Wolves Women will kick off their new season this Sunday with a trip to face Leafield Athletic, and all connected with both Wolves and Wolves Foundation will be keeping fingers crossed for a successful campaign.
Having seen almost certain promotion slip away when last season came to an early end due to the Covid-19 outbreak, Wolves are ready with fresh hunger and determination to embark on the National League Division 1 Midlands campaign.
For 25-year-old Anna Wilcox, a Sports Development Coach with the Wolves Foundation, it’s not just about hoping that Wolves Women hit the ground running at this season’s curtain-raiser.
And that’s because Anna has her own aims and ambitions in women’s football this season, as she is a highly-rated centre back with Coventry United in the FA Women’s Championship, one division below the Super League.
Coventry’s season has already begun, with a 3-1 win against London Bees, a promising start to the latest chapter of a footballing career for Anna which has already carried plenty of success.
Perhaps one of the highlights was just to be part of an all-conquering Birmingham City squad as a teenager when, although game time was limited, Anna was on the bench for Champions League fixtures and in and around the set-up for the 2012 FA Cup Final when the Blues prevailed against Chelsea.
That meant working at close quarters with some of the most household names in the ladies game, including Laura Bassett, Karen Carney, Jodie Taylor and Eni Aluko.
“I joined Blues Centre of Excellence when I was 13, and was there until I was 16 when I got signed for the first team,” says Anna.
“I didn’t really play much at that stage but was in the same squad as the likes of Eni Aluko and Karen Carney, training with them and being on the bench for most games.
“Of course it would have been really nice to play, but I had to be realistic, and just to be around top players like that, international players, gave me an experience which was irreplaceable.
“The two in midfield as well, Jade Moore and Jo Potter, were immense, and Jade has just been signed by Atletico Madrid.
“At that age, just to be in and around the squad with players of that quality showed me what it was going to take to make it in the women’s game, it was great to see.”
Looking back further, Anna’s first taste of football, attending a couple of sessions with her brother when she was five, didn’t really whet the appetite.
But a few years later, her interest grew from playing on the playground at school, and successful spells with Burntwood Dragons and Chasetown paved the way for the switch to Birmingham.
Whilst waiting for first team opportunities, Anna also spent a couple of years captaining the Blues’ Development Squad after the setting up of a reserve team.
Soon after she went on to enjoy her first spell at Coventry United, only to see a two-year stint come to an end after suffering a serious ankle ligament injury.
Following that injury setback Anna joined West Bromwich Albion during the season they won the league and cup double, although much of the year was spent recuperating.
Look away now though, as she did feature in the promotion-clinching victory for Albion – against Wolves. Ouch!
“I didn’t feel I deserved the medal as I hadn’t really played, so I gave it away to a young fan as it meant more to them,” Anna recalls.
Then came the switch back to Coventry towards the end of last season, albeit she wasn’t able to really get going again as the season was interrupted by the pandemic.
That outlines the story of Anna’s footballing journey so far, and it is one which has taken place amid a gradual increase in profile and esteem in which the women’s game is held.
“I think progress has been made in recent years and it’s a lot better than it used to be,” she explains.
“Let’s face it, it’s probably only 30 to 40 years ago that women were actually banned from playing football!
“I still think there is more progress to be made, and even now you can see players being slaughtered on social media when highlights of games go on.
“There is also still a massive gap between teams which are full time, including Liverpool and Leicester in our division, and the rest of us who have to work as well as play football.
“But generally it’s getting more positive, and to see some of the players now arriving in the Super League is a real statement.
“Take Alex Morgan, who has just joined Tottenham.
“She has got over 9 million followers on Instagram, which is actually more than the Tottenham men’s team have got, so you can see that the interest in women’s football is there.
“A few other top players have joined Manchester United as well, so that profile is still growing.
“More of the Premier League and league clubs are taking an interest, and obviously working at Wolves I can see how that has been working with the ladies’ team here.
“Last season was obviously a huge disappointment with what happened with the league, and now they have to do it all over again, which hopefully they will.
“But the way the club supports the women will hopefully make a big difference.
“Prior to Covid the team was able to train at Compton, and just something like that, being able to use those facilities, will really help them improve.”
Anna’s hero growing up was England defender Rachel Unitt, who started off at Wolves and went on to win 102 international caps, while on the men’s side, the quality and consistency of Vincent Kompany always stood out.
Since working at Wolves, another central defender has become something of an inspiration.
“Conor Coady is my favourite Wolves player,” she explains.
“As a centre half I always tend to look at how people play in that position, and it was brilliant for Conor to get his first England cap last week.”
All of that brings us neatly around to Anna’s work with the Foundation, which began earlier this year, not long before lockdown.
Having previously worked within Walsall’s community set-up, and for a local sports coaching company, she was successful with her application for the role of Sports Development Coach, and has been enjoying the challenge even if it has turned out to be somewhat different with the arrival of the pandemic.
“I had just really got started and got the ball rolling when lockdown came,” says Anna, who was among the Foundation staff who volunteered to help elderly and vulnerable residents with their shopping when they were unable to leave their homes.
“There was a lot of work done at home, and preparing, and we have a lot of projects we have been working on which are ready to be rolled out when we are able to.
“We are now back working in schools again, getting back to what we do, but it’s still not completely as it could be as we have to limit certain activities to make sure everything is done safely.
“Hopefully, as things move towards normality we will be able to get all these projects fully up and running, and that is something I am really looking forward to.”