Caister FC: Reviewing The Debut Season To Date

Above: Caister FC 2021/22. Photo: Caister FC.

In this concluding part of Darrell Allen‘s chat with Caister manager Sophie Gillett and captain Hayley Muir, the pair reflect in detail on Caister’s first season so far and look ahead to today’s big England v Spain match just up the road from them in Norwich (20/2/22).

Caister currently sit top of the Norfolk Women and Girls League Division Two and manager Sophie Gillett recognizes that it has been a positive campaign so far.

“Yes in terms of results and currently being top of the league. But the grand scheme of things is that we as a collective are enjoying our football so much, the training and attitudes have been spot on and that’s reflected in not just the results but the performances too.

“The football played at times has been great to watch and we really don’t look the same team we were a year ago. Looking at the depth and quality in our squad I’d have been disappointed not to be in or at least around the position we are now, but it’s not been easy,  Gorleston has in a short space of time got a young good squad, Shrublands, although we haven’t played them in the league yet, are contenders. UEA is a very good young side and we lost to King’s Lynn away.

“For me personally, the togetherness, friendship, and cohesion is our biggest success and as long as we have that off the pitch we will carry that onto the field too. It’s been a great year so far and nothing would make me more proud to gain promotion and obviously, if we won it in our first season as Caister that would be amazing.”

Back in January, Caister went toe to toe with Step five King’s Lynn Town, and despite losing 6-0 and being three leagues below, the Caister squad can be very proud of their performance. Sophie spoke in detail about that game.

“We knew what we were up against and how good technically King’s Lynn are and how much fitter they’d be. I said to the girls before we won’t see much of the ball in terms of possession and may not create many chances but lets at least let them know we are there.

“The girls ran their socks off, battled all over, I think even King’s Lynn would say that they felt they had played us and we made them work a bit. Yes, the scoreline was 6-0, yes, they were great on the ball, created a lot of chances, particularly long-range shots, but from a coaching perspective, I learned a lot more about my team that game than I have over the rest of the season. 

Above: Sophie Gillett pictured in the home dugout with Caister chairman Alan Peace at the Allendale launching the ladies team for the new season. Photo: Caisyter FC.

“The defensive element of our game that hasn’t really been tested too much this season, showed what we as a collective were capable of. Our work rate was something that really impressed me, it showed that we were able to do the nitty-gritty stuff and would dig in deep to try and compete.”

It was also an extremely proud day for captain Hayley Muir as she explained. “King’s Lynn were tough, you know the term ‘make or break?’ I can honestly say, although we lost that match 6-0, it made Caister stronger than ever. I was an extremely proud captain that day – the girls gave everything they had and more. Never did they stop fighting, never did they give up. We go on as a team, we come off as a team as always.”

In terms of the key components of the Caister squad, Sophie highlighted: “I think looking at our goal tally I could easily highlight any attacking players. Three of our strikers are in the top five positions for goal scorers in the league, with Beth Turner and Ellie Hills first and second which is incredible. 

“We have attracted some quality players this year who have really made a difference,  Maria Jardim in goal has been fantastic on and off the pitch and her character is one that provides so much laughter and energy it’s great to have her back. For me though Hayley Muir and Chantelle King, my captain, and vice-captain are just inspirational.

“Hayley is such a valued member of not only our team but is a role model across the women’s game in Norfolk, people still can’t believe her age. She is inspirational, her work ethic, attitude, dedication, and commitment is one of or if not the best I have ever come across, you haven’t had an inspirational team talk unless you have had one from Hayley! She is my go-to person through anything and everything, for words of advice, support, pick me ups, I dread the day I get told she’s retiring. It doesn’t bear thinking about!

“Chantelle King is another person I look up to a lot, again like Hayley is always there for support. She has given up her own playing time when I’ve not been available to manage the team and has just taken on board the role of the ladies fitness coach, she is an absolute legend and someone I rate very highly.  As a whole though, all the girls are great, it’s just such a happy camp at the moment and it’s a blessing to lead this team.”

Hayley stressed the importance of all team members. “Each and every player is a well respected, highly thought of, important cog in the Caister wheel. Beth Turner has matured both mentally and physically. Her work rate and attitude towards being a team player is for me, a highlight of this season.

