From Lewes to Wolves: women’s football in England this weekend | Women’s football

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Suffering World Cup withdrawal symptoms? Disappointed that the Women’s Super League doesn’t start until Sunday 1 October? Relax, a solution beckons this Sunday when England’s second tier, the Championship, kicks off its new season and lower division sides are involved in the National League Cup. Even better; we’ve even identified matches with strong Lioness connections.

Lewes v Southampton (Championship, 4pm Sunday, the Dripping Pan, Lewes)

Remember Marieanne Spacey? As one of England’s all-time greats – and most feared forwards – she scored 28 goals in 91 appearances for the Lionesses. After hanging up her boots Spacey, now Spacey-Cale, acquired her Uefa pro licence coaching qualification and served as Mark Sampson’s assistant as England won the bronze medal at the 2015 World Cup in Canada. These days the 57-year-old is head coach at Southampton and, having guided the team to promotions in 2020 and 2022 followed by a sixth-place Championship finish last season, reaching the WSL is this season’s aim. “The Championship’s a tough league where everyone can beat everyone else but the WSL’s where we want to be,” says Spacey-Cale, whose side share St Mary’s with Southampton men. Lewes should offer an interesting litmus test at the evocative Dripping Pan in East Sussex.

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Southampton head coach Marieanne Spacey-Cale.
Southampton’s head coach, Marieanne Spacey-Cale, will have her eyes on promotion this season Photograph: Isabelle Field/Southampton FC/Getty Images

Sunderland v London City Lionesses (Championship, 1pm Sunday, Eppleton Colliery Welfare Ground, Hetton-le-Hole)

During Phil Neville’s time as England manager, Melanie Reay, Sunderland’s highly regarded head coach, enjoyed a brief stint on his coaching staff. The FA coveted her but she remained loyal to a Sunderland team now fully reintegrated with Tony Mowbray’s men at the club’s Academy of Light training ground and in the process of turning fully professional.

Two of England’s World Cup squad – Lucy Bronze and Jordan Nobbs – began their careers at Sunderland but the club has produced a string of Lionesses in recent years including Steph Houghton, Jill Scott, Beth Mead, Carly Telford, Demi Stokes and Lucy Staniforth.

Perhaps appropriately Sarina Wiegman’s side will play their first post World Cup fixture – a Nations League game against Scotland – at the Stadium of Light on Friday 22 September.

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More immediately, Reay’s team face a tough opener against last season’s third-place Championship side, London City Lionesses, who have just signed the former England forward Danielle Carter. There will also be a first look at Carolina Morace, the visitors’ new head coach. The former Italy forward, now 59, has managed Italy, Canada, Trinidad & Tobago, Milan and Lazio. Back in 1999 Morace became the first woman to coach a professional men’s team, briefly taking charge at Serie C1 side Viterbese.

Watford v Durham (Championship, noon Sunday, Grosvenor Vale, Ruislip)

Newly promoted Watford – last season’s National League playoff winners – are the only totally part-time team in an increasingly professionalised Championship. As their head coach, Damon Lathrope, explains: “We aren’t full-time and we don’t do overnight accommodation. We don’t pay enough for this to be a player’s full-time job but some footballers prefer to combine playing part-time with other work. We know it will probably be a bigger achievement to stay up than it was to get promoted. There’s a chasm between the National League and the Championship. It’s a big step up.”

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It may help that Watford are set to play some of this season’s fixtures at Vicarage Road. Ditto that they possess a former England winger in Gemma Davison. Now 36, Davison was capped 16 times by the Lionesses and the former Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea player aims to show Durham precisely why.

Wolves v Doncaster Belles (National League Cup, 2pm Sunday, Sir Jack Hayward training ground, Compton Park, Wolverhampton)

There was a time when Doncaster Belles helped produce England players in the mould of Gillian Coulthard and some current Lionesses: Chelsea’s Millie Bright, Manchester United’s Mary Earps and Tottenham’s Bethany England. Along with Arsenal, they dominated the English League and were six-times FA Cup winners, but Donny Belles are now in the fourth tier.

“It’s a shame how far they’ve fallen,” says England. “That club played a huge part in my development.” Lovers of women’s football must trust history proves cyclical and, one day, the Belles are restored to former glories.

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Newcastle v Burnley (National League Cup, 2pm Sunday, Kingston Park, Newcastle)

Emma Kelly of Newcastle United.
The owners of Newcastle have invested in the women’s team, with a view to reaching the WSL as soon as possible. Photograph: Colin Poultney/ProSports/Shutterstock

When he was the FA’s technical director, Dan Ashworth prioritised women’s football and played a big part in creating the framework that served as a springboard for England’s appearance in last Sunday’s World Cup final in Sydney. These days Ashworth is performing a very similar job as Newcastle’s sporting director. The club’s majority Saudi Arabian owners have instructed him to ensure Becky Langley’s team reach the Women’s Super League as soon as possible and, sure enough, they were promoted from the fourth tier last season.

Newcastle are now the only fully professional side in tier three and have signed eight new players this summer. Watch our for the England Under-19s midfielder Elysia Boddy, newly arrived from Bristol City. Expectations are high and some games are expected to be transferred from the Kingston Park ground shared with the Newcastle Falcons rugby union side to St James’ Park.

Huddersfield v Middlesbrough (National League Cup, 2pm Sunday, Stafflex Arena)

In 15 years at Sunderland until his departure in 2014, Mick Mulhern produced eight full England internationals while working full-time as a police detective but now he must build fourth-tier Middlesbrough from the bottom. “We all owe Mick a lot,” says Beth Mead. The past decade has seen him working in the men’s game, scouting for the FA and Newcastle, and coaching non-league sides. Boro play their first match at the Riverside on 17 September when Stockport visit.

Charlton v Sheffield United (Championship, 3pm Sunday, the Valley)

Karen Hills’s Charlton are bolstered by six summer signings including the highly regarded England Under-19s forward and Arsenal loanee Freya Godfrey. This should be among several second-tier fixtures staged at the Valley this season.

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