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Sunderland Ladies v Durham Women - FA Women’s Championship

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Lasses Fan Focus: We speak to Durham WFC fan, Mark Padden, ahead of the River Wear derby

Sunderland play their final away game of the season against Durham at Maiden Castle in the River Wear Derby. The fixture is expected to have 1,000 fans in attendance as the lasses look to finish their season on a high, whilst Durham Women try to get bragging rights for the second time this season.

Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Roker Report: Firstly, thank you for speaking to us Mark. How would you rate the Ladies season so far? Over-performing, underperforming or just what you expected?

Mark Padden: I know the lasses will be disappointed they missed out on promotion after an incredible start to the season, but once again they’ve been in the mix from day one and everyone single one of them has excelled to another level.

We can still finish second if results go our way in the remaining games, which I think anyone would have snapped your hand off for, given the quality of teams and players in the league.

I looked at the league table back in August, it was impossible to pick a favourite or say who would struggle. Everyone could have finished top or bottom, that’s how good the league is now, and for the lasses to be up in the mix every season is a real testament to everyone at the club.

The draw with Champions League-chasing Manchester United and pushing Manchester City all the way shows just how good the squad is and what they’re capable of achieving; the lasses never give up and that’s what makes the fans proud.

Durham Women v Manchester United Women - FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

RR: Who have been your top performers this season? Are there any youngsters who’ve broken through into the first team?

MP: It could be any of the lasses; they’ve all given 110% every game, but its hard to look past Beth Hepple; it’s impossible to pin her down!

Never give away a free kick in shooting range either; she’s a dead ball specialist, and there is only one place the ball is going!

A Liverpool group (Anfield Analytics) made a chart showing their attacking players’ expected goals and expected assists compared to Beth’s. They had 4 categories: “Does not shoot or create chances,” through to “Likes to shoot and creates chances.”

You’re talking about Missy Bo Kearns, Katie Stengel, Leanne Kiernan, Melissa Lawley, Ceri Holland and Yana Daniëls, international players at the top of their game yet it was Beth miles ahead in a league of her own.

Her work rate is just unbelievable; stats like that show just how important she is for Durham.

Naoisha McAloon and Megan Borthwick between the sticks have been at their brilliant best again. Naoisha only arrived in January, along with Rio Hardy, but you’d think they’d been part of the team for years.

Sarah Robson has shown just why she’s off to the Euros with Northern Ireland. Sarah Wilson has run the defence like a true captain. I don’t think I’ve seen her lose an aerial duel yet; Liz Ejupi has earned herself a call up for Kosovo, the squad is improving on a daily basis.

Brooke Mackain adds to the array of keeper talent, too. She made her debut against top flight Leicester in the Conti Cup and looked a seasoned pro already. She was exceptional on full debut against Everton, beaten only by a controversial Toni Duggan goal. She’s got a very bright future ahead

Her goal kicks are absolute beasts, too! It’s not every day you hear coaches telling a keeper to have go from a goal kick!

Durham Women v Manchester United Women - FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

RR: What is the support like for Durham Women?

MP: The fans are unreal. Everyone has a huge sense of pride and passion for the club; there’s something about them that keep you coming back. You see them once, and you know that they’re your club. The Wildcat Roar pulls you back!

There’s been some huge crowds at Maiden Castle this season, including a sellout against Manchester United. The fan base has grown massively; new faces have become regulars very quickly, young fans being inspired, watching their new heroes in awe is wonderful to see.

For the away support, it’s incredible.

There’s a group that follows the lasses everywhere, which isn’t easy given pretty much every away game is at least a couple of hours away. The last month alone, they have been with them to London City, Blackburn, Lewes & Watford! I’ve never known support like it in the women's game.

They never shut up either; they’re always the 12th man, it means the world to the lasses that fans are always there.

Durham Women v Manchester United Women - FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

RR: How would you describe the match day experience?

MP: There's always a buzz on matchdays. Durham are one of the few clubs who have their own ground, and that definitely makes matchdays more special.

Maiden Castle is a fantastic ground, close to the city centre, meaning you could enjoy the river walk on a sunny Sunday if you want! Loads of parking with ever friendly staff on hand to direct you on arrival, too.

The atmosphere is always electric; you can hear the music (which is a fan suggested play list) from the car park. Music always helps build the experience too; certain songs stick in your mind, and you remember the match because of it. A few of the songs played early on are a bit questionable, but I have my theories about which players may be behind those ones

Mark and Andy know how to work the fans and really build the atmosphere ahead of kick-off. Andy especially likes teasing away fans, so Sunderland fans, be ready for him!

