Town up for the task

Brighouse Town AFC Women finally achieved their goal to reach the 3rd Tier of the Women’s Football Pyramid, despite it coming a year later than planned.

The 2019/20 season was one that Brighouse had targeted to achieve promotion to the FA Women’s National League Northern Premier Division, from the Division One North. While they had played 12-games and sat 3rd, behind Barnsley and Leeds United, the Coronavirus Pandemic had cut short the season and their chance at promotion. Assistant manager Kevin Heetun was confident the side would have achieved their goal, had the season continued.

“Absolutely, we did [believe we could get promoted]. We felt we had the strongest squad and the momentum to kick on after beating Leeds 1-0 in our last game. We still had Barnsley to play and felt confident in getting the job done.”

Town sat 7-points behind Leeds United, but had 4-games in-hand on their Yorkshire rivals, while they found themselves 10-points behind leaders Barnsley, but had the two-games in-hand on them. Brighouse still had 10-games to play during the curtailed season, making it disappointing they didn’t get the chance to compete for promotion.

The talk of promotion based on points-per-game could have put Brighouse is a good position, just behind Barnsley. The Red sat top of the PPG table with a 2.71 average, with Town in second with a 2.33 average ahead of Leeds on 2.18. When that idea was thrown out the window by the FA, the cub knew they needed to start preparing for the 2020/21 season.

“Of course, it was disappointing to go through 75% of the season to then be told it was all for nothing was hard to take. We didn’t get the opportunity to retain the County Cup, especially beating Leeds 4-2 to get to the semi-final against a side in a lower division than us. We felt confident we could retain our title and push on in the league.”

“That was the aim for the club and we set out with the target to win the league and moving into the third Tier. It was something we’d been working towards for the last couple of seasons.”

Ahead of the new season, in uncertain times, it was hard for clubs to know the state of play come the end of the season, if there was one (spoiler alert, there wasn’t). In many case, clubs played more games in the FA Women’s Cup during the 20/21 season than they did their leagues games. For Brighouse, it was 5-all.

“To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I felt we could have completed the previous season, rather than starting a new one. We started it so I was hoping we could finish it, but that wasn’t to be the case. We did manage to have an excellent FA Cup run and created more memories along the way, so all wasn’t lost.”

After just 5-games in the league, Brighouse Town Women had found themselves 2nd to Chester-Le-Street, who had played a game more. Town had picked up 10-points in their 5-games while Chester-Le-Street had 14 in 6 and Norton & Stockton and Leeds United had both picked up 8-points in 6. It made it far closer on points-per-game, but not enough to promoted based on one-season as clubs hadn’t played each other at least once. For Kevin, he felt it was Brighouse’s best chance at going up.

“I think we had an even better chance of promotion than the previous season. We beat Chester-Le-Street 3-0 in the FA Cup and felt we had the edge over a lot of teams in the league. We managed to beat Liverpool Feds in the first game of the season and they’re, in my opinion, the strongest side in the league.”

“We had the FA Cup too, which gave us an additional five-games, meaning we got plenty of football. The league is our bread and butter, so not being able to compete on that front was frustrating.”

When the news had filtered through about the promotion, it was more of a relief than excitement, but it was pleasing. A tough two-seasons was finally rewarded with the upward movement.

“It was a massive relief after what has been a really difficult period. I felt that all the hard work we’ve put in over the last 18 months had been rewarded and couldn’t wait to tell the players who were understandably delighted.”

“We felt we had the best chance out of all the teams in our league. We have been the most consistent for a number of years and topped the PPG, cup runs and goal-difference charts. We know how well our club is run off the field, so the only doubt was that we don’t have a brand or big name associated with our club that others use to their advantage in other areas. We were given the opportunity to move up, and we now want to repay the faith shown in us by the FA, to do well and justify their decision.”

While it would be a dream to challenge immediately after promotion, Kevin was realistic in what to expect from a tough division. The focus, first and foremost, was to stay up.

“It would be na├»ve to say we will be challenging from the off, there has to be an element of realism and caution when moving up in to a more difficult division. The ambition is to compete in each game and do as well as we can do, hopefully we can do well and still be in the division in 12 months time.”

The promotion meant Town could look forward to playing different sides. For the assistant manager, the thoughts of a derby was definitely top of his list, while some big names almost made the list.

“Definitely Huddersfield! It’s a great local derby under the lights which I’m sure will be well attended and a fantastic spectacle for all the fans. I’m looking forward to playing teams we haven’t played before too such as West Brom, Nottingham Forest, and Stoke City.”