Wolves will have to surpass themselves one more time if they are to achieve a 'life-changing' result in next Saturday’s National League play-off against Southampton at Stockport as they bid to reach the FA Women’s Championship.
Dan McNamara’s team have already exceeded all expectations by winning the League’s Northern Premier Division after starting the season as third tier newbies following their climb from Division 1 Midlands.
Sadly, however, for Southern Premier winners Saints as well as themselves, promotion to the second flight of the women’s pyramid is not automatic but requires a play-off between the two regional winners.
“It’s very frustrating that we can’t be automatically promoted,” says long serving club captain Anna Price. “Three teams from our division are relegated, yet the winners have to go through a play-off to reach the Championship.
“We feel that we deserve promotion after an incredible season, but after feeling aggrieved once we’d won the title we’ve come to terms with the situation and now we’re just aiming to give it absolutely everything to beat Southampton.”
Heavily funded Saints will go into the game as favourites, admits Price, but the skipper notes: “We were underdogs going into league games against the likes of Derby, Fylde and Nottingham Forest, but we nearly always found a way to win.
“We’ve surpassed anything we could have imagined after going into the season with the main aim of staying up in the higher division. That’ s genuinely the case, and it only changed once we’d had a good run of excellent results.
“The game against Southampton, though, will be by far our greatest challenge of the season. They’ve made the most of the huge amounts of money that have been put into their programme and they’re a top quality team.
“Their players are getting paid, unlike us, so in that respect they’re ahead of us. But the pressure will be on them, no question, and we’ll go out to create yet another upset and give ourselves a life-changing result.”
Life-changing it would certainly be if Wolves win the play-off and are thus promoted to the semi-professional Championship, with players receiving payment for the first time in the 47–year history of the women’s team.
That history includes spells in the top two tiers, though in each of them it was before the 2011 advent of the now full-time professional Women’s Super League and the formation of the Championship three years later.
Only two years, 1994-96, were spent in what was the Premier League in pre-WSL days, with a nine-year-old Price joining the club during that period and then making her senior team debut at 16 in the second flight in 2001/02.
“I don’t remember much at all about the first team in those two Premier League seasons,” says Price understandably, “but I can clearly recall playing in the second tier and going close to promotion on a couple of occasions.
“We had some fine players, including one or two internationals, but in those days the only professional women’s team in the country was Fulham. So much has changed and the women’s game is now stronger than it’s ever been.
“If we can win the play-off and go up to the Championship it would not only take us up to the next level but would also, in my opinion, give the whole of the women’s set-up at the club the biggest boost it’s ever had.”