THERE may not be any championship silverware on show in the Guiseley AFC Vixens’ trophy cabinet later this spring if they achieve their league aims in 2015-16.
But one thing is for sure. If Vixens seal their ‘Great Escape’ quest and secure their FAWPL Northern Division status, then the celebrations will be considerable.
No champagne corks maybe, following their triumphant march to the Northern Division One title last term.
But given the massive step-up in class this season, competing against a host of sides affiliated to Premier League and Championship clubs such as Preston North End, Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, Nottingham Forest and Derby County with much grander resources, the sense of satisfaction if they stay up will be well-deserved.
Just speak to chairman and former boss John Shirt and current manager Amanda Maslin-Barr and that message will be reaffirmed. And with good reason.
The signs are wholly encouraging after a fraught first half of the season with Vixens’ having recently boosted their survival fight with huge wins over fellow strugglers Loughborough Foxes and Newcastle United WFC.
Goals from Carey Huegett, Charlie Blythe and former England international Katie Anderton gave Vixens the spoils in a six-pointer with Loughborough to enable them to move off the bottom of the table.
Crucially, Vixens backed up with an exquisite 6-1 drubbing of Newcastle, thanks to goals from Anderton (2), Aimi Beresford, Keegan Lambert (2) and Bethan Smith.
Suddenly, the ‘Great Escape’ is most definitely on – with the nice bonus of a West Riding semi-final also on the horizon with Vixens facing Bradford City WFC on March 30.
On Vixens’ upturn, Maslin-Barr, who stepped up from fitness coach at the end of last season to become manager – despite not initially envisaging that she was cut out for the management game, said: “Even before a ball was kicked, I said first and foremost it was about staying in the league and I knew exactly how it would be.
“We needed to get rid of a lot of players and bring some in. We probably had 26 players (last season), but I was left with probably three of those with the rest coming in as new players.
“So, obviously, there was a transitional period and it ate into the first part of our season.
“But it’s all part of the learning curve and they are mentally stronger now.
“I knew it was going to be a big job and not easy. It wasn’t just preparing players physically for the change in league, but mentally as well and making them realise how big a jump it was going to be.
“Unfortunately, they can only take on so much and needed to learn themselves and the way they learnt was by taking a few batterings at the start of the season.
“But the squad changes needed to be done and I think we are there or thereabouts now and it is settling down and we are getting some decent results.
“The Loughborough win was probably the most important of the season, to be honest. Given previous seasons, we may well have buckled under that pressure. But with the experience we have got in now, we were able to deal with it. We played really well.”
As for life in the dug-out, it has very much been a case of learning on the job for Maslin-Barr with the rewards now arriving belatedly.
She added: “All the years I was playing, I didn’t think I would go down the managerial side. I always wanted to go down the fitness side of it.
“But John is not only a great chairman, but we have become close friends as well and I just thought I’d give it a go and I am really enjoying it, it’s definitely got better during the season.”
Vixens have certainly done things the hard way, with a freakish run of fixtures which has ensured that they have hardly played at home since the end of October having ensured that they have been on the road for virtually all of the winter, with their home ground of Nethermoor unavailable due to ongoing redevelopment work and inclement weather.
Home games have been played at the likes of Athersley Recreation, based in Barnsley, with another home game against Preston being played at their training ground in Accrington.
Despite the upheaval, Vixens have dug in and showed character aplenty, with the likes of Anderton stepping up to the plate, while a link up with Leeds Beckett University which has seen several American students including the influential Savannah Berry linking up with the club to boost their quest to hang onto their cherished league status. As for Shirt, well he couldn’t be prouder, while keeping his fingers crossed that the Vixens can finish off their mission.
Shirt said: “At the level last year, we could give sides five chances because they might only score two as you would probably score five. This year, if we give opponents five chances, they score four and you score one.
“Teams are much more organised; you aren’t going to create the same amount of chances and teams are more clinical if you make mistakes.
“There’s also some big names in the league and a number have close connections to full-time clubs and are run through them. We played Blackburn at their village which was built when they won the Premier League. It’s a different world with things like rehab swimming pools!
“But our players’ heads have never gone down, even though we took some heavy early-season beatings and we feel we have now turned a corner.
“There’s a lot of commitment as none of the players are paid and they have other jobs or are students and even some of the students have jobs as well, so the commitments are huge.
“There’s also been the lack of home games. But Guiseley have been really good, we have been caught a little bit by the requirements to get the building work finished and won’t be able to play a home game at Nethermoor until April as it’s a shame as it’s a wonderful facility.
“But there’s no complaints, that’s how it is.
“It’s understandable that the priority is the building work and they are using every bit of daylight that they can.
“If we do manage to stay up, it will achieve the objective. Hopefully we will have learned a lot of lessons to re-structure a little bit and go into next season a lot stronger than this.”
Founded: 2005. Set up as Guiseley Ladies Football Club in the summer of 2005 as a continuance of the former Thorpe United LFC.
Ground: Nethermoor Park, Guiseley.
Division: FA Women’s Premier League (FAWPL) Northern Division.
Manager: Amanda Maslin-Barr.
Chairman: John Shirt.
Honours: 2005/06: RAF West Riding Girls Premier League champions.
2006/07: Promoted to the North East Regional Women’s Premier League.
2014-15: FAWPL Northern Division One champions.