AFC Unity beat Hemsworth in impressive win

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AFC Unity again continued to exceed expectations, hosting Hemsworth Miners Welfare (South) and beating them 5-2, incredibly going 4-0 up at half time. “And Hemsworth are no slouches,” said AFC Unity manager Jay Baker, “they’ve got a solid background and play strong football.”

However, Baker feels any pressure has dissipated, and this has only made his “red stars” stronger.

“I think we’re relaxed about the season, and that helps,” said Baker, referring to the low expectations of the newly-formed team’s 2014/15 season. “We’re trying to win games, but we don’t have to win games, and that lack of pressure in this final stretch means we can just enjoy ourselves, and sometimes that means the players perform better – what do we have to prove?”

AFC Unity played some fantastic football, and going into half time 4-0 up meant Baker had the luxury of being able to be more adventurous with his substitutions at a time when, as previously stated, high quality in the squad has made his role much harder.

“The team agreed before the holiday break that it was time to play them out of their comfort zones so we could get back to fulfilling our potential, but it’s also always important to remember it’s not just about healthy competition for spots but also enjoying the experience, and when games aren’t so tight, it gives you chance to make more substitutions and give patient players a run out, and so many players have been so very, very patient.”

The remarks suggested Baker is already looking towards the post-season.

“The post-season is also a pre-season, and we’re thinking about that already,” admitted Baker. “The main thing we want to achieve going forwards is the reinforcement and reiteration of our progressive values, and we’re wanting to make sure everyone is enthusiastic about that, because we’ve talked with similar yet established clubs like Easton Cowgirls, United Glasgow, and Republica Internationale, and they had teething troubles once, too.”

Baker added: “You have to use your first season as a learning experience, something to build on, and at the moment I’m clearly focused on what we can take from what we’ve got, going forward.”

AFC Unity goals were scored by Lucy Strutt (2), Shanie Griffith and Jane Watkinson, while Charlotte Marshall forced an own goal.

AFC Unity welcome Chris Honor as guest coach

In the first of many exciting initiatives to bring broader activities to first team training – from sports psychology to master-classes – AFC Unity will be welcoming Chris Honor as a guest coach on January 19th, 2014.

“We’re not even a year old yet, but we said at the start that we wanted to be a club with a difference, finding innovative, interesting, and fun ways to give players a richer experience with us,” said manager Jay Baker.

“One of the key reasons for why we set up AFC Unity was to try new approaches with the aim of getting more women – at different levels and from different backgrounds – involved in football,” added co-founder Jane Watkinson. “This includes holding master-classes – such as guest coaching, alongside involving a range of people in opportunities from sports journalism to sports psychology, and through such events, activities and roles we provide players, supporters, volunteers and others involved with the club the chance to see the game from different perspectives, rather than sticking to a one-size-fits-all mentality.”

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Chris Honor started his coaching career at the age of 17, when, while at college, he became involved with Northampton Town’s development centre, working as assistant coach as well as watching regular sessions with Leicester City FC during Peter Taylor’s time in charge there.

He moved to Cambridge United, becoming community coach with a short spell as ladies manager at just 18. He had further experience with Histon, Darlington, and Rotherham United elite development centres, where he was assistant to the under-15’s in the famous Umbro Cup, testing his knowledge against coaches from Stoke City, Port Vale, and Holland.

Since gaining his Level 2 in 2012, Honor has run his own football develoment centres and had spells coaching at Middlesbrough FC Ladies, Burnley FC Girls Centre of Excellence, and holding down a job with Grimsby Town FC, where he works alongside what he affectionately calls “a great team.”

Recently, he was open age manager of Shaw Lane Aquaforce, who beat Leicester City in their respective tournament and gained the Respect trophy for their performances voted by teams in the FA Women’s Premier League, which Chris calls “a great honour.”

It was during his time at Shaw Lane that he and AFC Unity manager Jay Baker first connected, organising a pre-season friendly with the expectations of facing each other in Division Two of the Sheffield & Hallamshire Women’s County Football League. It was not to be, as the friendly fell through, and the division was split into two, so they’ve yet to meet.

Honor is now coaching with Barnsley FC Ladies to pursue his dream of coaching in the Women’s Super League in the next five years, and also helps out with other clubs such as Leicester City Ladies and Barnsley FC, when his busy schedule permits.

“This man has staggering experience beyond his years and his passion for women’s football is infectious,” said Baker. “We need more like him, and I’m excited to bring his own unique perspective to our training at AFC Unity.”

Watkinson, who also happens to be team captain, added: “As a player, I find opportunities like this helpful, as football is a sport that can be approached from a number of directions, but sometimes people can get bogged down in the same, traditional approaches, afraid to try new things out. Therefore, getting as many people as possible involved in the club – with the aim of engaging as many women as possible by offering a range of interesting and diverse things to get involved in – is important to us as a club.”

