Wolves are “huge underdogs,” insists manager Dan McNamara, as his Northern Premier Division champions prepare to face Southern Premier Division winners Southampton in Saturday’s FA Women’s National League play-off, writes Tony Leighton.
Despite Wolves convincingly winning the divisional title at the first attempt following promotion from Division 1 Midlands, McNamara sees the heavily funded Saints as favourites as the teams vie for promotion to the Championship.
Ahead of arguably the biggest game in the 47-year history of Wolves Women, to be played at Stockport County’s Edgeley Park, McNamara says: “At the start of the season it was beyond our wildest dreams to win the division, but we absolutely smashed it and so our season is already an incredible success.
“Southampton though, they’ve had the expectation all season of reaching the Championship after the money the club has invested in the women’s team.
“We get great support from our football club, but Southampton are certainly ahead of us in financial terms. And they’ve got an excellent footballing side, as we know from analysing a good number of their performances this season. But the pressure on Saturday will all be on them.
“We’ll be huge underdogs, but the girls are confident in the game plan we’ll take into the match and they’re looking forward to the biggest challenge this club’s faced in many a year. We had spells in the top two tiers around the turn of the century, but the women’s game has progressed so much in the years since then.
“It’s now on an entirely different level, and we want to continue raising our own levels. So this a an historic moment for us – and we aim to make the most of it.”
McNamara and his team had the ideal preparation for Saturday’s one-off encounter when they faced local rivals West Bromwich Albion in last week’s Birmingham County Cup final, the game ending in a morale boosting 4-1 win.
Very unusually, the manager directed technical area operations not from the dugout but via a video link to an overseas outpost of the Royal Air Force.
An Aircraft Technician, McNamara is on an ‘out of area’ tour of duty. But he was able to manage the County Cup final from afar and will do so again on Saturday.
“I’ll be steering the ship from a wi-fi room,” reveals McNamara. “Wolves provided me with a private link to the final and it went well. I was able to communicate with the staff without any problems and I have to say it gave me a whole new perspective on matchday management. It was very useful ahead of the play-off.”
Though he and his team are totally ready for the play-off, McNamara believes that the game should not be needed. Instead, he insists, the winners of both the Northern and Southern Premier Divisions should be automatically promoted.
“It’s hugely disappointing that promotion is not automatic when you win your division,” he says. “As champions you should be entitled to step up to the next level. You’re playing with people’s dreams, especially in this situation when players could be on the point of proudly calling themselves professional athletes.
“I plead with the Football Association to sort it out, the sooner the better. For now though, it is what it is and we have a big ask on Saturday. We’re underdogs, but that’s how we spent most of the Northern Premier season and produced a phenomenal achievement. And now we aim to be living that dream next season.”