“Nic Sheldrake is playing her best football to date. She is a very strong dominant player in the middle of the park. Maria our goalkeeper, came for one match to help us out, after loving the team atmosphere. She signed at the start of the season and has been solid every game. Chantelle King our vice-captain, the most unselfish player you ever met, puts everyone before herself, does anything and everything she possibly can for this team. She is a diamond.”

Above: Caister Captain Hayley Muir receives a player of the match award from club sponsor and number one fan Dave Roots. Photo: Caister FC.

The pair highlighted their favourite moments of the season so far and Sophie pointed to the local Derby vs Gorleston.

“I think everyone had eyes on the Gorleston game because of the occasion and obviously as a team us leaving Gorleston to join Caister. There were a lot of nerves that day but to win that at the Allendale was special.

“However, for me personally, the UEA game was a turning point, in terms of character, we were losing had lost a player to injury and one played injured and couldn’t even run at one point. To be losing with 10 minutes to go, I said I’d happily take a point if we can get it, but to score two goals late on and to see players being helped off and emotionally and physically drained, was the point where I realized how far we have come as individuals and as a unit.” 

Hayley’s was a very personal one. “My favourite moment so far was putting that red kit on for the first time and walking out on that pitch at the Allendale with my teammates. My manager standing proud having led us to this point in time, after all her hard work, effort, stress, and worrying months she endured for her team and for us to be there”

Both Sophie and Hayley then wanted to highlight the one club ethos that comes through at The Allendale.

“It’s easily the best set up I’ve ever been at,” enthused Sophie. “The support we get from the club as a whole is fantastic. We are treated exactly like everyone else, the Allendale is always full of spectators and representatives from the club watching. The management group chat always passes on their best wishes and congratulations before and after games and the publicity on social media is amazing.

“I know I speak as a whole when I say this, this has been the most any of us have enjoyed playing or coaching football in years and a big part of that is from the foundation of the club and that community feel it brings with it.”

Hayley backed that up and confirmed that Caister involves their ladies team in everything they do. “We have the full backing of the club and they involve the ladies in everything. Communication is fantastic and nothing is too much trouble. We are respected, thought of, and valued. The team has never been happier, we are very lucky!”

Today is a momentous day in Norfolk as England face Spain in the Arnold Clark Cup at Carrow Road, Sophie is excited that both her teams will be attending.

Above: Caister FC in the dressing room. Photo: Caister FC.

“Yes in fact both my ladies and my u15s sides are taken the short trip up to support,  some of my youth have never been to a live game before so I’m excited that their first will be the Lionesses!

“Women’s football is growing massively and you see it locally how many teams we have playing, so for us all to be able to cheer our nation on locally is incredible! There are a lot of the team I am excited to see. Lucy Bronze is a big favourite amongst most of the ladies, but obviously, Lauren Hemp is a local girl who played for Norwich, so it will be great to see her too! As I support United, I’m looking forward to seeing Ella Toone. What a player. I love the whole squad, they are such an inspiration.”

Hayley is looking forward to seeing her first international match. “Yes, there are many of us attending the match at Carrow Road, it’s the first time I have ever seen an international match. I particularly like Steph Houghton. I think she’s a class leader, calm under pressure, a true workhorse with bags full of grit and determination.

“It is fantastic that the women’s game has evolved so much over the years. From me being a youngster with no opportunities until 13, to girls now having endless opportunities from young ages to progress , be supported and natured in a sport they love.” 

Sophie and Hayley concluded by identifying their aims for the rest of the season.

“I think I’d be disappointed if we weren’t still challenging for top spot,” Sophie revealed. “My main goal is to obviously get promoted and see how we match up in Division One. We’ve had some friendlies against some Division One teams and competed in all three so it shows how far we have come.

“I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to win the league and would obviously be gutted if we didn’t. However this year has been about rebuilding and gaining confidence again . Enjoyment is as equally as important as success so as long as the team continues to develop and enjoy it I’d be happy.”

For Hayley, it is all about enjoyment. “My manager Gillie has all the time and patience in the world for me and continues to teach and advise me and courage and support me. My team mates are the reason I can still be a part of all this too, without them and their continued hark work and their non judgemental attitude towards my age, I wouldn’t still be enjoying the game I love after all these years.

“I want to win the league. For Gillie, for Matthew (coach), for the team. I would love for this squad to continue going from strength to strength and compete in Division One next season, because we most certainly can.”

To read Part One of this feature, click here:

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