Notts County Ladies and Chelsea Ladies meet in the first-ever FA Women’s Cup to be held at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, with both sides vying to lift the trophy for the first time in their respected history.
With the women’s game still enduring a record breaking high since England’s bronze medal heroics at the World Cup in Canada, Saturday’s cup final guarantees to sustain the promising legacy Mark Sampson’s Lionesses stirred up on the international stage earlier this month.
With Notts able to call upon their international stars such as Carly Telford, Alex Greenwood, Laura Bassett and Ellen White; boss Rick Passmoor will be confident their tournament experience can help everyone ahead of the club’s biggest game in their history.
Manager Passmoor chatted to DREW SMITH about the big final, how he got into coaching female footballers, England’s World Cup legacy and his future outlook on the women’s game.
Ahead of the club’s historic appearance at Wembley Stadium; what does it mean for the team and for you personally?
“It’s starting to roll now and affect the players a little.
“If you want the best, then you have to strive to be in a position where historic occasions can happen to this club. On the day, I want to make sure that the players enjoy it and that the fans enjoy the occasion. We want the girls to look back on this with a smile afterwards and say, “Blooming heck, did that really happen?”
“And naturally it’s a good showcase for Notts County with our ladies section playing so well right now. We want to put in a performance so that the armchair viewers can see how far the women’s game has come. Then hopefully they’ll want to come and watch us.
“It’s all new to us. What we want to do is embrace it, enjoy it and not play the occasion. We want to come off that pitch with everybody from the Chairman down to have a great sense of pride in our performance and what this football club has achieved.”
How do you think the players will cope with the occasion? Do you have any plans to combat the nerves?
“The plan is utilising the backroom staff and the more experienced players to share their previous experiences with younger players and create an atmosphere of enjoyment and excitement, not nerves and anxiety.
“Also, we will be working with a sports psychologist and doing a few classroom sessions to talk about the big day.”
For somebody coming to watch the historic FA Women’s Cup Final, and perhaps their first women’s game, what would you say to them?
“Come with an open mind. Come and watch the final for sure, but also watch three or four games live and don’t be judgemental on the first game. What you’ll see is refreshing honesty, athleticism and technical ability. You’ll also see the culture and community spirit that has developed in the women’s game.
“You’ll see players wanting to play. If they get tackled, they will just get back up and get on with it. You’ll see players that want to play for the shirt, whatever their differences are. They are overshadowed by the desire to represent the team. That’s the women’s game right now and long may it continue.”
If you had to choose between winning the FA Women’s Cup and the FA Women’s Super League this year, which would you pick?
“The league. It shows a club’s strength, longevity, ability to travel and play on different pitches and cope with those demands. It’s not just about the 90 minutes, but the whole work that goes in behind the scenes. This season; Chelsea have got a good run on the league, so maybe winning the FA Cup and finishing second in the league will have to do!”
How did you assemble this season’s Notts County team? There is greater strength in depth and quality.
“Attracting players to the club is made easier because of the ethos we have here. With me; they know what they’re going to get, the good and the ugly bits. But also the passion I have for the game and the club. They know I care for them as a person, not just as a player.
“Part of making this club an attractive proposition to players is utilizing the experience and knowledge of individuals, making sure that they are the right people to come to this football club.
“Yes they’re competitors out there on the pitch, they’ll do everything for each other, but they’ve also got to respect each other as people. You can’t all be friends. The ball off the pitch never stops rolling!”
Notts County enjoys the benefit of playing at Meadow Lane, what are your thoughts on the support the women get here from the club?
“It’s certainly an advantage to be able to play on the men’s pitch. The only downside is that it does spur the opposition on, coming here to play and be a part of the history and tradition of the club.
“But it’s a massive credit to our board that we are playing on the Meadow Lane pitch for our home games. I hope it spurs on other clubs to embrace and integrate their women even more.”
What was your opinion on the standard of play at the 2015 Women’s World Cup?
“Loved it! The standard of play has gone up and up and up. There was terrific coverage; it was absolutely outstanding and entertaining. Technically one of the best games I watched was Germany vs France.”
What did you make of England’s team selection and rotation system at the World Cup?
“Thought it worked really well, very successful. Of course, when you are winning, then all of your tactical decisions look good! From day one, he [Mark Sampson] would have informed them about rotation and asked them to embrace it. It’s part of the whole culture adopted over there – keeping 27 players happy on and off the pitch.
“And now we have a new challenge, managing expectation. This is a new ball game that the women’s game hasn’t really had before.”
All kinds of attendance records were broken at the Women’s World Cup this year, meanwhile Notts County are one of the best attended teams in the Women’s Super League. Where do you see the women’s game progressing in five years times?
“I’d like to see it as part of the calendar of sport. The women’s game needs to have a strong business plan. For our league to progress right now; it needs to have set fixture dates and consistency, so the supporters, sponsors and television broadcasters know when our season starts and ends.
“In the future, I’d like to see us playing in front of 2,000-2,500 people at Meadow Lane on a regular basis. And we need a structure in place that makes sure we welcome new supporters and new families so that they have a positive and welcoming experience at a Women’s Super League game at Meadow Lane.
“It’s also our responsibility to inspire girls to start playing football at every level. To inspire future Notts County Ladies players. Here they can see professional women footballers and believe that they can play football for a living.”
What’s your background in the sport? Where have you come from?
“The Passmoor family have always been involved in football. My dad was a professional, he played for Carlisle and he’s in the hall of fame up there.
“I played at Sunderland, Carlisle and Scunthorpe. I had a very good schoolboy career; got England trials and had the likes of Nottingham Forest, Liverpool, Leeds, Barnsley and Grimsby all interested in me.
“But one of the things that I always wanted to do was to go into coaching. As time went by, I passed all my coaching badges and started working with the youth teams. In 1999; I found myself coaching at Leeds United, working with young lads coming through the system such as Fabien Rose and Scott Carson. By this time, I had already started coaching female players at Leeds. It was all very low budget back then, but I worked with players like Gemma Bonner (now at Liverpool), Sophie Walton and Jess Clarke.
“It was in 2007 that I was approached to manage the women’s first team. So I said, “Oh okay”. I was humbled by the prospect and inspired. Jump forward a few years and on New Year’s Eve 2012, I got a phone call asking me to come to a meeting with Notts County. They wanted me to take over and develop Notts County Ladies. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
Do you find that there are tangible differences inherent in managing a women’s football team as opposed to a men’s?
“The girls bring willingness to the game, a willingness to play. They recognise that there is a living to be had in the game now. If you put on three training sessions a day, they’re there because they want to learn. Whether that’s on the pitch, in the gym or in the classroom.
“The difference is that young male players are already more financially incentivised, but not all are motivated to put the effort in. The girls will do that.”