As we prepare to close the book on 2020, we take a look back at the last twelve months at Durham Women FC.
It’s been a year like no other, and we recap all the big headlines of every month throughout the year….
We began 2020 with a visit from Leicester City who, buoyed by the big-name signings of Charlie Devlin and Ella Rutherford, were a far different proposition from the side who had been beaten 5-1 on the opening day of the 2019/20 season.
A goal from Molly Sharpe proved enough for a 1-0 win – as she fired home from range after a defensive mix-up.
The following week saw London City Lionesses visit New Ferens Park, where an early own-goal wasn’t enough for victory – as Kallie Balfour’s long-range strike earned the Lionesses a point.
Our month ended at Bristol City where, despite a spirited display against the top tier side, we came unstuck in extra time and exited the FA Cup at the fourth round stage.
Off the field, there were ins and outs during the January transfer market. As Lisa Robertson and Megan Bell left, in came Danielle Cox and Eleanor Dale.
And there was news of an exciting partnership for the club, as we teamed-up with Cooper Durham BMW and Mini in a groundbreaking agreement.
Little did we know it at the time, but February would see our final game of the 2019/20 season played.
That came at Blackburn Rovers, where goals from Eleanor Dale and Molly Sharpe saw us run-out 2-0 winners.
Our game the following weekend – which would have been an intriguing clash with Aston Villa – was postponed due to the effects of Storm Ciara.
There was good news for our Academy side during the month, as they beat Manchester City in the Barclays FAWSL Academy Cup – having already beaten Manchester United in the same competition.
Sadly, due to what would pan out over the coming months, they wouldn’t get a chance to play their semi-final tie.
Perhaps the strangest month of the year, with the country plunged into lockdown and football postponed indefinitely.
Our game with London Bees has already fallen victim to the weather before the 2019/20 season was suspended – first for two weeks, later indefinitely.
But we weren’t completely out of action. We filled the void of no football by taking in a virtual game against Sheffield United – where fans were able to make all the calls.
And you did a superb job as we ran-out 1-0 winners, thanks to a Becky Salicki header.
Yet another strange month, with football still on hiatus and players training at home.
We kept engaging with our fans via some inventive means, too, and held a women’s football quiz via Zoom – which saw fans of all clubs (plus some of our players and staff) take part.
And our players remained as tight-knit as ever, taking part in a ‘Ready Steady Cook’ competition (via Zoom) as they showed us their culinary skills!
There was excellent news for our Girls’ Football Academy at Durham Sixth Form Centre, too – as they were named National Football Youth League champions for the 2019/20 season.
May brought some clarity over the remainder of the 2019/20 FA Women’s Championship season, as it was decided that the season would be terminated.
Aston Villa were named worthy champions, while we finished third on the points-per-game metric applied to the division.
Our players were busy off the field too, as they took part in a virtual bike ride from Durham to Wembley to raise vital funds for the Trussell Trust and Durham Foodbank.
A substantial sum was raised, thanks to the superb generosity of our supporters.
Work continued to get the club back into training, as more details emerged as to how teams could return to training in a COVID-safe manner.
But while on-field work was still paused, Lee Sanders was wasting no time in completing some off-field business.
And June brought the announcement that popular forward Emily Roberts, freshly returned from injury, had penned a new two-year contract with the club.
Things really clicked into motion in July, as we returned to full training at Maiden Castle and secured the signatures of some key players.
Sarah Robson, Beth Hepple, Becky Salicki, Sarah Wilson, Nicki Gears, Kathryn Hill, Ellie Christon, Megan Borthwick and Iris Achterhof all signed new deals as the core of our squad started to take shape.
And there were two new arrivals too, as Mollie Lambert and Bridget Galloway joined the club.
After months of waiting – football was BACK in August!
The Wildcats were straight into the thick of pre-season as they faced Blackburn Rovers, Sheffield United (twice), Glasgow City and Everton during the month of August – all building-up to the season opener at Liverpool in early September.
