FAWSL 2021/22 Preview: Birmingham City

The 2020/21 FA Women’s Super League kicks off on the weekend of the 3rd – 5th September. D2B is here to preview all twelve teams in the title race and assess their chances. We’re going back to an alphabetical approach this year and continue with Birmingham City, who slid into final day relegation peril after a points’ deduction, but would be relieved to see results go their way…

Time travel with us back to Veatriki Sarri’s 96th minute equaliser against Aston Villa – talk about BIG goals…

Full Name: Birmingham City Women Football Club

Nickname: The Blues

Founded: 1968

Ground: St Andrew’s, 29,409 capacity

Last Season, FAWSL: 11th place

WSL Pedigree / Club History

Research back further than the last couple of seasons and it quickly becomes apparent that Birmingham City has an excellent WSL pedigree.

In fact, the Blues only ended up outside the top five once in their first eight WSL campaigns, running champions Arsenal very close in the league’s inaugural season, winning the Women’s FA Cup and then finishing in second spot 12-months later.

The club has also seen some very good players come and go, including England internationals Eni Aluko, Karen Carney and Jodie Taylor.

As recently as 2019, Birmingham City was the fourth best team in the WSL, winning 65% of their matches. A certain Ellen White was banging in the goals for them that year.

Last Season

It was hard going last for the squad last season. Pretty much anything that could go wrong, well, it did go wrong.

Signings were made very close to the start of the campaign, which meant they were trying to gel during competitive matches. Later the ‘parent’ club would be criticised for not supporting its players adequately.

Damson Park routinely flooded during any sort of inclement weather, so games were frequently postponed. Eventually they were moved to St. Georges Park.

They were unable to field a match day squad against Tottenham and the FA awarded the game to Spurs. Then, very late in the season, the club was docked one point for fielding an ineligible player – that point might not seem like much, but could have relegated them had Bristol City found a way to beat Brighton on the final day.

What the Blues did have, though, in spades, was a fighting spirit. They beat Reading, the Vixens and cross-City rivals Aston Villa early in the season.  That breathing space would be essential. After the Tottenham fiasco Birmingham didn’t win again, but ground out important late-scoring draws with West Ham and Villa.

Manager / Head Coach

Scott Booth takes the helm at Birmingham City.

“It’s been very good so far, [I have] really enjoyed being with the players and putting a couple of sessions on. I am pretty hands-on as a coach. We have a Performance Coach that helps me out big time and we discuss what it is that we are looking to get out of that week. I am really happy so far, we started from a position where we had a lot of work to do, but I think we have worked really hard. We have brought in some quality players, some players that have been here before and some new ones.”

Scott Booth, Head Coach, Birmingham City, via bcfc.com 03/08/2021

Birmingham are another WSL team going into this season with a new Head Coach.

Scott Booth has replaced Carla Ward, after securing six consecutive league titles with Glasgow City. He also led the Scottish champions to the last eight of the Women’s Champions League in 2020 where they were knocked out by eventual beaten finalists Wolfsburg.

He’d already coached within the international development set-up.

Booth had a decent playing career, most of which unfolded in his native Scotland with Aberdeen where he was part of a squad that finished runners up three times between 1991 and 1994.

He spent some time in Germany and the Netherlands and was part of an FC Twente side that won the KNVB Cup on penalties, with Booth converting his.

Booth’s arrival has also heralded changes to the backroom team. Tony Elliott has been promoted to Assistant Head Coach, while Booth’s former goalkeeping coach at Glasgow City, Daniel Matraszek, takes Eliott’s previous role. The club has also hired a new Physiotherapist, Physical Performance Coach, and Sports Rehabilitator.

Recruitment

Bringing in 31-year old central defender Louise Quinn from Fiorentina looks the best bit of business they’ve done in the transfer market and Head Coach Scott Booth has already named her captain. The experienced Republic of Ireland defender, who was with Arsenal when they secured their most recent WSL title, so should provide composed decision-making, defensive stability and strong leadership.

Louise’s namesake, forward Lucy Quinn returns to the club after a pretty underwhelming spell at Tottenham Hotspur. Quinn had a one-in-three strike rate for Portsmouth in the early 2010s but has only found the net five times in her last 53 WSL appearances.

Danish international full-back Cecilie Sandvej has made nearly 200 senior appearances, plying her trade in a number of countries including Denmark, Australia, Germany and France.

Libby Smith has arrived from FA Women’s Championship winning Leicester City. Libby can play wide of a front three but also as an attacking full back.

