Roker Report: Standard opener… how long have you been following Palace women and what got you into it?
Mike Cuell: This is my fourth year as a proper supporter. I have been interested in women’s football for years, but it was always just the Lionesses because for a long time, Women’s international tournaments on the BBC were the only real way to see any women’s football. I still remember Karen Carney making her debut at something like 18!
I knew Palace had a women’s team, but to be honest, there just seemed to be hardly any coverage of it, except for maybe one page in the matchday programme. Then four years ago, when the Championship was re-shaped and we were promoted into it, a news story broke about Wilf Zaha giving money to the women’s team to keep them afloat.
Part of that story was criticising the team for having advertising sponsorship of the players to pay their fees. Madness really, when every year our men get sponsored something like £2K, and they don’t need it! I had wanted to sponsor one of the men for years but could never afford the crazy price, so when i saw the article, I enquired about sponsorship of one of the CPLFC (as we were known then) players.
I am a self-published author, so I wanted to sponsor a player with my book. That season I sponsored Fran Ali, which changed to Hope Nash after Fran left, and part of my sponsorship gave me a season ticket. I went to the opening game of the season which we lost 2-0 to Leicester, but i was hooked!!
I became one of the Palace Loyal, and I started writing articles on the team for Back Of The Nest. When we parted ways, I formed Eagle Eye View so i could continue giving the women coverage, and the name was even chosen by the players.
I have been a player sponsor every season, I am very lucky to have a great relationship with the club when it comes to things like my interviews, and I have given out a Player Of The Season trophy for the last two years.
So, while it has only been a short time, it feels like much longer and i feel so driven to try and help not only our team grow, but women’s football in general.
RR: Fourth in the table after the first 10 games, How do you rate the season so far?
MC: It’s been superb. It’s been a 9/10 so far, which may sound a bit over the top, but this season we have really kicked up a gear, and after relegation flirtation every other year, to be 4th at Xmas is just unbelievable. We have built the squad well, we are benefiting from upping it to four training sessions a week, as well as from getting to use our brand new academy for training.
Having spent previous seasons watching heavy defeats and getting out played, this season it has been great to see us play so well and be the better team. The only reason I give it a 9 and not a 10, is because we should have beaten yourselves at Selhurst, and we threw away a 2-0 lead in the last 15 minutes at Watford to draw 2-2.
RR: Who have been your most impressive performers?
MC: Is it cheating to say all of them? Everyone has been playing so well this season, but if I had to narrow it down, I would say that Shiv Wilson started the season on fire and was by far our standout in the first 4 games. She has played every game and is thriving on the wing.
However, Kirsty Barton is also having a cracking season in midfield. She is going from strength to strength in the middle of the park, effecting the game both defensively and offensively. She is our joint top scorer with 4 goals, puts a shift in every game, and then also does things the goal line clearance against Charlton!
Another key player is Coral Haines. Watching her, at times she is just a class above. Quick, educated feet, with the ability to drive us forward and create. When she doesn’t play, it’s noticeable because we aren’t quite as good. If she is a sub, when she comes on, she can influence a game straight away and just give us an extra dimension. She is a creator, but also loves to chip in with goals, having scored 5 last season and currently sits on 2 this season.
Lizzie Waldie is a rock at the back, every game, she just owns it. When we played Durham, they caused us a lot of problems, but not Lizzie. When she got home that night and emptied her pockets, the Durham winger fell out! She is destined for the WSL.
Finally, I have to mention Millie Farrow. It took a little while for her to settle and get the regular game time, but in the last few weeks before the Xmas break, she really hit her stride. Given the chance, she is a double figures striker for sure, and a real fan favourite. If she can continue that form, we will have a good second half of the season.
RR: We came to Selhurst Park and managed to come away with a 1-1 draw back in September. What do you make of what you’ve seen of Sunderland?
MC: It’s impossible not to be impressed by Sunderland. One thing I find in the women’s game, is that there is so little coverage, it is hard to learn about other teams. Hell, it’s hard to learn about your own, which is why I started keeping the player stats for Palace. So, when Sunderland and Watford came up from the National League, it was natural to just assume you would struggle, as I was not aware of your previous history.
However, while Watford have found Championship life tough, you have taken it in your stride. In a league that has been dominated by the same handful of teams for three years, you have waltzed in, kicked the stool out from under their feet and declared yourself ready to play.
I had expected your form to drop off, but it never really has, which is huge credit to your team, and I think you will finish the season as one of the surprise packages, hopefully the other being us.
RR: What are your hopes and ambitions for Palace on and off the pitch, this season, and in the next couple of years?
MC: This season, the aim was to beat last season. Finish higher than 7th if we could, and get more than 20 points, both of which were records at this level for us.
Now, I would love a top four finish. It will be incredibly tough, but it is in our hands, and the way we have been playing, right now, we deserve it. Long term, we need to go full time. The women’s game is starting to grow, although it is massively imbalanced. We need to be part of that growth.
Our men’s team has been playing catch up for most of its existence, but with our women, we have the chance to be at the forefront of the evolution. To achieve that, we need to go full time, or run the risk of being left behind. I would also love a cup final, just to be unrealistic and greedy!
RR: We always ask for a score prediction… how do you see this one going?
MC: Well, it’s hard to predict because it’s been so long since we played. The run we were on of three straight wins, I would have been confident of a result, but having not played for a month, it’s hard to say where the team will be at in terms of momentum and preparation. We don’t do clean sheets, so you will score! It will be incredibly tough, but I am going to say 3-2 Palace, with Kirsty Barton, Sophie McLean and Millie Farrow winner!