It was a season of transition for our women’s team who, last summer, were under the reigns of a new manager, Scott Booth.
Plenty of new signings came through the door in what was a big shakeup of the squad from the previous season. A squad though, that unsurprisingly to us, became a history-making group of players.
A special group of players that came together and made us all so proud, on and off the pitch, on more than one occasion.
The season started off with a very difficult away trip to Scott’s former side Birmingham City, whom he had managed the season before. It was a tough battle with the Blues that ended in a 0-0 draw to start the season with a point away from home.
That seemed to be the theme going forward with Scott left frustrated at three more draws in a row. A 2-2 draw with Southampton, a 0-0 with London Bees and 2-2 with Sheffield United, all at the Dripping Pan.
Scott joked later in the season “that doesn’t happen in football” talking about the four draws in a row.
A positive followed with the Rooks getting their Conti Cup season off to a great start beating a strong Charlton Athletic side 2-0 thanks to goals from Paula Howells and Ellie Hack.
A defeat to Durham followed in the league but Scott’s side responded brilliantly with three-straight wins over Charlton, Coventry United, and Sunderland to put the Rooks in a great position in the league.
They then made it two wins from two in the Conti Cup with a highly impressive 4-1 away win at Crystal Palace thanks to an Emma Thompson brace who was enjoying a brilliant season on-loan from Chelsea.
Into January and London Bees visited the Dripping Pan to kick-off our eventual, historic run in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup.
Scott highlighted the desire to do well in the competition but more importantly, to not take any opposition for granted.
His side made no mistake and ran out emphatic, 5-0 winners over the Bees including a goal of the season contender from Ellie Mason, for her solo run up-field and striking from the edge of the box. This also included one of the funnier moments of the season with Paula Howells being knocked out in the celebration!
An impressive win over Southampton at St. Mary’s followed thanks to an Emily Kraft header and a Player of the Match performance from the safe hands of Sophie Whitehouse, who reaped the rewards at the end of season awards.
The Fourth Round of the FA Cup was a tricky away trip to third tier promotion hopefuls, Ipswich Town. It’s fair to say it was an FA Cup game of little magic until Kraft stepped up and produced an incredible strike from distance to send the Rooks through to the fifth.
Tough defeats in the league came after to Birmingham and Bristol City but then, FA Cup magic returned to the Dripping Pan as the lowest ranked side, Cardiff City, were the visitors.
Once again, we made no mistakes, and with an injury to Kraft, Mason jumped from defence to attack to produce a striking masterclass, finishing four-times to help us to a 6-1 win.
That was that. History makers. Quarter-Finalists in the FA Cup for the first time in the club’s history. Who better to be the opponents than one of the most famous names in football, Manchester United.
Following the draw, Scott joked “do you call that a good draw?!”
Perhaps he had his competitive hat on. But this was so much more than that. It meant almost 3,000 fans packed into the Pan, it meant the BBC cameras in attendance, it meant the biggest platform the club had ever been on.
Of course, we are Lewes, we are fans of the change, and we knew we had a big opportunity off the pitch here as well.
As part of our #EqualFACup campaign, the players released an open letter to Karen Carney ahead of the Women’s Football Review to equal the FA Cup prize money in the women’s game.
For that, they did us so proud. But on the pitch? Of course they did us even more proud.
Despite going two goals down, Kraft produced a moment of sheer FA Cup magic to beat Mary Earps from distance and lift the roof off the Pan.
It unfortunately wasn’t enough to beat the eventual finalists, but a day that will live long in the memory, a day that will stay in the history books.
Ellie Mason continued her fine form as a striker in the following game though against Sheffield United with two goals to help us to a 3-2 win at Bramall Lane.
Scott was desperate for a strong finish to the season, and try to cement a top half finish, but it wasn’t to be. Despite a 1-0 win over Blackburn Rovers at home, defeats to Crystal Palace, a reverse fixture defeat to Blackburn, and a final day loss to Durham, meant we had to settle for ninth place.
As always, a season of highs and lows. But highs that gave us some special moments thanks to a special group of players that this season, were writing their own headlines. Thank you all, once again, for being part of it.
2023/24 – see you then. The journey continues.