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“we’re all wearing the leeds shirt for the right reasons”: emma bentley, leeds ladies fc

“we’re all wearing the leeds shirt for the right reasons”: emma bentley, leeds ladies fc

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This season, Leeds Ladies FC are taking another leap forward in their comeback after being cut adrift by Leeds United, by returning to the city to play football in their new home, sharing with Garforth Town at the J.S. White & Co. Community Stadium.

“I absolutely love the ground at Garforth, it’s brilliant,” says Leeds captain Emma Bentley. “I visited the ground for a look around a few days before our first friendly match there, but going there on matchday was great.

“Seeing the stand for the first time as they approach the stadium is going to be quite daunting for teams coming to Leeds, which will work in our favour before we even kick off – home advantage at its best.

“The pitch is in cracking condition and lovely to play on, and the speaker system in the home changing room is perfect for the prematch playlist. I think it’s going to be an enjoyable few seasons in our new home.”

Leeds kick off at Garforth against Blackpool at 2pm on Sunday August 16th, and after the success of last season – when Leeds missed out on a league title and promotion by just two places and six points, handing promotion to Guiseley with a victory at runners up Liverpool – it will be a new look but resilient Leeds side that starts the season, aiming to take the club forward again.

“It has been a mixed preseason, with high points and low points,” says Emma. “After we narrowly missed out on promotion last year, some players have decided to move on and accepted offers to play at clubs in the Premier League.

“That has been frustrating and saddening at times, but I think we should see it as a massive compliment to the way things work at this club. We have the right type of coaches and management who are developing good players, and after doing so well last season teams from higher leagues have been looking at our team to strengthen theirs.”

Leeds have also strengthened their own squad, adding experienced players like defender Sophie Thompson and striker Nicolle Jepson, who have both impressed in preseason, as well as late arrival Zoe Doherty; and a number of younger players have joined and immediately shown the ability to step up to the first team this year.

“The new faces are an exceptionally talented bunch,” says Emma. “Demi Pringle and Georgia ‘Bob’ Wattam are only youngsters, but they are showing huge potential. Demi who is a tricky player who likes to drive at defenders, and Bob is so reliable, a really brave goalkeeper who gives a lot of confidence to the players in front of her.

“Thommo and Nicolle – Kolo – are slightly older and have more experience. Kolo has looked sharp in preseason and is a really classy striker of a ball who knows exactly where the goal is, and also works hard to create goals for players around her. I love Thommo, when I saw her at trials it took about two minutes for me to decide we needed to sign her. She’s a no nonsense defender who is strong and not scared of a tackle; she can play right-back, too, and is willing to get up and down the flanks.

“Zoe is going to be an absolute baller this season. She has previously played at a high level in in the States and her class has shown immediately. Her touch and movement is great and she plays with intelligence and creativity. She’s certainly one to watch.

“Those players are going to be instrumental this season, and have really fitted in well. What I love about this group is there is not one player ranked above any other; everyone is driving towards the same goal, and we all want Leeds Ladies to achieve. We’re all wearing the Leeds shirt for the right reasons. With the coaching and environment we have at the club, the young players we have can thrive and develop into an exceptional side this season.”

As important as the new signings has been the further development of the young players that showed potential last season. Young player of the year Catherine Hamill has been as mean as ever in defence, while last season’s leader in appearances, Emily Starkie, has shown her versatility and chipped in with a hat-trick against North Ferriby. Rachael Ackroyd and Ellie Hall, who broke into the side at the end of last season, both look ready for a full season in the first team.

“Ackers has been the stand out in preseason for me,” says Emma. “She can pull a goal from absolutely nowhere and has scored six in three games. She made the step up from the Development team last year and looks at home in the first team this season. I also think Ellie Hall has been great. She’s so quiet but consistently does well and works so hard for the team.”

Leeds have already shown signs of what they can do in 2015/16, beating one of Ireland’s most successful clubs, Shelbourne Ladies, 3-0 to win the inaugural Macron Cup at Garforth, Shelbey Morris putting in a player of the match performance up front with two goals.

“To be honest, from what we heard in the run up to the game, there were a lot of nerves,” says Emma. “But once the game got started, we looked really strong playing in a new formation, showing discipline when not in possession and making good use of the ball when we had it.

“I enjoyed that game a lot, and we couldn’t have had a nicer team visiting us for our first game at Garforth. The players, manager and chairman were all absolutely lovely, a genuinely nice bunch, and I can’t wait to visit them and defend the trophy in Dublin next year.”

After starting preseason with tough, fitness-focused matches against Super League side Durham and Premier League Newcastle United, Leeds have shown good progress since beating Shelbourne, with a 14-1 win over North Ferriby the next day, and a 6-0 win at Brighouse Town the following weekend, where young striker Rachael Ackroyd scored a hat-trick, Bridie Hannon got two, and Emma Bentley scored with a free kick. A trip to Nottingham Forest was the final test before Blackpool come to Garforth, and although Leeds lost 2-1 to more Premier League opposition, the performance gave Leeds plenty of reasons for optimism.

“I think we did well against Forest, considering they are a level above us,” says Emma. “There were spells of the game that we weren’t happy with but we also showed real potential and certainly gave them problems at times.

“‘Form’ in pre season has been hard to judge. The manager has been trying different things and it has been about getting the miles in our legs and being physically ready. But I am happy with how preseason has finished and just can’t wait for the real work to begin now!

“We’ve redeveloped this preseason, with a mix of young players and new faces. We’re starting this season in a stronger position than when we started a year ago, so considering what we went on to achieve last season, things are looking positive.

“We finished strongly last season and I think we were playing the best football in the league – I didn’t see how anybody could beat us. Obviously a lot has changed since then – the boat has been rocked a bit and faces have changed. But with the talent and potential in this side, promotion is still a very real target. We are going to have to work damn hard for it – and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Leeds Ladies will be playing their home games in the 2015/16 season at Garforth Town AFC’s stadium at Cedar Ridge. Follow them on Twitter for fixtures and updates. Sign up for email updates and match reports from Moscowhite here.

LEEDS LADIES FC OPENING FIXTURES

  • Sun 16th Aug, 2pm: Leeds v Blackpool Wren Rovers
  • Sun 23rd Aug, 2pm: Liverpool Marshalls Feds v Leeds
  • Sun 30th Aug, 2pm: Middlesbrough FC v Leeds (League Cup)
  • Wed 2nd Sep, 7.45pm: Leeds v Hull City
  • Sun 6th Sep, 2pm: Mossley Hill v Leeds
  • Sun 13th Sep, 2pm: Leeds v Morecambe

Home games are at Garforth Town’s J.S. White & Co. Community Stadium, Cedar Ridge, Garforth, LS25 2PF. Entry is 3 for adults and free for children under 16. The club are also seeking sponsors for the new season, starting from 30 – see LeedsLadiesFC.co.uk for more information.


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