When Gladesville Ravens set their stall out at the end of the 2021 NPL2 Women’s season and stated their intention to become a top-tier NPL club by 2023, it echoed many a rival club’s remit and placed a target on their own back. With some bold recruitment and a structure in place to breed success from within, that ambitious goal is looking more and more likely after a stellar season on the park.
Sitting in top spot in the first-grade ladder in the Football NSW League One Women’s and in pole position in the club championship, it is difficult to see how the Ravens could miss out on promotion to the promised land.
With the final phase of the restructure of NPL NSW Women’s football giving promotion to the top two teams from the second tier, this season’s lop-sided divisions will make way for two evenly split divisions of 14 teams.
The aim of giving more players more minutes of football will be realised, with a 26-game season providing competitive football from March through to September starting with the World Cup year. With a lengthy pre-season and a finals series, this will allow players to be active all year round.
Gladesville Ravens have manoeuvred themselves into a strong position despite a change of personnel early in the season. By round three, first grade coach Claude de Francesco was replaced with Head Coach of Youth Football, Andrew Galbraith. That change yielded an outrageous 14-game winning run until round 18 when a bizarre game at home to UNSW saw the Ravens miss a penalty and concede an own goal to lose 1-0 at the home of North West Sydney Football.
Since that surprise reverse on home soil, the results have been impressive, especially away from their Christie Park home, and the club sits proudly at the top of the league.
The playing roster has evolved too during the course of this marathon 30-game season. By round 10, four first team players had gone – two players requested to be released and two others had to stop playing, one of them a major preseason signing from APIA Leichhardt, gun striker Ash Palombi, who had fallen pregnant.
When the club learned that Jess Wootton had left her club during the transfer window and was available, they wasted no time in securing her signature as a replacement. Wootton was a former NPL1 teammate of Ravens’ other star striker Gemma Woolley, so she slotted in seamlessly to the first-grade line-up.
Stephen Bott, Technical and Operations director for Gladesville Ravens, has been with the club for six years and has been instrumental in bringing the club to where it is now, on the brink of promotion.
“Our focus for this year has always been on promotion,” he said following another important victory. “So, to be in the position we are with four rounds to go is great.”
“But we have achieved nothing yet,” he added. “There are some big games still to play, and hopefully this very talented team of female footballers can help us achieve our ultimate goal of reaching the top tier. We are also in a good position for the minor premiership, and every team loves to play those big finals games – we are focused on staying fit, competitive, and hopefully Covid-free in the final weeks to finish the season strongly.”
When asked about the coaching staff at Gladesville Ravens, Bott was quick to praise his team.
“Andrew [Galbraith] has been great; we work very well together. Our club model is one where the TD [Technical Director], Head Coach and support staff work closely together on all football issues, so it is important that all team members are given a voice.”
On his aspirations for the club and for women’s football in the area, there was again a great deal of positivity.
“Gladesville Ravens is a unique football club,” he said proudly. “We don’t have the political environment that many clubs need to manage behind the scenes. Our main product is women’s football, so as a club we can focus all our energy on making decisions that are best for the women’s game.”
“As the club grows, our sponsorship needs continue to grow,” he continued. “So we are currently working hard to connect to the local business community to ensure we have the financial support to help nurture elite football in the north west of Sydney. Our hope is that if we can get the environment right then players, parents and businesses will all want to be part of the project.”
The Ravens have gone about their business quietly up until now. The club is within touching distance of promotion to the top division of NPL women’s football and a big push in the final weeks could see promotion achieved with games to spare. Perhaps now is the time to start shouting about it.
Being established in the top division in a year when A-League Women expansion is a reality and when the world descends on Australia for the FIFA Women’s World Cup will be a major achievement that will pay dividends on and off the field for this special club.