FROM starting out as an under-10s side to preparing to take on Cardiff City in the FA Women’s Cup, it has been quite an incredible journey for St Nicholas Ladies.
The Chipping Sodbury-based side travel to the Cardiff International Sports Stadium for the biggest game in their short history on Sunday (2pm), having won four games to reach the second round proper of the competition.
Their manager John Seymour joined the club 11 years ago when his two daughters started playing football and he took charge of their first ever girls side.
They started off at under-10s and suffered some heavy defeats in their early years – one 13-0 loss to Bristol Rovers in the under-12s County League sticking out in Seymour’s mind – but they improved as they went up through the age groups before forming the club’s first ladies side in 2009, with many of them still part of the side.
St Nicholas have won promotion in every season since and are currently top of the South West Women’s Premier Division – the fifth tier of the women’s football pyramid – while they now have a reserve team, a girls development squad and three youth sides, with most senior players having progressed through the youth ranks at the club.
Seymour said: “It was a matter of teaching them how to play. It is fulfilling and you get satisfaction from it.”
St Nicholas have taken the scalps of South West Combination sides Southampton and Forest Green on their FA Cup adventure, beating the former 11-0 to reach the third qualifying round for the first time.
With teams from Women’s Super League Two not entering until the third round, St Nicholas could not have been handed a much tougher draw than Cardiff, a semi-professional outfit who play two divisions above them in the Premier League Southern Division, where they are currently second.
While Seymour played down their chances of causing a huge upset, he insists his side are relishing the tie.
“It’s going to be a massive game. We’re massive underdogs, but we’re looking forward to the challenge and a brilliant experience,” he said.
“We’ll go there to play, we won’t go there to shut up shop.
“For us it’s a good Severnside derby and I’d rather that than a lower side.
“We could’ve had Tottenham but that’s just a name in men’s football.
“Cardiff are an up and coming side with a few ex-players from Bristol Academy and Welsh internationals, but we won’t be daunted.
“The FA Cup run’s been good fun. We have got some good form in the league so it’s been a matter of playing and winning.”
St Nicholas are preparing for the tie professionally, with Seymour watching Cardiff and putting on extra training sessions this week.
He said: “We’ve watched them a couple of times and they’re a decent side but fitness is the key because they train two or three times a week.
“In the first half we’ll hopefully keep it even but as the game goes on tiredness and fatigue will probably tell.”
Seymour believes the togetherness of the squad has been a key reason for their success and that some players could catch the eye of clubs at higher levels.
Striker Becky Rexworthy will provide their main threat against Cardiff, having scored 17 goals in 16 games this season.
Seymour said: “She sets up goals as well so she’s an all-round centre forward. She can play in the number 10 or number nine role. She’s barnstorming sometimes.
“The team spirit of the girls is getting them through it and obviously they’re talented as well.
“We’ve currently got two or three players who could play at a higher level. That is where we are trying to get to if they stay at St Nicks. We always support the centre of excellence at Bristol Academy so they have the best opportunity possible here.”
St Nicholas have also been boosted to the tune of £775 in prize money during their cup run. They are expected to take between 60 and 80 supporters to Cardiff on Sunday, including Seymour’s daughters, who quit playing two years ago.
The tie will be settled on the day, with extra-time and penalties if the sides cannot be separated after 90 minutes.