Are Durham WFC the Millwall of women’s football? Have they adopted the “no one likes us and we don’t care?” attitude?
For all their family-friendly credentials as a club, the team’s reputation on the pitch seems... well... somewhat less than amiable. But perhaps we’re biased, so I asked a few mates what they make of Sunderland’s opposition this afternoon.
Beef with Crystal Palace
If Durham have a bogy-team this season, it’s definitely Dean Davenport’s Crystal Palace. A 3-1 win at home and a shock 2-3 win away at Maiden Castle have meant that the Croydon side have scored more against the Wildcats than anyone else. And, to be frank, they’ve not been the same side since that game in the middle of January.
Not only that but there’s clearly no love lost between the two squads - the social media spat earlier this year testifies to that. So, when I asked our good mate Mike Cuell, from the Eagle Eye View blog and podcast, for his view on Durham he was fulsome in his praise for the club, but didn’t hold back in his critique of their on-field antics:
Ever since Palace have been in the Championship, one of the standout teams within the league has been Durham. At first they grabbed my attention because years of mens football & cricket has trained the brain that Durham is not a football team, it’s a County Cricket team. So to see them in the second tier, was a very pleasant surprise.
Then you add in the fact that they are backed not by a men’s team, but the university, and it certainly adds to both the intrigue, and just how impressive that club is.
For me, they have been one of the best teams in the Championship for the last four years, a belief backed up by their improvement in league position year after year, always at the top end.
I can admit that before this season, I quietly liked Durham. Not only their roots, but the fantastic football they have played, which has seen them beat us with ease season after season. This year however, my opinion has slightly changed, and now I seen them as a bit of a rival I crave us to beat.
What changed my view? Well, when their football and the points are flowing, you see the glorious side of Durham. When the game is not going their way, you see the uglier side of Durham. I had not seen it before because of results.
This season however, we have been their kryptonite. At Hayes Lane, we frustrated them with our defensive work rate, pulled them apart with our attacking pace, and beat them 3-1.
This wasn’t a dazzling display by Durham, but one that stunk of entitlement. They moaned and complained about everything. They must have claimed a minimum of nine penalties in the game, none of which were accurate. They founded the ref, to the point in the second half she gave them a free kick for falling over the ball, probably just for peace and quiet.
You can see why Beth Hepple scores so many free kicks, when they get so many in a game, and not always deserved. They reminded me of Sir Alex’s United, shrouded in that belief they are better than us, and so could not take being taught a lesson on the pitch.
The away game didn’t improve their professionalism. 2-2 at half time, you could argue that perhaps they had the chances to be ahead, but they didn’t take them. Second half, while their Twitter painted the picture of an onslaught, in reality, on the pitch we totally outplayed them and won 3-2.
They could not handle being outplayed in their own backyard, and resorted to fouled and ‘roughhousing’ in a desperate attempt to get the control their play could not establish.
We did the the double over them, in victories on the pitch, and mentally.
Despite their struggles since that loss, I still believe Durham are one of the best teams in the league and will come back strong next year. However, they will now forever be marked in my book as glorious sulkers, just as much as glorious footballers.
Only one of those tackles was a foul who has time to make a nice little video of all the fouls on us?— Rebecca Salicki (@Salicki14) January 17, 2022
Beef with Manchester United
WSL side Manchester United have faced Durham this season in the Conti Cup group stage, the game was drawn 2-2 in front of a big midweek crowd, and the Red Devils picked up the bonus point for a penalty shootout win. But it wasn’t the first time they’d met.
I spoke to one Manchester United Women supporter, who asked to remain anonymous so they could speak honestly about the rivalry that’s built up since United entered the pyramid in controversial circumstances four years ago. They cut to the chase:
I don’t think Durham like Manchester United! Whether that’s because we came into the Championship [without winning the National League and got promoted to the WSL] I don’t know... there’s always been a bit of animosity between them.
It goes back to when Casey Stoney was in charge and they came to us we beat them, there ended up being a fight on the touchline between our coach and their coach.
And then when we played Durham at their place they beat us, and again they were giving a bit of stick and agro to our fans who had turned up, which is fair enough.
So it’s an organic rivalry, but one more created because I feel like they don’t like us.
In terms of their playing style, I don’t really like that either. Everyone can have their own playing style, no problem. It gets them results. It’s very physical, very aggressive, and if that’s how you win, that’s great. But I think it can be thuggish in a way! Players from other teams have complained about coming away from Durham needing stitches.
And I mean no dispect to them in saying that - Stoke played that way and did well.
A balanced view from Coventry
Durham’s big-name January signing was Rio Hardy, a player many thought might go to a midlands WSL side but who opted for life on Wearside instead - albeit at the posh end of the river. She had previously starred for Coventry United before their financial difficulties.
Coventry have recently visited both Durham and Sunderland and secured a hard-fought 0-0 draws, so I thought their commentator Paul Wheeler might be a good person to give a balanced view on the Wildcats:
Durham are a very strong, very physical team and whilst their reputation for dirtyness seems a LITTLE unfair, they certainly don’t pull out of a tackle. They can play too though - Beth Hepple’s one of the most dangerous attacking players anywhere in the Championship and can run a game. They are very well-drilled but can be beaten for pace over the top. Megan Borthwick has a deserved rep as one of the best goalies in the FAWC so I was a bit surprised when Naoisha MacAloon came in.
Up front Rio Hardy doesn’t appear to have the same threat with Durham she did with Coventry - maybe that’s Durham’s system or maybe she’s just being played slightly out of position as a spearhead rather than the poacher she was at Coventry. They do like to contest a decision, too.
They’re an effective team indeed, but I actually think Sunderland are close to the equal of Durham now and this summer will be a big one for both teams, especially with the amount of talent Durham seem to be either underutilising recently or not using to best effect.
If you’re asking me for a prediction, I actually think Sunderland could nick a result on Sunday. Certainly of the times I’ve seen them play Coventry this season there wasn’t much between Sunderland and Durham and with local pride on the line I fancy the Lasses to nick a win. :)
We’d love it if Durham WFC would like a right to reply to these critiques... We did ask to speak to them on our Lasses Podcast Live this week and we’d happily publish any response to the views we’ve published here...
...but they seem to do their talking on the pitch!