“I can definitely see Lewes being a [Women’s] Super League club,” head-coach Simon Parker tells GiveMeSport Women.
Currently, the side compete in the FA Women’s Championship, having finished fifth in women’s football’s second-tier last season.
It’s been a remarkable rise for a team only established in 2002. The club started in the South East Counties football league and has climbed through the football pyramid within the last decade.
It’s not Lewes’s rapid ascendence through the ranks which is most noteworthy, however. Rather, it’s their mantra off the pitch that makes them trailblazers of the football world.
In 2017, the side became the first professional or semi-professional football club to pay its women’s team the same as the men’s team as part of their Equality FC initiative.
And Parker, who took over managerial duties from Fran Alonso in January 2020, says this ethos pervades throughout the organisation, not just when it comes to finances.
He credits CEO Maggie Murphy, who was previously the General Manager of the women’s side, for bridging the gap between the teams and bringing the club together.
“It’s nice actually. At the moment, we have a couple of the men’s players that actually train with us as we train in the morning. So yeah, it’s great that this season we’ve been more connected.
“I know that was something when Maggie went from our GM to the CEO –– she wanted to kind of bridge that gap a little bit and bring the two teams together.”
It’s a culture that has already led to success for both teams on the field. The Lewes men’s team sit fifth in the Isthmian League after six games, while the women registered their first win of the campaign against London City Lionesses last week.
It was a crucial victory for Parker’s side, who were unlucky not to pick up points against the recently relegated Bristol City in their first outing of the season. What pleased the manager most though, was the spirit of the side –– something he feels the team have lacked at times.
“It was nice that in the game against London City we showed character when potentially the quality wasn’t there and we weren’t keeping the ball. We had a bit of fight about us.
“So from that perspective it was positive and it was a better team performance but the quality, especially in the second half of the game was scrappy, so we aren’t happy in that aspect.”
Having this inner belief and the correct mindset is something Parker feels passionately about. Lewes employ two sports psychologists who help in this aspect, and the Englishman hopes this will help his side cope in the crucial moments.
“It’s something that’s important to us,” he stresses. “I don’t know necessarily if I’m bringing it out in them or I’m finding ways to do that but it is really important.
“We know in sport that a lot of things are going to go against you –– whether that’s just moments of the game, refereeing decisions or whatever it might be. So we have to be able to deal with that adversity. So yeah, it’s a massive, massive part of the game and it’s really important to us.”
The past couple of seasons have seen a steady improvement in terms of league positions. Lewes finished eighth in the curtailed 2019/20 campaign and managed fifth place last year, but Parker stresses the aim to keep improving.
The Lewes boss is happy with his squad this season, though he admits the team need to find more goals from somewhere.
“The players that we brought into the group and those that have stayed we’re really happy with. We did want to make a few changes to the squad so we have done that and we do want to be slightly more progressive with our play.
“Last season, especially the first half of the year we were very organised defensively but we didn’t create a lot, so that’s something we want to improve on.”
Leicester City won the Championship by eight points last season, while Durham, Liverpool and Sheffield United all finished some way ahead of Lewes in terms of victories.
This year, however, Parker feels the standard of the league is a lot more competitive, with all to play for.
“For me, the quality has improved and you can see there’s a lot more players that are maybe in the league now that have previously played in the Super League, whereas before that maybe wasn’t the case.”
Asked if he can see Lewes as a WSL club in the future, Parker stresses the club is very ambitious, but that it’s important to stay grounded.
“I can definitely see Lewes being a Super League club. Obviously, if we do everything right off the field and we train the players right and we create the right environment, then of course anything is possible. Our aim is to do it sooner rather than later. “
There is talk of the WSL expanding at some point in the near future, and if that is the case, then Lewes may well be one of the sides to benefit. For now, though, the aim is simply to be as competitive as they can be in every game.
“We also know that the game is growing and the league could potentially grow as well. If we’re there in and around the mix, then potentially if we’re higher up the table and they decide to go into a 14, 16 or 18 team Super League then there might be that way as well. But we’ll have to wait and see what happens…”
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