and finished the season in a very credible 5th place. “We were pleased overall with how things went” said head coach Zoe Johnson speaking to Sports International magazine. “We suffered some close defeats in the opening games; 1-0,2-1 etc but we learnt some valuable lessons in those early weeks which stood us in good stead for the season” .
Not only was it Sheffield FC’s first season at FAWSL 2 level but it was also the first season in charge for Zoe who took over the reins from Helen Mitchell following the club’s promotion. “It was challenging as I took over a week before the season started so I didn’t have a pre season with them (the team) It was my first season, the clubs first season (at FAWSL 2 level) and many of the players’ first season at the club and we all got through it together...I> have a fantastic coaching team that work alongside me and the girls really bought into what we were trying to do”.
The club have been busy in the closed season and have re-signed many of the players that performed so well for them in 2016. The addition of former Manchester City and Notts County striker Natasha Flint who has most recently been playing for AFC Fylde, and Johnson firmly believes that she could make a real difference on and off the pitch for the club. “Tash is an absolutely fantastic player and to have somebody like her here is a real statement of the> club’s ambition. Her ability on the ball is fantastic and everybody in the game knows she is proven at FAWSL 1 level. The big thing for Tash is to get her back loving her football again”.
Before taking the head coach role Zoe was head coach of the club’s development side, so it’s no surprise to hear that some of the club’s promising youngsters are in her plans for 2017 after they took the decision to introduce some of them to the first team during the last few games of the 2016 season. “It’s something I am massively passionate about, bringing the younger players through. We’ve put a lot of time, effort and finances into out development squad”. Towards the back end of the season Sheffield gave some of the young talents a chance in the first team with the likes of Chloe Dixon and Sarah Jackson getting a go, and it’s something Zoe is keen to do more of in the Spring Series. “The younger players really stepped up and played a big part last season and we are going to be giving more of our development squad a chance in the Spring Series”
2017 promises to be a challenging year for all FAWSL clubs as the league makes the transition from a summer league to a winter league. To bridge the gap the FA has set up the Spring Series. The format for this being each club will play all the others in their division once. This has been introduced to avoid a period of nearly a year without football for the clubs. Although they are being billed as competitive games, Sheffield will be using these matches to try out certain players and formations, ready for when the real stuff starts in September. “It’s a tough one” Zoe replied when asked about the balance between winning games and experimenting. “We want to win as many games as we can but equally we are going to be trying new things out...The aim is to be ready for the summer” (when the 2017/18 season kicks off).
So what are the goals for Sheffield in 2017? “As a staff and a team we sat down and we want to improve on the last season” said Zoe as I asked her about the clubs targets. “Whether we finish in a higher league position or see an improvement in performances, I don’t think we have seen the squad we have perform to its best ability just yet... We have asked the players to set their own target and that was to finish top of the league but every player’s will be saying that”.
The sense I got from chatting to Zoe was that Sheffield is a club going places and well balanced. It was be fascinating to see them develop this year and Sports International will be watching with great interest.