She won’t look, she says. She won’t look further ahead than one game. Not after last season when Chelsea Ladies, favourite for the FAWSL title, lost with almost the last kick of the last match. A seasoned professional, having coached in the United States and at Arsenal, the Chelsea manager Emma Hayes found the anguish hard to bear. The next day at the club she cried her eyes out and, in a neat and affectionate piece of role reversal, the players comforted her. Not this time you feel. This time, an FA Cup winner’s badge under her belt, she is steeling herself all the way to the line.
“Who we’re playing at the end of the season, I won’t think about it too much. Otherwise I won’t sleep. I’ll get greyer. I’ll get older. To be honest, I don’t look at the table. All I care about is the next game. What Manchester City do is irrelevant. What we have is the experience from being in this position last year. We’re using that to make sure we have the compare to get closer to the finishing line. You can get distracted. It was a lesson we learned. But I’ve got a great dressing room. Fantastic spirit. So much depth.”
On a personal note, Hayes says: “I’m calmer. Another year older. I’ve been in this position before. I don’t get carried away. I don’t let anyone else get carried away, which is the key to being a leader. And knowing you’ve got a dressing room that can deliver the game plan. You’re always going to feel more in control when your players are more in control. I’m kicking less balls on the sideline watching matches! I can tell they’re determined. It’s got the right make up to be a winning dressing room.
“I talked to them about Jess Ennis when we watched her win the World Championships. That game-face of hers. She reminds me of Katie Chapman. Same thing. Has a baby. Pops them out. Back they come. Some winners develop. Some are really born with it. I’ve got a lot in here that are really born with winning. It’s their spirit. They won’t give out. Come out fighting for the team. It makes a difference when your bench are really behind the direction you’re going in and not sabotaging.”
Winning matters to Hayes enormously, but probably not in ways that would resonate with her Chelsea counterpart, Jose Mourinho. “Good thing is: this isn’t just a job for the boys, is it? Girls can do it just as well. I can do it just as well as them. I hope for women I do win it. I mean that. I don’t give a crap about myself. But tell you what, I can’t wait for some young girl to look at what we’re achieving here and think, ‘I’d like to do that with my life’. That’s the goal.
“I thought the same thing at Wembley before the FA Cup final. I thought, ‘Come on everyone, you’ve got to back the only female to win this’. It’s not just about the winning. It’s about the message. It’s very, very much bigger than us. It’s about little girls who might be a coach, or a player, or physio. That’s why I’m willing myself on. ‘Come on, girl!’
“My mum’s the same. ‘Come on, girl.’ I can hear her shouting in the stand. She even dyed her hair blue for the Cup Final. I gave her my FA Cup winner’s medal as I came down the stairs at Wembley. ‘I’ve got to give you that,’ I said. I was remember all those nights growing up on a council estate in Camden, playing football with a crowd. I’d be shouting:
‘Five more minutes, Mum!’
‘Five more minutes. We’re at Wembley, Mum – please!’
“That’s why I’m here. That’s an important message in a day and age when we mollycoddle our kids and keep them home every instant.”
Hayes has been at Chelsea for three years. “I’m trying to build something that is geared towards winning trophies. My players will always say I look out for them and support them in their lives both on and off the pitch. For me, it is very much about building a family. We all come to work with an ethos focused on looking out for everyone involved with the club. We have our highs and lows like every family does, but fundamentally we all strive for an environment that is full of trust and respect.
Chelsea Ladies supplied a sizeable chunk of the Lionesses’ squad at the World Cup this season. Hayes says: “I’m not surprised by the amount of numbers we have in the England squad because quite rightly, Mark Sampson is selecting players who are going to win. If England are going to win trophies, they need as many winners in their team as possible. With the likes of Chelsea doing well, I would expect to see even more players forcing their way into the national set-up.”
It works both ways. “We have collected more points this season than we did last year, so there is no pressure on us, we have already achieved our goal and anything else is a bonus. However, I must admit, topping the table and earning Champions League qualification is still very much at the top of our list. If we were to secure qualification, it would be all of our boxes ticked.
“For any team to win both the FA Cup and the league in this country is very hard and it is only going to become more difficult. Winning single trophies in itself is a big achievement, but it is very hard for a team to win two trophies, it would be hard for any team to do that and we’ve achieved our ultimate goal, which is to win a trophy.
“I don’t think anything could be as painful as losing on goal difference to Liverpool last year. But if we didn’t go through that, we wouldn’t have achieved FA Cup success this season. It made us more determined and hardened to win our first trophy, so it just shows how you have to go through those disappointments.
“We don’t harp on about last year because we have put that bed. For me, the pressure is on the likes of Man City because they have spent a lot of money and have zero to show for it. My team are very driven and will make sure they get as close as they can to title success. We feel very privileged to be in the position that we are in and we are going to enjoy it.
“Liverpool are not going to relinquish their title to us easily on Sunday, so it’s important we make it difficult for them to settle into any rhythm. When our attacking game is in full flow, we are capable of beating any team in the country.”
Watch the climax of the FAWSL season this coming weekend on BT Sport 1 when the title race between Chelsea Ladies and Manchester City Women is decided.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Megan Joyce is an English Literature graduate from Queen’s University, Belfast, with an MA in Sports Journalism from St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. She covered all sports for a variety of media organisations while in Belfast, and currently blogs for BT Sport Rugby and writes for The Rugby Football League. Megan is reporting on Chelsea Ladies football team this season. Megan’s latest articles.
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