There was more contract news too, with Abby Holmes, Lauren Briggs and Molly Sharpe committing their futures to the club.
All the months of hard work were building up to this – the return of the FA Women’s Championship season.
Durham began the month at title favourites Liverpool, and gained a well-earned point courtesy of Beth Hepple’s late leveller at Prenton Park.
August also brought news of a move to new surroundings, as the club confirmed the switch to Maiden Castle for the 2020/21 season.
And the first game at the new home ground ended in victory – thanks to Beth Hepple’s brace and a fine Emily Roberts strike against Lewes.
There was one final home game before September was out, too. Hepple again was on the scoresheet as we beat London City Lionesses by a single goal.
Another busy month brought no fewer than four fixtures in fourteen days in both league and cup.
We began the month away at Leicester City who, having become a full-time side during the summer, provided a stern test.
Emily Roberts netted the opener before Remi Allen levelled after the break.
Beth Hepple’s free-kick looked to have sealed us victory before Lachante Paul fired home in stoppage time.
Our focus then temporarily shifted to the Continental Tyres Cup, wtih Coventry beaten 5-2 at Maiden Castle.
Beth Hepple netted a hat-trick while Molly Sharpe and Bridget Galloway got their first goals of the season in the rout.
The game also saw a trio of youngsters – Lily Crosthwaite, Grace Ayre and Brooke Mackain – make well-deserved first-team debuts.
Hepple would again be the hero the following weekend, as Crystal Palace came to town – her two free-kicks sealing a 2-0 win.
And the month would end with another win, this time a scrappy one at London Bees. Becky Salicki and Molly Sharpe the scorers as we were made to come from behind.
The football kept on coming thick and fast, and we began the penultimate month of the year with a Continental Cup group stage game at Sheffield United.
And on what can only be described as a surreal evening in South Yorkshire, the Wildcats ran out 6-0 winners – with six different scorers all-but sealing our progression to the next round of the competition.
The following weekend brought a tough test from Charlton Athletic, who became the first visiting side to score in the league at Maiden Castle through Lois Heuchan’s header.
That saw the Addicks looking set for three points, before Bridget Galloway scored with the last kick of the game to steal a point.
It was then back to Sheffield United on Women’s Football Weekend, where the Wildcats came up against a promotion rival in a pivotal fixture.
And after weathering the storm for much of the first half, Nicki Gears’ second half header was enough for us to claim a 1-0 win on our travels.
The month ended with our final Continental Cup game against top tier Aston Villa – where penalties were needed to separate the sides after a 1-1 draw.
It was a point that still saw us into the knockout stages though, for the first time in our history.
There was a new name among our ranks for the visit of Villa too, with winger Danielle Brown having put pen to paper.
November also saw us team-up with local charity Amber’s Law – who became our first ever Charity Partners. Their logo will remain on our sleeves throughout the season.
And we also began our drive to #ENDCHILDFOODPOVERTY – a campaign which raised over £2,400 to help those in need.
This was always going to be a pivotal month as Durham faced three tricky tests – with in-form Blackburn the first side to come to the North East during December.
That game ended in a 0-0 draw, in what was a game of few real chances.
We then moved on to Coventry – and it was perhaps fitting that the final month of a year like no other included a game like no other.
Having been 3-1 behind at half-time after Beth Merrick’s hat-trick, the Wildcats mounted a superb second half comeback to take the three points.
Emily Roberts netted twice and Sarah Robson scored a fine shot on the spin as we overcame the deficit to keep pace at the top of the table.
And the year ended with a visit from Liverpool – who were beaten thanks to stunning goals from Molly Sharpe and Emily Roberts.
And that was all she wrote for 2020.
It’s been a year like no other, but another one which has seen the football club take some real steps forward – both on and off the field.
So thank you, for being with us every step of the way.