Two keepers have been brought in. Experienced former Blue Marie Hourihan is back with the club eight years after her first spell between the sticks. At the other end of the spectrum, 20-year old Emily Ramsey comes in on loan from Manchester United.

“It is great to be back at a Club where I had so much success in the past and one that holds so many happy memories for me. Once I knew of the interest from here, it was an easy decision. I cannot wait to see the fans again and it will be extra special representing Birmingham at St. Andrew’s. I have learnt a lot in my time away and have developed so much as a goalkeeper.”

Marie Hourihan, Goalkeeper, Birmingham City, via bcfc.com 28/08/2021

Who’s moved on?

Around a dozen players, including last season’s loans, have shipped out. Check out the photo at the top of this article, most of those players have gone.

The loss of emerging young goalkeeper Hannah Hampton to Aston Villa will be a bit of a blow, while the solid and consistent right-sided midfielder Sarah Mayling has also headed to the Bescot.

Striker Claudia Walker has signed for West Ham United. Quick and busy, Walker had racked up five goals by week seven of the 2020/21 campaign. For the rest of the season commentators referred to her as the club’s top scorer – which was true, but she didn’t add another strike to that tally.

Chloe McCarron showed some promise in midfield but decided to return to Northern Ireland for personal reasons. Academy development success story Connie Scofield recently parted with the club; the midfielder joined Leicester City.

Key Players

Birmingham midfielder Christie Murray suffered a fractured foot over the summer.

New centre back Louise Quinn will be very influential, but at this point it’s looking imperative that Birmingham get injured midfielder Christie Murray back in the fray as soon as possible.

Murray fractured her foot in training over the summer and is now in monitored rehab. Her never-say-die spirit was evident week-in-week-out and will be extremely important if the Blues are going to grind out the results they need to improve on last year’s 11th place.

It’s a no-brainer that goals are vital at any level, but the Blues haven’t scored that many over the last two seasons. It will be interesting then to see how former Sheffield United attackers Veatriki Sarri and Jade Pennock look together, when re-united at St. Andrews.

Opening Day

Lucy Quinn gets to make an instant return to the Hive as Birmingham City travel to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday 4th September. Spurs beat the Blues on the final day of the 20210/21 season.

Pre-season

The club announced four pre-season friendlies. They drew 0-0 with Liverpool, after two other matches which were described as “worthwhile workouts” against Coventry United and Leicester City.

They have one last friendly left which is against fellow Super Leaguers Reading.

Prospects for 2021/22

With the top WSL clubs getting exponentially stronger, as they invest more and more in their women’s teams, there’s a steadily increasing ‘trickle down’ of good players becoming available. Birmingham doesn’t seem to be picking any of them up, though, which suggests the will (or financial capability) to invest just isn’t there.

First and foremost they need to be hard to beat. Head Coach Booth has added defensive experience in that respect so will be hopeful that the Blues at least retain some of last year’s dogged resilience.

Scoring enough goals will be the challenge.

Together with neighbours Aston Villa, Brum scored the fewest goals last season and they haven’t gone out and attracted a proven WSL level striker. Instead they seem to be pinning their hopes on 29-year old former Celtic striker Sarah Ewens who “in nearly a century of appearances for the Hoops across four years,” says the website “found the net on an amazing 64 occasions.” Hitting that kind of form in the WSL would be a boon.

It’s difficult to be at all optimistic about Birmingham’s chances this season, though. And by that we mean it’s looking like a relegation dogfight again.

Transfer Summary

Ins

  • Jade Pennock (Winger)
  • Louise Quinn (Defender)
  • Sarah Ewens (Forward)
  • Lucy Quinn (Forward)
  • Libby Smith (Forward)
  • Cecilie Sandvej (Defender)
  • Emily Ramsey (Goalkeeper)
  • Lisa Robertson (Midfielder)
  • Marie Hourihan (Goalkeeper)
  • Jamie Finn (Midfielder)

Outs

  • Jamie-Lee Napier (Winger)
  • Emily Murphy (Forward)
  • Ruby Mace (Defender)
  • Hannah Hampton (Goalkeeper)
  • Claudia Walker (Forward)
  • Sarah Mayling (Midfielder)
  • Hannah Hampton (Goalkeeper)
  • Chloe McCarron (Midfielder)
  • Abbi Grant (Forward)
  • Heidi Logan (Midfielder)
  • Emma Kelly (Forward)
  • Sophie Whitehouse (Goalkeeper)
  • Connie Scofield (Midfielder)
  • Ruesha Littlejohn (Midfielder)

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