Meanwhile, regular AFC Unity first team coaches Jonny Hodgson and Olivia Murray welcomed the news.

“Guest coaches will always benefit us to give us ideas on how they approach training,” said Hodgson.

“It’s is a really good idea because it gives variety to sessions and keeps people on their toes,” added Murray.

Honor feels the same way.

“Guest coaching can benefit both players and coaches as it allows both parties to get new ideas, and establishes contacts for a good professional working relationship,” said Chris. “We’re all learning, always; I’ve benefited by watching others coach, regardless of experience, and it’s an ideal way to get feedback on your session from a different group, which helps in coaching development.”

AFC Unity hope to bring in more special guests from the community soccer scene going forwards towards the summer break and their second season in the league.

 

AFC Unity finally beat Rotherham to reach unprecedented heights

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The underdogs of AFC Unity finally gained a win over rivals Rotherham United Development, with a 3-1 victory that puts them second in Division 3.

After a 1-1 draw, and then a 3-0 loss to Rotherham previously in the campaign, AFC Unity battled against their top quality rivals to gain only their second home win this season.

“I’m very proud,” said AFC Unity manager Jay Baker. “We played our game well, and even when they equalised to send us into half time at 1-1, we never stopped believing, and stuck to the plan.”

“It showed just how good this team is and it was definitely the best performance to date,” said coach Olivia Murray. “We played some beautiful passing football, and focused on maintaining possession, and it really paid off – everyone gave one hundred percent and it was awesome to watch.”

“It’s very satisfying,” Baker added, “because teams don’t come much tougher than Rotherham; they’ve played some strong football themselves this season, especially for such a youthful team wiser than their years, and it makes the win so much more rewarding to beat a side of their calibre.”

All three AFC Unity goals came from Nathalie Silver: “We thought she’d have to leave the club due to moving away,” Baker pointed out, “but somehow she’s made a couple of more games, and that’s fine – she jokingly calls it the longest goodbye!”

 

AFC Unity stay on course with win at Greasbrough

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AFC Unity continued their season with another win to start off the new year, again beating Greasbrough, this time 2-4, but with more difficulty than their last meeting.

“I warned about underestimating them, but I don’t think that was the case at all,” said AFC Unity manager Jay Baker. “Their lot had improved, as expected, but the conditions made everything much harder for us,” he added, referring to AFC Unity’s penchant for passing football that this time was hindered by a playing surface barely surviving recent snow, rain, and frost.

However, Baker gave credit to Greasbrough and the referee for keeping the game on.

“We just wanted to get on with our season, and Greasbrough certainly did too, since they’re stuck with a big backlog of games to get through, so major thanks to them and the referee for putting so much effort in to keeping the fixture on a day when games across the leagues were being postponed all over the place.”

Shifting up the street from Roughwood Road to Barkers Park, the official was able to utilise a pitch that he deemed playable, after some considerable inspection. Baker was determined to make the most of it.

“We knew drawing 1-1 at half-time we weren’t getting as far as we might normally because of the pitch, but for me passing football has to remain, even in tough conditions,” Baker explained, “so aside from the goalkeeper, we only made one switch, which we felt would create a better dynamic on the flanks and provide more fire-power up front.”

Three more goals would follow, while Greasbrough broke through and scored another goal themselves, following an unstoppable free kick in the first half.

But after four excellent AFC Unity goals following fantastic build-ups, and an impressive defensive display, the “red stars” came out on top.

Co-founder and regular captain Jane Watkinson watched the performance from the touchline due to an ankle injury: “While it was difficult being sidelined for the game, I also enjoyed seeing the team play from a new perspective,” she explained. “It sometimes can be difficult to take in the whole game when you’re on the pitch, and being able to watch from the side I was able to take in more fully how much effort, care, and passion every player puts in and has for the club.”

“It was a fantastic team performance in difficult conditions, and all worked really hard but also stepped up and helped each other out when needed,” Watkinson added.

Baker agrees, and feels his own players are now starting to present him with the kinds of challenges that he relishes.

“While some players certainly seemed to solidify their positions, others stepped up,” he pointed out. “And although the team really, really impressed me, it makes my role much harder because we’re developing to the stage where – especially with quality signings still being made – there are two or three options for each playing position.”

However, the manager claims that, in turn, this presents a challenge for the players themselves:

“For me, I throw that back out to the players to train harder than ever, be positive, and impress the coaches and myself to make me unable to leave them off a field for long; that’s how you get yourself game time as we play these remaining crucial games.”

AFC Unity’s goals were provided by Lucy Strutt (2), Charlotte Marshall and Shanie Griffith.