FEATURE: Sarah Wilson on our Continental Tyres Cup Ambitions

It was another memorable night in the relatively short history of Durham Women FC.

Playing in front of a sold-out crowd for the first time, the Wildcats more than stood up to the test posed by top tier side Manchester United in their FA WSL Continental Tyres Cup opener.

A 2-2 draw was the least the side deserved and, while the penalty shoot-out for a bonus point may not have gone Durham’s way, it was an evening that underlined the ongoing progression of the club.

And few have seen that progression more clearly than skipper Sarah Wilson.

Having joined Durham in 2014, midway through the club’s first season in the second tier, the centre back has been at the forefront of the remarkable rise.

She hasn’t been the only one, of course. The likes of Beth Hepple and Ellie Christon have also seen it all while wearing blue and the trio have close to 500 combined appearances between them.

Then there are the likes of Sarah Robson, Becky Salicki and Megan Borthwick – all of whom have been with the squad for an extended period of time.

And seeing that core of players grow together is something that gives Wilson satisfaction.

“Since joining in 2014, I have seen the club grow from strength to strength and it’s something I’m so grateful to be part of,” she admitted.

“We have seen some players come and go, however, we have kept a great core of a squad for a long time now. 

“Seeing those players around you develop, continuing to improve and being able to compete with literally the best players, for me that just shows how far we have come.”

And competing with the best is certainly what Durham did in that Manchester United clash.

The Red Devils’ travelling squad contained no fewer than 13 full internationals, with every member of the squad having represented their country at an age level.

Yet they were more than matched by a determined and resilient Durham, who ensured it would be another memorable evening in the history of the club.

“That game was probably one of my best experiences in a Durham shirt and a game that we won’t ever forget,” said Wilson.

“I’m so proud of the players, how we matched them and pushed them all the way. 

“The girls stood up to the challenge, we really did prove that we can compete with the best.

“Being able to match and compete in games like that really does show the growth of the club. It shows how far the club has come in a relatively short space of time.”

And another memorable facet of the evening was the crowd – with a sold-out Maiden Castle roaring the Wildcats on.

That level of support is not lost on the players, says Wilson.

“It means everything.

“The support was incredible. There was so much work that went into that game from everyone behind the scenes and we are so grateful for the team behind the team and everything they did and continue to do to make nights like that happen. 

“Hopefully we will have many more to come, but to play in front of a sold out crowd was a fantastic experience.”

One of the most iconic scenes of the evening was the celebration of Beth Hepple’s late leveller – the squad uniting as one in front of the fans and displaying the passion and togetherness for which they have become renowned.

“The team spirit we have within the group I believe is what sets us apart,” explains Wilson.

“Of course I’m biased but personally I don’t think there’s any other team like us. We are a club that are all fully committed to what we are trying to achieve, we’re competitive in everything that we do, everyone works incredibly hard and we are so driven to achieve. 

“When you have a group like that, the bond between each other will only continue to become stronger and stronger.”

Durham will continue their Continental Tyres Cup journey in the coming weeks with games against Manchester City, Leicester City and Everton.

Three tough tests, undoubtedly, but Wilson feels they can be a good experience for the side.

“We are looking forward to it and again we are looking forward to testing ourselves against the best. 

“It’s great experience for everyone to be involved in these games.

“The main thing we can gain from the Continental Cup is experience – getting that chance to play against the top teams and testing yourself is great. 

“The league is our focus and we have targets we are working towards and it’s so important that we don’t allow ourselves to get distracted.”

And with a taste of playing top tier opposition earlier this month, the focus is now on making that a more regular occurence by securing promotion.

“That’s what we want and we got a taste of it against United,” says Wilson.

“It’s something that I truly believe this club can go on to achieve and it nothing short of what the club deserves.”

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