Lewes FC will play in their first Women’s Championship match since November this afternoon – partly the result of the winter break, and partly the result of cup commitments and COVID-19.
Currently sitting seventh in the table, the side will be hoping to earn a victory against Charlton Athletic and put pressure on the teams placed above them.
After all, the Women’s Championship is looking incredibly tight this season. Third-placed London City Lionesses are only three points ahead of the Rooks, while second-placed Durham are five points ahead but with a game in hand.
For Lewes captain Rhian Cleverly, the Women’s Championship is one of the most fiercely-contested leagues she’s played in.
“You definitely can’t have an off week,” she explains. “That’s a big difference between playing in the second division in France and the second division here – you’re not battering teams 8-0 at any point. If you are, you’ve had a very, very good week.
“I think as soon as you win one game, it’s about not getting too high, and as soon as you lose another game, it’s about not getting too low. It’s about keeping that stable emotion, which we’ve discussed as a camp. It’s difficult, but winning doesn’t come easy, does it?”
Cleverly played in France for a year, plying her trade for Le Havre in the Division 2 Féminine.
She also had a spell in the United States, representing Hofstra University from 2013 to 2017.
The 26-year-old moved to Lewes in 2019, and soon discovered what set the club apart from the rest.
“The club I played at in France was professional,” she says. “But I think for me, professional means the care that you have to the players, rather than just the money side of it.
“We’re slowly becoming more professional in terms of the financial side and the facilities, but I think in terms of player care, it’s definitely the best club that I’ve ever been at.
“They care about you as people, as well as players. That just helps, and it builds the foundations for a special club.”
Dubbed ‘Equality FC’, Lewes are the only football club in the world to give its male and female players the same resources.
Cleverly also received more or less equal treatment in the US, however, where women’s football is often viewed as more popular than men’s. Her experience of how it could be done made a move to Lewes all the more attractive.
“I think just having that experience showed me that it was possible. I actually learned about Lewes while I was in America, I read a newspaper article about the club, and I thought ‘that’s cool’.
“I thought it would be a cool club to play for, but never actually thought I’d end up playing here! But it just shows that it can be done, and hopefully one day it will just be the norm.”
Cleverly did not just end up playing for Lewes – she is now captain. As leader of the team, does she feel an increased pressure to prove that the way things are done at the Dripping Pan is the correct way?
“I think it just comes with it naturally,” Cleverly responds. “It fits in with my values anyway, so I’m not trying to be something that I’m not, that I don’t really believe in.
“I think the more you get to know Lewes, the more you like it, just because they do things the right way. So yeah, I don’t think we’re trying to pretend to be something we’re not.
“As I said, we truly believe in what we do. And so it kind of comes naturally, even when other people maybe then don’t agree.”
Cleverly is now looking ahead to the remainder of the season, and hoping Lewes can build on two impressive victories against Sheffield United and Coventry United in November.
“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight,” she says. “We know we’re not going to win the league overnight, especially when we’re competing against teams like Liverpool.
“But that positive direction is definitely there – you can feel the buzz in the camp.”
Lewes FC is aiming to become the most fan-owned football club in the world. To find out more about becoming an owner, visit the club’s website.