By Tony Leighton
Like Burton Albion’s high-flyers in the Football League, the Brewers women’steam have stepped into 2016 with promotion a real possibility.
The women’s side have not only matched their male counterparts by topping the table, they have also maintained a 100 per cent record to make themselves clear favourites to win the West Midland League’s Division One North.
That would give Adam Smallman’s team a second promotion in three seasons and continue a trajectory that everyone at the Pirelli Stadium hopes will eventually land the Brewers in the FA Women’s Super League.
Manager Smallman, who joined the club at the start of the 2013-14 campaign after running the women’s sides at Sheffield Wednesday and Leicester City, said: “We are three years into an ambitious ten-year project.
“The club has built solid foundations, with some great behind-thescenes work as well as on the playing side. If we can continue the impetus we’ve now got going, then I believe we can eventually work our way up to the WSL.”
Promotion this season would put Burton three steps below that level in the women’s pyramid, and they have taken their fine league form into both the League Cup – in which they reached the semi-finals with a 4-0 win against Stone Dominoes last week – and the FA Cup.
In the FA Cup, they beat three teams higher in the pyramid before losing on penalties to Radcliffe Olympic, who are second in the Premier League Midlands Division One.
Burton’s growing prominence has been part-fuelled by their move from playing on a parks pitch to having their home base at St George’s Park, the FA’s training base for the nation’s 24 male, female, age group and disability teams.
“Playing at St George’s Park is a massive sell for us,” said Smallman.
“If I want to talk to a potential recruit, we’ll invite her here so she can see the facilities.
“Almost without fail, they think the place is unbelievable.
“Mind you, playing here can also work as a bit of a negative because, when opposition teams come here, it’s their cup final and they really raise their game.
“You see them taking selfies, as often as not next to the David Beckham pitch sign.
“Everyone thinks it’s fantastic that a small club like ours can be sharing a facility like this with the very top England players at every international level.”
The ‘selling’ power of the now world-renowned FA facility has helped Smallman bring in several players who were previously attached to bigger clubs, such as Birmingham City, Aston Villa, Leicester City and Stoke City.
Winger Laura Sears, a former Derby County player, who joined the Brewers at the start of the season, said: “I’d never been to St George’s Park before, but the place is amazing and it’s fantastic to be able to train and play matches there.
“I settled into the club very quickly and I’m really enjoying my football here. We’ve got a really good squad of players, a great bunch of girls, and I’m 100 per cent confident that we’ll win promotion this season.”
Key signings such as Sears apart, the Brewers team is made up of talented local girls who have come through the club’s ranks of youth and development teams.
The club has come a long way since it re-formed in 2000 after being disbanded.
Secretary Gill Banton, a major driving force from day one, said: “We started with an Under-12 team and had only ten players in our first season.
“But we’ve now got more than 120 players registered in our youth and senior teams and it’s been great to see the club grow so successfully.
“Hopefully, we can keep progressing to put ourselves on the map nationally, as well as locally.”