Maidenhead United Women recorded their third successive victory on Sunday with a 3-0 Berks & Bucks FA County Cup success against high-flying Southern Regional Premier outfit Newbury Ladies. Such run of form would have been unthinkable only a few months ago for a side who only won their first 2018/19 match back in March of this year!
It was a difficult season for the Women last time out, but left-sided stalwart Kat Mace sees only positive things ahead now: “I hope that we’ll be making it hard for the teams at the top of the table now. We proved ourselves in the battle against Cheltenham (Maidenhead went down 3-2 to the high-flying Robins) and we want to take that same fight to teams like Southampton. Our aim is to be real contenders in the mid-table battle, but a lot can happen before the season is out. We just need to focus on our game and keep implementing what Nev (Saroya), George (Marsh) and Liam (Vaughan) set out for us because if we do the results will come.”
And it is clear that the relegation near-miss last season is inspiring the new management team and players alike as Mace continues: “We came into preseason knowing we didn’t want another season like the last. New season, new start. The coaching staff put us through our paces to prepare us physically and took us right back to basics. But they’re working with us mentally too. We sit down together and analyse clips from games and we’re seeing the improvement in the clips as well as in the results. We’ve had some great support from sponsors and we’ve had new players coming in too, so there’s healthy competition for places. We have at least three left backs for example, competing for shirts!”
Kat’s versatility will stand her in good stead in the battle for starting berths in this improving but tight-knit squad. In recent matches, both Megan Halfacree and Amber Langston-Lloyd have impressed in the left back slot but Mace sees herself as able to operate in alternative positions: “Until this season I would have said the left wing is my home, but I’ve since settled into a left back position and we’ve done a lot of work in training on our defensive approach. I still love the wing but I’m enjoying the chance to play out from the back and develop new aspects of my game.”
Kat is keen to improve her own game and her own mentality in order to keep pace with her teammates in this revitalised squad: “I think about 50% of my game is mental and we’re working on that one! As women I think we’ve grown up looking for the negatives in ourselves so it’s easy to do that on the pitch as well. I can’t tell you how much it means to have support in the stands as well as coaching staff in the dugout on match days. I think we all know I could work on my throw ins, as playing at the back means I’m taking a lot of them! I’d say my strengths are delivering corners into the box but also having the composure at the back to play the ball out or drive on with it. I’m left footed but my right isn’t bad either.
Now in her second spell with the club, Kat described her return to the Royal Borough for the 2017/18 season as “coming back to my roots.” She explains: “I came up from Maidenhead Boys and Girls and played for Maidenhead United as a teenager back in 2010/11. I then spent a period playing on and off for teams in South East London. In 2015 I moved to Cardiff for work briefly and began pre-season with Cardiff City Ladies, who we faced in the FAWNL Cup this season. Having to get international clearance from the FA meant that I didn’t see any cup or league matches but seeing the facilities available to the team, the professional attitude and the structure at the club was a real eye opener. A lot of the Cardiff ladies are Welsh internationals and it got me hungry to improve my game and play at a good level back home.”
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Mace is clearly enjoying being back on familiar territory and has enjoyed the much improved season that the Women have enjoyed thus far: “A personal highlight was the conversion of my corner in the Cheltenham game to take the lead. Another was Simone’s free kick against Cambridge and Anni’s finish in front of her family who were over from Germany. But the real highlight is in now knowing we can go out as a team on a Sunday, keep a clean sheet and compete for wins.
Arsenal supporter Kat was impressed by the Gunners victory at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in a record WSL crowd on Women’s Football Weekend last weekend: “I’ve been watching more and more women’s games as they’ve become more accessible. Jordan Nobbs is certainly a player I look up to. The way she’s dealt with coming back from her ACL injury that saw her left out of the World Cup was pretty inspiring and then scoring against Brighton. It was great to see her out at Wembley on Saturday against Germany and having a go at goal seconds into the game. I’m the same age as Jordan so seeing how her hard work pays off is a reminder of what that same dedication might do for improving my game.”
And whilst Maidenhead United Women can’t realistically hope to match the 38,000 spectators who crammed in at that North London derby last weekend, Kat and her teammates are grateful for the support that they have at York Road and beyond: “I can’t tell you how much it means to see more and more of you supporting us at games, especially now we’re seeing more young girls coming to watch. We want them to know that football is for them and we hope to encourage them to get involved. Oh and I have to give the biggest shout out to Joan, I don’t remember a home fixture where she hasn’t been sitting in the stands, so thank you Joan!”
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Mace’s day job gave her a reminder of how far the women’s game has developed: “I am a television researcher. The role changes with every programme. It can mean finding stories and people to tell them, using cameras, writing scripts, working with talent and making the tea – or all of the above! I currently work on ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ tracing back through the family history of the nation’s best-loved stars. My job is mostly trying to read scrawled handwriting on paper that is hundreds of years old and I love that I get to stumble across bits of history that may never have been told before; like the story of ex-semi-pro footballer Mark Wright’s Jewish ancestors who fled the Spanish Inquisition and settled in London’s East End, or Kate Winslet’s Swedish ancestors who were so sadly affected by famine. My job also led me to a newspaper image from 1895 of women in long skirts playing football to a large crowd. That now sits framed in my living room to remind me of how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.”
Kat and her footballing kin are looking for four on the spin this weekend as they take on Stevenage in the FAWNL Plate. And if the opposition are even half as good at doing their research as Kat Mace is then they will know they will have their work cut out against a fast-learning Maidenhead outfit.
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