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Durham v Lewes - FA Women’s Championship

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Fan Focus: Durham supporters give their take on “Wear Derby” clash with Sunderland Ladies

We asked long-term Durham commentator John Middleton and relatively new fan Ben Sellers about their club, and what today’s big game means to the Wildcats supporters.

Durham Women’s Emily Roberts during the FA Women’s Championship match between Durham Women FC and Lewes Ladies at Maiden Castle, Durham City on Sunday 3rd October 2021.
| Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

How long have you been watching Durham Wildcats and what do you love about going to see them play?

John Middleton: I first started watch Durham WFC in their first season of the WSL2 and we started covering their Home matches neatly straightaway (live commentary via our website and various apps, last year we helped provide the live-streaming too). So, I’ve seen the club grow and grow.

Ben Sellers: I’m a recent convert. I watched quite a few games during lockdown, via their Facebook page and decided to get a season ticket a few weeks ago. I’m only down the road & would often see the women train while on my dog walk, but this is the first season I’ve been along regularly. And I kind of wish I’d done it earlier. There’s a really good feel about the club, it’s super-friendly and the football is excellent.

Durham v Lewes - FA Women’s Championship
Durham Women’s Bridget Galloway, formerly of Sunderland AFC Ladies, celebrates after scoring their second goal during the win against Lewes Ladies at Maiden Castle, Durham City on Sunday 3rd October 2021.
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sunderland played Lewes with a 2pm kick off and started at 3pm at Bristol on Sunday. So the big question Sunderland fans have is why Durham Women’s games always kick off at 12 noon, home or away? Surely it can’t be as simple as travel times to and from the north east?

JM: In answer to your ‘big question’, I think it is to do with travel and costs. All matches I’ve attended have been at that time.

BS: I think it’s just about practicalities, really. For the longer trips, I think it’s really about the team getting home earlier, so the general manager here at Durham has negotiated those start times, and it’s been reciprocated for teams that have longer journeys back from Durham.

I suppose you’re never going to find an ideal time for everyone, but personally, I like the 12 o'clock kick-off, especially as it’s a good excuse to get fed at the ground (so far, always a German bratwurst!)

For this weekend’s game though, apparently, Sunderland flagged that there were potential issues with floodlighting so asked if we’d kick-off earlier, which we agreed to.

Durham get pretty big crowds despite not being linked to one of the region's big men’s football clubs. Do you think that’s part of the appeal?

JM: Why the large crowds? A family-friendly club; good infrastructure and links with “sister clubs”, and great football!

BS: I do, actually. Obviously, there are advantages to being linked to a men’s team, but what I’ve noticed in the short time I’ve been watching Durham is how knowledgeable the fans are about the team, the players and women’s football. There’s no sense in which you’re going to watch the women’s game out of loyalty to a bigger, mens team. There’s a building sense of pride about the achievements of the Durham Women’s team in the city and surrounds. And I think that will keep growing.

Durham Women v Chalton Athletic - FA Women’s Championship
A family friendly club!
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

You’re top of the league after last weekend’s win against Lewes, why do you think you’re so strong this season?

JM: We’ve gradually improved since I started watching. Last season we were second, the season before third... We’d hope to be there or thereabouts but it is a tough league and very early days!

BS: There’s just so much experience and know how in the team. Leaders like Beth Hepple, Becky Salicki and Sarah Wilson are clearly a massive, calming influence. I’ve noticed how patient the team are, even when things are not going well. They keep passing & probing. And when there’s a set back (like the defeat at Sheffield United), the attitude is just to work hard to get things back on track, with a minimum of fuss. Which is exactly what they did a week later against Charlton. Durham haven’t made many additions over the summer, but one that they did make is very exciting: forward Elizabeth Ejupi is a former Albanian international, who has a great touch, finishing ability & and I’m hoping she’ll be the missing piece, really.

Durham v Lewes - FA Women’s Championship
Sarah Wilson is one of the leaders on the pitch for Durham
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Iris Achterhof has made the move down the River Wear to play for Sunderland. We’re you disappointed to see her leave, and what can we expect to see from her?

JM: I don’t think we saw the best of Iris, to be honest, injuries saw to that. Hopefully, she’ll soon be back to her best (holding up the play well and scoring goals) but after Sunday!

BS: Unfortunately, Iris had a cruciate ligament injury early in the 2020/21 season, after signing the year before. That kept her out for a long time, so a lot of Durham fans won’t have seen a lot of her. I saw her against Newcastle in a pre-season friendly and she scored in her first full game back against Sheffield and it’s clear she’s a very talented player, so I think if she can get back to full fitness and put the ACL injury behind her, you’ll have got yourselves a very good player.

Liverpool FC Women v Durham Women - FA Women’s Continental League Cup
Iris Achterhof, then of Durham Women - now of Sunderland AFC, is challenged by Niamh Charles of Liverpool FC Women during the FA Women’s Continental League Cup match between Liverpool FC Women and Durham Women at Prenton Park on December 11, 2019 in Birkenhead, England.
Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

How well do you think Molly Lambert and Bridget Galloway have been doing since they signed from SAFC?

JM: One thing that is obvious when you talk to any of our players is that they are one big family, this helped Molly and Bridget settle in quickly. They impressed last season and have continued that great form this season.

BS: As I say, I’m a relative newbie, but Molly looks class - really strong presence in midfield. She was almost an ever-present last year and is already a fixture. Bridget is lively and quick and she’s scored her first goal of the season last week against Lewes, so hopefully, she’ll kick on from there. Both have been great signings, but the whole setup at Durham is about the team and the collective, and that’s what makes it so special.

Will you be going to the game, and what do you think the score will be ?

JM: I’ll be there! You and I know you can never predict a local derby; but it’ll be tough and entertaining. An away win, but close!

BS: I’m hoping to get along to the game, yes. I imagine it’s going to be a bit competitive! And I’m going to be diplomatic and say that we’ll end up with a score draw. 2-2 if I’m pushed.

Durham Women v Coventry United - FA Women’s Championship Back Row L-R Kathryn HILL, Sarah ROBSON, Megan BORTHWICK, Lauren BRIGGS, Mollie LAMBERT, Beth HEPPLE, Front L-R. Lily CROSTHWAITE, Bridget GALLOWAY, Sarah WILSON , Molly SHARPE, Ellie CHRISTON before the FA Women’s Championship match between Durham Women FC and Coventry United at Maiden Castle, Durham City, England on 2nd May 2021. (Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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