Facilities are all clearly signposted with stewards and staff on hand to help out if and when needed.

Everything you need is right in front of you once through the turnstiles. Fat Frank’s Food truck offering up some unreal food throughout the game (even though a Blackburn player did almost destroy the grill with a stray clearance ) and the merchandise stall offering programmes, replica home & training shirts and various other items, occasionally a match worn shirt too. Everything is very reasonably priced compared to the cash hungry Premier League clubs.

After the game, fans can meet the players pitch side, making the day of many a young fan.

For anyone who can’t make the game, Durham Hospital Radio have full coverage of every game with John Middleton providing commentary and analysis.

John has also recently started the Durham Roarcast covering all things Durham (available on all usual podcast providers) which has proved a hit with fans so far.

Durham Women v Liverpool - FA Women’s Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

RR: Durham is an independent team without any affiliation to a men's club, unlike most of the league. Do you think that has a positive impact?

MP: Absolutely, it shows that you don’t need an affiliate club in order to grow and thrive in the women's game and that clubs are more than capable of standing on their own and forging their own paths.

It inspires young girls to get into the game, it shows them that they can play and be a part of what some call “a man’s game”

Durham have an ever growing list of sister clubs, who themselves are attracting more and more new players, often on the back of seeing a match at Maiden Castle.

A huge amount of that is owed to Lee Sanders. The club wouldn’t be here without him and his passion for the game. I often wonder what he would have said if anyone had told him when he got involved with Cestria Girls that 10/15 years later, his club would be battling for promotion to the top flight!

Logistics wise, being independent means there’s never worries about fixture clashes or someone else using the ground. They know that their budget is exclusively theirs and not a cut of the men's.

Yes, it means they have one of the smallest budgets in the league but they make the most of what they have and it makes every game, every goal, every victory, every point taken from a top flight, full time side so much more rewarding and fulfilling.

Durham Women v Bristol City Women - FA Women’s Championship Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

RR: In women’s football, derby games don’t quite have the same animosity and ferocity that the men's derbies do. Where do you stand on the derby?

MP: Before the reverse fixture in October, it was 4 years since the last clash in any competition so, it’s great to have a proper derby again.

The Eppleton match attracted a crowd of 865, and now Durham is on course to pass the 1000 barrier for a third time this season. Just goes to show how passionate North East fans are for their football!

There’s some people out there who say these aren’t derbies as derbies need that “intense hatred & rivalry” to make it a proper football.

Why does it need hatred to be proper football‽

Derbies for me should never be about hatred and violence, as we’ve seen some in the men's games descend to in recent years.

I’m a Newcastle and have a lot of Sunderland supporting mates. When we played regularly, we’d be winding each other up in the weeks before and after, but it was always in good fun. And that’s how derbies should be, at the end of the day football is only a game, it’s played for enjoyment and watched for enjoyment.

Yes, it’s always nice to get one over on your rivals, but it should never resort to violence just because your team lost.

I think with Durham being an independent club helps calm the rivalry; they attract fans from all clubs, including Sunderland.

Both clubs have players who’ve “crossed the divide,” for example, Bridget Galloway, Becky Salicki, Hollie Manders, and Mollie Lambert (who also captained Newcastle!).

For some, if a male player openly moved between rivals it would be pretty much a death warrant. Why?

I know people who say “yeah but it’s loyalty, you can’t play for both”.

Why shouldn’t they? The players will go where they feel is best for themselves and their career. If an opportunity arises, take it!

Part of me expects this mentally to slowly creep into the women's game as it continues to grow but I can’t see the players or the true fans being bothered, anything like we see in the men's game will be stamped out very quickly.

I’m expecting this to be a passionate one, more so with it being Durham's final home game of the season, the lasses will want to end on a high. They’re still eyeing second spot too so pushing all the way but it will be played in the best of spirits.

Sunderland Ladies v Durham Women - FA Women’s Championship Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

RR: Finally, our usual score prediction question. How do you see this game panning out?

MP: The reverse fixture was a close encounter. Sunderland set up well and kept Durham at bay. In fact Sunderland had the better chances in the first half and deserved a goal for their efforts.

It was only two moments of magic from Beth & Mollie that settled it (and gave us that celebration from Mollie).

I expect Sunderland to be well up for it and looking for a strong finish to the season having secured safety, equally Durham will be eyeing second spot and will no doubt be more fired up than ever.

It’ll be another tight game, but I think Durham will nick a 2-1 win.

Sunderland Ladies v Durham Women - FA Women’s Championship Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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