London Bees have just become the first-ever second-tier side to make it to the semi-finals of the Continental Cup – and their captain Ashleigh Goddard couldn’t be happier.
“It was brilliant,” she enthuses. “Everyone is making my job really easy. It’s an awesome bunch of girls, and everyone is working for each other.”
Goddard opened the scoring for the Bees against Sheffield in the quarter-final just after the hour mark, with Evie Clarke adding a second in the very last minute.
And the Bees’ cup run is all the more fabulous bearing in mind they’d lost heavily to their opponents in the league just a few weeks before – thrashed 5-0 on their own turf.
They didn’t have an easy cup draw in the first round, either – they had to beat last season’s double winners Chelsea, taking them all the way before finally emerging victorious on penalties.
“We knew the way we could play, we just had to focus on that,” says the midfielder.
“When we come in and train, although it’s twice a week we come in and we work hard. The whole team gets on – everyone has a really good bond, there are no cliques.
“That helps. It’s a really nice thing to be a part of.”
Though Chelsea’s team is packed with international stars, that’s the kind of challenge Goddard relishes.
She signed for Bees 18 months ago as a 22-year-old – and instantly became one of their senior players, having spent her junior career with Arsenal’s centre of excellence alongside the likes of the Blues’ Gilly Flaherty and Becky Spencer.
“We went into [the match against Chelsea] as underdogs. We kept coming back. It shows that we have no fear – and we believe in the ability we have.”
Last season, Bees’ form gave no indication that they might have the capability to go toe-to-toe with a WSL1 team.
They finished third from bottom in WSL2 on 13 points, with a shocking goal difference of minus 34 – evidence of an inexperienced team.
Coach Julian Broomes left the club before the start of the 2016 season, and former Bristol Academy manager David Edmondson took over.
From the outset he was adamant – these players might be semi-professional, but that was no reason to behave in a semi-professional manner. He demanded focus and commitment from his squad, and they have delivered.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Goddard admitted.
“We’ve lost a lot of players. Everything was up in the air, and a lot of us didn’t know what to do. Everything has worked out so amazingly.
“Last year was awful, but at the same time it’s kind of nice to look back and see how far we’ve come. With this cup run, there’s no way in a million years that anyone other than ourselves expected us to do this well.
“Now we’re making history for the right reasons – and it’s something I’m extremely proud of, the progress that we’ve made.”
Now Goddard and her Bees squad have the reward of a Continental Cup semi-final clash with Birmingham City on the first weekend of September – but before they look too far ahead, they face Aston Villa in the league in a fortnight.
“You can’t help but have a little thought every now and then on what could be,” she says.
“But we’ve fallen down the league a little bit. Our next game is the one we need to focus on. The cup game – we’ll think about it after that.”
* ‘The Roar of the Lionesses: Women’s Football in England’ is out now – available in all good bookshops *