By Darrell Allen (30/1/22).
Above: Mulbarton Belles’ Rebekah Lake (left) challenges Norwich City’s Izzy Collins during last season’s Norfolk Women’s Cup Final. Photo: Cyan Fullbrook/Norfolk FA.
One of Norfolk’s form teams of the season has been Mulbarton Belles and this week I spoke to club captain Rebekah Lake.
Our conversation began with the Belles number 10 charting her career up to now: “Previous to playing for Mulbarton, I played from a very young age for Thorpe United FC where I had many successful seasons and was lucky enough to play in the Eastern Region Premier (Tier Five).”
A big story in the Norfolk Women’s Football scene saw the bulk of the Thorpe St. Andrew side breaking away and setting up Mulbarton who is a fairly new side. Rebekah was extremely open and told me about the reasons behind the transition and the unsung heroes who have helped make it happen.
“The move to Mulbarton Ladies was a collective although difficult team decision after circumstances at Thorpe changed. The changes were made by the committee without consulting with us as a team.
“The Thorpe committee wanted to change the management of our team which went against our opinions. This caused many of the players to feel disillusioned and at the time with the global pandemic starting to surface the decision affected the mental health of some players. Martin (head coach) was already a manager of a boys team at Mulbarton who didn’t have a ladies side at the time, this move seemed like a perfect opportunity to all stay together and form a new team with Martin as the manager whom we trusted and had faith in.”
“Duane James, Mulbarton’s chairman, and Jeff Nurse, Mulbarton’s secretary were exceptional. They fought tooth and nail to get us over to them and went the extra mile to fight our corner to get us accepted into the league. Even when the first vote went against us, we all kept trying so hard. So, we owe a lot to these men. Not only did we start a new 11-a-side team we have also formed a seven-a-side team which just shows the commitment to a future at Mulbarton.”
The club have recently made headlines in the Norfolk Women’s Cup Quarter Finals famously knocking out the county’s highest-ranked team Norwich City of the tier four FA Women’s National League Division One South-East. The match at the Canaries home of The Nest ended in a dramatic penalty shootout. The two sides had previously met in the 2021 final, with Mulbarton losing 7-0.
Rebekah told me the secrets behind the upset “We went into the game being the underdogs, knowing the previous score to Norwich in the final last year. If I am honest the main aim was to not concede as many goals. We went out to just relish the occasion and enjoy the game. Every single player on the pitch gave it their all considering we hadn’t played a game for nine weeks. We stepped up and played our football. I don’t think any one player stood out as like I said everyone played their part in this result and I am very proud and still a little in shock.”
Mulbarton’s reward for winning in Norwich City’s backyard will be a semi-final tie at tier five Eastern Regional Premier side King’s Lynn Town.
Rebekah told me that after the Norwich win, the semi-final brings few concerns. “Mulbarton don’t generally fear any team, we just go into each game as another challenge. King’s Lynn has a decent side but after beating Norwich the current cup holders to get into the semi-finals we will just go out and enjoy the occasion. Hopefully, there is a good turnout and we put on a good display.”
Cup pedigree is something that stands out from Mulbarton. Rebebak outlined some of secrets behind this success.
“After all the team has been through, I think it’s mainly the team spirit and the unbreakable bond they have for football. We are more like a football family than just a football team. These ladies go out of their way for each other and really play for the badge. I think cup games are a lot more exciting as you play different standards of teams, so you never know what is going to happen.”
Rebekah was also full of praise for the impact of head coach Martin Francis. “Martin is honestly such a positive role model as a manager, I don’t think I have ever heard him shout or complain about anything on the pitch. He goes out of his way to help players improve and become better.
“His knowledge of the game is second to none, he will always prepare tactic sheets and different scenarios prior to each game. We were not surprised when he was awarded coach of the year due to his commitment to us through such a hard year as a team.”
Mulbarton has achieved eight wins from as many games in the step seven Norfolk Women and Girls League Division One. Rebekah revealed how the team are keeping their feet on the ground, focussing on the here and now.
“We just take each game as they come, and we go into all of them with positive attitudes. We are currently top yes and looking at the table there is a lot of teams that have improved. Every team in our division is a challenge and we go into each game with a positive mental attitude.”
To many in the Norfolk game, Mulbarton Belles are regarded as being too good for the Norfolk Women and Girls League, I put this to Rebekah. “Mulbarton are a newly formed team and have only been in the league for a season and a bit. We are yet to win the league with Mulbarton as last season was null and void. We could possibly agree with the above statement but at this moment in time, the girls have no desire to compete higher mainly due to family commitments.
“Although we only play football for fun and love playing locally so we can still socialize after. There is a lot of travel involved in playing higher and some players cannot commit, but who knows what the future holds for us as Mulbarton, never say never. It would have to be a collective decision and something everyone agreed on.”
In three weeks time, the Lionesses will grace Norfolk as they host Spain in the Arnold Clark Cup on 20th February at Carrow Road, a special day for the county and Rebekah confirmed it has captured Mulbarton’s imagination.
“Most of the Ladies team have got tickets for this occasion, and I even think the younger girl’s teams are attending too. I believe this is a brilliant opportunity to support and promote women’s football, how often is it that the Lionesses come to Carrow Road?
“We had to re-arrange a league game so we could all still attend, and now the cup game has been rearranged. We are all looking forward to cheering them on they are inspirational. I think the attendance will be quite high which just shows how far the women’s game has come.”
We wrapped up our conversation with a chat about the team’s targets for the rest of the season and personal goals.
“We as a club would obviously love to do the treble but winning the County Cup would be a huge achievement, a lot of the ladies who play for Mulbarton are yet to experience winning a County Cup so for them as well as the club this would be phenomenal.
“Winning the league as Mulbarton for the first time would also be a big achievement. If our newly formed seven a side team who are currently sitting at the top of their league could win. I think as a club that would start our reputation as Mulbarton. On a personal note, I don’t have many personal targets but I am just striving to be the top goal scorer of the season.”