Women’s football in the North Western suburbs of Sydney is blossoming just at the right time as the country gears up to host the best in the world in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
A curtailed 2021 season has given all clubs an extended lead-up to a crucial 2022 season that will be a pre-cursor to the greatest show on earth. Whilst it might appear to be a period of inactivity, it is anything but.
Football in the area has recently been dominated by the NWS Koalas, sitting in the top tier of the New South Wales National Premier League (NPL) with W-League stars Princess Ibini and Nat Tobin amongst their alumni. Newly merged with the men’s club and taking the name NWS Spirit FC, there is no limit to their ambition for the new season in 2022.
At the same time, the original women’s football club in the area, Gladesville Ravens, has been dwelling in the second tier. While left somewhat in the shadow of their near neighbours of late, they do boast a rich history.
The Ravens began their top flight women’s football odyssey in 1988 when they were admitted into the State League and they have continued to represent at the top level of NSW football since then. Quite a feat for a club without a top-level men’s team to help strengthen its profile.
Recent seasons have seen them knock off the premiers APIA Leichhardt in a memorable Grand Final at Valentine Park, and their close relationship with Japan has seen them field some outstanding Japanese players, star midfielder Yume Kashima, goalkeeping great Eri Arikawa and current star Keiko Tanaka among them.
A bumper pre-season during lockdown has seen some grand plans come to fruition. At the home of football in the area, Christie Park, the Ravens have shared facilities with their division 1 friends, as well as the NPL men’s teams Spirit FC and Gladesville Ryde Magic. A much-heralded development at the facility, revealed during lockdown by councillor and football fan Jerome Laxale, will see new facilities built to allow Ravens to provide a much better game day experience for players and spectators.
The aim for 2022 is promotion; something the Ravens make no secret of. This was reiterated by first grade coach Claude De Francesco and youth head coach Andrew Galbraith in a recent radio interview with 2RRR’s Lone Ranger Carlos Bielli.
With a quality backroom team, a Women’s Youth League machine that continues to produce players for the top level and a community with women’s football at the top of the agenda, it is easy to understand why there is such a buzz around the club as lockdown ends and pre-season begin.
“I’m really excited about where the club is heading,” said Stephen Bott, Technical and Operations director spearheading this push for the top flight.
“I took a Technical Director role at the club in 2018 and started with the lowest age groups, focusing on the u10 – u13s. Since then, we have worked methodically through the age groups growing and developing each stream within the club.
“We now have a competitive GSAP program, a youth program producing players for our seniors, and a development pathway that underpins both the youth and seniors. Off the field we are becoming a lot smarter in how we try to operate with a strong focus on self-sufficiency and long-term stability, to support our push into the top tier of Women’s Football in NSW.”
He has also been instrumental in the creation of Gladesville Football School. This concept allows players to complement their training during the week with optional sessions run by the club on every other night to allow them to work on strength and conditioning, spend time in the gym on football-related exercises or join additional gameplay sessions.
Traditionally players would go to external providers to seek additional training; this has now been brought in-house. It is little wonder that there is a great deal of excitement at the club and the upcoming pre-season promises to build the anticipation for a very busy 2022.
Even the Football School strip for the new season, a Cadbury purple in line with the Matildas sponsors, is on point, complementing the traditional black and white that the club has worn throughout its 60-year history.
The release of the NPL NSW Declaration of Leagues on 14th October has delivered on the remit that more match minutes are needed in women’s football. The newly renamed Women’s League One, formerly NPL2, will consist of a healthy 16 teams, equating to a thirty-game season plus a finals series.
Joining the league are a number of new faces, with Blacktown City, Camden Tigers and an exciting Mt Druitt Rangers already heavily recruiting and poised to make their mark in 2022. Ravens themselves have brought in some quality additions to their playing squad, with more to come.
APIA Leichhardt goalscoring star Ash Palombi joins the revolution, ex-Manly United player Gemma Woolley is coming in and former Chile goalkeeper and TV star Romi Parraguirre brings top-level international experience. They can all see the potential and they share the vision of the club for the future.
With women’s football set to be on everyone’s radar in Australia in the next two years, and the Matildas continuing to be the darlings of the crowded sporting landscape despite some recent introspection, this is a huge opportunity for clubs and players to break through and ride the wave of interest.
As the W-League expands and the NPL profile rises with it, this bold move by Gladesville Ravens will be an exciting one to watch.