EULFC 1sts bounced back from a mediocre previous campaign to win the league in style. Finishing in first place in the Western 1A league, the team tripled the points earned in the previous season; topping the table with an impressive total of 24. Winning eight out of ten league games the 1sts finished 2 points ahead of closest league rivals Cardiff Met 2nds. To sweeten the deal, Exeter beat the Cardiff team twice in head to head league games in addition to a 4-2 win in the last 16 of the cup. Losing to St Mary’s Twickenham in the quarter-finals the following week was easy to take with a league win still in firm sights.
Captained by Lana Richards, the team have become the highest placed in EULFC history. The only two league losses happened early on in the season with the Exeter team still finding their feet, having welcomed around 5 changes to the 2014/15 squad. A long journey to 4th place Bournemouth in mid-October resulted in a 3-1 defeat and a controversial home encounter against Bristol resulted in a narrow 3-2 loss; a last minute goal hitting hard in a well fought battle. The response to this game against Bristol shaped the rest of the season as the women’s first team went on to win 7 games in a row.
The league was well and truly taken into Exeter’s hands with a 3-1 win away to Bristol on 10th February. All that was needed from here on in was a point in the final fixture on 9th March at home to Southampton Solent 1sts. With the cup games in between, the team prepared for their biggest game yet. Families and friends were set to travel to Exeter to watch the league deciding clash with 90 fans having clicked attending on Facebook. The excitement, tension and nerves heightened ahead of the season’s decisive grand finale only for the Athletic Union to reveal 24 hours before that Solent were unable to field a team. With that, came three points and the league was won. Exeter were announced league champions.
Despite having been unable to play the final match and feel the euphoria at that final whistle, everything that the players had put into the season had paid off. Club Captain Alicia Gibbs expressed the team’s disappointment at the anticlimactic end stating that “we were all initially very disappointed that the game was cancelled because of all the preparation we’d done for it and we had wanted to celebrate on the final whistle. However, by the time we were at training on the Tuesday evening it had sunk in and everyone was very excitable”. Alicia spoke of her personal delight and said: “it is the best way to finish my university experience”.
The acquisition of a new training coach at the beginning of the season brought an air of excitement and a new lease of life to the club which is not to be overlooked in the success of the team. A host of new drills and fresh ideas gave the players additional ways to develop and succeed. EULFC adopted a patient passing game, making use of the pace on both flanks from Nia Lewis and Amy Clegg in order to outplay their opponent’s week in week out. The powerful centre-back duo of final year student Kirstin McGregor and future Club Captain Chloe Bland was fundamental to the victory of the team. Their strength, co-ordination and leadership at the back provided firm foundations to work with. The added bonus of Bland’s Rory Delap style throw-ins gave Exeter an advantage oppositions were totally astounded by.
The first team have now turned their attention to securing promotion to the Premier South division. Only a play-off match against South Eastern 1A league table toppers, St Mary’s Twickenham, stands in Exeter’s way.
Imogen Wade-Palmer, EULFC