Sports reporter Sophie Evans spoke exclusively to Leyton Orient Women FC about their return to the pitch, following the government’s ‘roadmap out of lockdown’…
Leyton Orient Women are set for a return to action following months of uncertainty in lockdown.
In the first stage of a four-part roadmap, Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed an easing of restrictions on organised sport, including grassroots football, from 29th March.
Measures will be relaxed step-by-step across England, reverting from the previous regional tier system to allow all non-elite teams to resume nationally in spring.
While The FA Women’s National League are yet to publish their contingency plan, they have announced on Twitter that work is underway behind the scenes to see the return of the league in April.
The news has given Orient players a much-needed boost after a tough period of inaction, since their dramatic 2-1 victory against Actonians in the Vitality FA Cup in December.
The O’s staged a comeback with two goals (in the 90th minute) to move to the second round of the competition. However, they have since been unable to return to their new home at the Hornchurch Stadium due to lockdown restrictions, under which only the Women’s Super League and Championship have been able to continue.
For forwards Nyara Denny and Scarlett Smith, the prospect of being able to interact with teammates again is what excites them about going back to training.
“I miss playing games and seeing everyone, because the social aspect is huge. It’s a great team, everyone is so warming and fun,” Denny says.
And as she nears retirement, Smith highlights how this element of the game has sustained her long-time interest in football at both professional and non-elite level.
“I’m coming to the end of my career now, so that social side and that bit of time for myself is so important. It’s the reason why I love football and why I’ve been involved in it for 25 years.”
The O’s managed to play just three fixtures before lockdown postponed their future matches, preventing the team from finding a rhythm amidst constant disruption.
Whilst crediting the club for organising twice-weekly online fitness sessions during lockdown, Smith cites the stop-start nature of the season as the greatest challenge after more than a year out from football.
“It is a bit gutting that whether you’re just starting out or whether you’re like me at the end of your career or returning from a serious injury, we’ve not been able to gain any momentum with fitness or match fitness.”
As one of the team’s junior talents, former Brighton & Hove Albion striker Denny has made use of the season’s postponement by continuing to work towards her goal of one day re-joining the Women’s Super League.
“Developing players in the WSL and Championship have had an advantage during this time, but I’ve been training regardless of the lockdown situation. I’ve used it to work on my aerobic endurance and have been training in the morning and at night at around 10pm.
“Who’s training at night time? Nobody, so I’m getting more experience and training time and trying to use that to my advantage.”
After lockdown transformed football from a team sport to an individual activity, the O’s can now look forward to reuniting as a collective force to be reckoned with in the Women’s National League.
“Nothing beats the team spirit, the feeling you get in the changing room, the laughs you have, the last minute goals. Not much comes close to that,” Smith says.
Following the team’s FA Cup first-round triumph, Denny has no doubts that their confidence-boosting performance will have motivated players during the season shutdown.
“Everybody has improved during the lockdown, so we’re going to be even better after the break- I can’t wait to get back.”