Darby aiming for the top with Wolves

Summer signing Kelly Darby is aiming to achieve with Wolves Women what she agonisingly failed to pull off with West Bromwich Albion.

Central defender Darby was the then Sporting Club Albion’s captain when, in the 2015/16 season, they won the National League Northern Division but missed out on promotion to the Championship through a 4-2 play-off defeat by Southern Division champions Brighton.

They had earlier in the campaign knocked Brighton out of the FA Cup, but revenge for the Seagulls was the bitterest of tastes for the Baggies.

Central defender Darby recalls: “When the final whistle went it was the worst moment I’ve ever had in football. I just collapsed on the floor, totally devastated.

“As I looked around the pitch the rest of the girls were down like me, so as captain I had to drag myself up and then go around pulling up the other girls and trying to comfort them. It was sheer heartbreak for all of us though.  

“We'd had a fantastic season in the FA Cup, we’d won the County Cup for the first time in the club’s history and we were so close to what would have been an incredible promotion.

“Albion have never gone so close since then, but I made it my personal goal to reach the Championship and that’s what I want to do with Wolves.

“We’ve obviously got to win Division 1 Midlands before we can think about competing at the top end of the Northern Division, but after the way the team performed last season I’m quietly confident of being up there and doing that next year.”

While Wolves were putting themselves on the brink of promotion before last term’s coronavirus-induced null and voiding of the National League, Darby was having not the best of seasons in the Northern Division with Derby County.

The 26-year old civil servant, who works just outside Wolverhampton, explains: “I’d been at Nottingham Forest for a couple of years after leaving the Albion, but having to do shift work in my job was making it more and more difficult to get across to Nottingham three or four times a week.

“Derby came in for me and it was a shorter journey, so I signed for them but I did it without really thinking it through properly. It just didn’t work out for me, so I left and then didn’t play for the majority of last season.

“I trained with Wolves for four or five weeks before (the pandemic-enforced) lockdown, but after rushing my decision to join Derby I didn’t want to jump the gun again. But I was certain after the first week that this was the club for me.”

Wolves are Darby’s fifth club and the first below the top flight of the National League. The Walsall born defender started her playing career at Aston Villa, who are now in the Super League but back then were a Northern Division outfit.

She was spotted by Villa as an eight-year-old, though not when playing for her boy’s club team Brownhills Colts. “I was just a kicking a ball around in my Nan’s front garden,” says Darby, “when one of the Villa coaching staff was passing by and saw me.

“He asked if he could speak to an adult in the house and that led to me being invited for a trial. They took me on and until I was 11, when I joined the Villa Academy, I was playing for my boys team on Saturdays and Villa girls on Sundays.”

A season in Villa’s first team at the age of 16 was followed by Darby’s switch to Albion, where she spent five years before moving on to Forest and then Derby.

During the spell she had training with Wolves before lockdown, Darby attended the team’s home league game against TNS as a spectator. 

“It was tremendous watching the girls in action,” she says. “The drive, the passion and the desire just oozed out of the team, and they were clearly on their way to winning the league.

“I really felt for them when they were robbed of promotion because of the null and voiding, and when it happened I made up my mind that I wanted to help them finish the job this season.

“It’s not going to be easy, none of us is naive enough to think that. It’s going to take a lot of hard work on the training pitch as well as on match days, and we’ll have to stay strong mentally as well as physically.

“But with the group of players and staff that we’ve got, and the excellent backing we get from the men’s club, I think we can get the results we need and then push on towards reaching the Championship.”