Derby County Ladies Football Club

Bennett and Gibb Eager for Club to Kick-On Both On and Off the Pitch

Derby County Ladies FC kick off their Premier League season this Sunday when they make the short trip to Stoke City.

The new campaign represents the clubs eighth as a Premier League club and having firmly established themselves as a top half side in recent seasons, Manager, John Bennett and Chief Executive, Duncan Gibb are keen to see the club kick on and challenge for promotion to the Women’s Super League.

“On the field, we’ve had an incredibly busy couple of months, in terms of addressing the impact of three long term injuries sustained towards the end of the last campaign and replacing players that have gone to other clubs; however we feel that numbers wise we are just about there now, having managed to bring a nice mixture of experience and youth into the group.

We lost centre halves Lorna Abbey, Sam Griffiths and Emily Jeffrey to serious injuries last season, and Griff and Jeffo are unlikely to return until 2018. In addition to that our top scorer for the past few years, Mel Johnson has secured herself a richly deserved move to the WSL with Sheffield. Between them they have clocked up 750 odd appearances for the club and that is an awful lot of experience, end product and know how to lose.”

“In order to counter that loss, we have brought in two excellent replacements in Kelly Kennaugh and Andrea Bell from Nottingham Forest. Most fans of the WPL know Kelly as one of the stand out centre halves in the division, with Ewe Rams fans remembering her as the scorer of ‘ that ‘ goal that finally ended our FA Cup run last year !

“In terms of Andi she not only brings a wealth of experience, she also brings goals, with the irony not being lost on me that Mel Johnson and Andi have both scored exactly 50 goals over the past three seasons. It was no surprise that a number of clubs were vying for the signatures of Kelly and Andi, so we are delighted to have landed them.

“When you add in the signature of Kirsty Allen from former WSL side Notts County and the fact that we have retained key players with WSL experience in Lauren Cresswell, Lisa Giampalma, Molly Johnson and Leanne De Silva, I’m happy that we have good depth in terms of the know how side of things.”

In terms of youth, Bennett gave Premier League debuts to 16 year olds Charlotte Clarke and Ellie May last season, both of whom had started the campaign in the clubs Foundation side. Whilst both players moved to Leicester City earlier this summer, Bennett feels that the young replacements that he has brought into the squad come with a pedigree that will see them challenging for first team shirts with immediate effect.

“In Amy Sims and Karagh Taight, we have two teenage players that have been at WSL 1 clubs Notts County and Birmingham City respectively. Having developed in that environment it’s come as little surprise to see both enjoy strong pre-seasons both in training and matches and they are in my thinking now, as opposed to further down the line.”

Pre-season saw Ewe Rams finish strongly with victories over MK Dons, Loughborough Foxes and Sporting Khalsa, which Bennett feels has helped the group gel ahead of Sunday’s opening league game.

“All three of these sides will be hopeful of challenging for a place in the Premier League next season, so they were keen to really put a shift in against us. For me it was more about trying different things and different personnel; however to achieve that and rack up three wins as well was a bonus.”

Off the field club Chief Executive, Duncan Gibb has been delighted with the successful securing of two major partnerships and a number of key improvements; however he feels that for the club to have a realistic chance of taking the final step to WSL, improved support from the main club is key.

“Our message has been clear and consistent for a few years now, in that no female club in WPL does more for itself and the overall main clubs brand than we do, with the latest chapters in that journey seeing us secure long terms partnerships with both Merrill Academy and Derby University. The former of these has seen us finally secure a senior training facility that is in on par with a number of WSL clubs, whilst the partnership with Derby University will allow us to attract three top end players a season for three seasons from 2018/19, by way of bursaries.”

“In terms of areas where we have ‘ developed ‘, our new website is now securing well over 1,000 hits every time that we put something on it, our social media following has grown by 170% in the last two years, we delivered our latest football schools football festival to just under 70 Derby schools and raised significant funds for Macmillan, the main DCFC charity.

“In addition to that on the pitch we have players being called into England squads, whilst off it our players are going into the local children’s hospital and local nursing homes on a regular basis to provide support and add a little cheer. The cumulative effect of this increased profile saw our home FA cup tie with Nottingham Forest last season attract more fans than the men’s Checkatrade Trophy game with Mansfield, which was a source of immense pride for all at the club”

The club enjoy a good relationship with the main club however Gibb feels that there is still plenty of scope for both parties to develop it further, in order for the ladies arm to make the final step to the WSL and in doing so benefit to provide further benefit to the overall DCFC brand, not just nationally but internationally.

“There are some absolutely brilliant staff at DCFC that have helped us enormously when it comes to the marketing and media side of things, as well as with supporting our club sponsors. In turn we help the main club out on various projects and promote their brand better than any female club operating at WPL level, as the string of recent national awards and nominations backs up. Overall it works really well.”

“However as things sit we have to buy all our own kit, do not receive ongoing financial support and have had to fully source our own training facilities and support staff. To be honest we had no view either way on whether that was the norm or not, so we undertook a comprehensive benchmarking survey last season, speaking to just under 50 clubs spread equally across our level, the level above and the level below. It was clear from that, that in light of the unprecedented growth of the female game, numerous clubs both at our level and below are securing support in terms of either kit, ongoing financial support, facilities or all three. As such it’s something that we’ll look to revisit with the main club, who to be fair to them, were probably as equally in the dark as us.”

“I think it’s superb that the main club are streaming matches across the world now and with women’s football now big business globally that is something that we’d easily be able to add to the mix.

“Something like 20% of Derby County fans are female and having risen through nine tiers of the female pyramid to within a solitary promotion of the WSL and all of the national and international media coverage that comes with that, promotion is realistic and the impact of having a Derby County team operating at that level, would be felt across the entire city.”