A job well done

Tuesday 7 May 2002

So a perfect season comes to a close. With their 2-1 defeat of the Doncaster Belles in the FA Cup on Monday, the Fulham Ladies have now won every single game they have played this season, and have picked up the League Title, the FA Cup, the League Cup, and the London County Cup along the way.

Ever so slightly worse for wear on Tuesday morning, the Fulham management team reflected on a job well done. Manager Gaute Haugenes, quiet but ecstatic and admitting that there had been some celebrating on Monday night, looked back at the game.

"It went pretty much the way we expected," he said, "They are a physical team, very strong, and they played very well. In the first half they hit their rhythm, hitting lots of long balls over the top and we were forced into doing the same thing.

"But in the second half we adjusted the way were playing a little bit, got a bit more into our own rhythm, and got the ball down on the floor and put some good passing moves together. We managed to get the wide players more involved and got some good crosses in, and we ended up having a very good second half.

"The main thing was that we won the trophy; that was our target right from the beginning of the season and it's a fantastic thing that we achieved it. The whole team played very well, but Katie Chapman had a fantastic game in the midfield and scored a great goal, and the other scorer, Rachel Yankey also played very well; she was much more involved in the second half and really demonstrated all her skills; she ran well with the ball, put over some great crosses and had some good shots."

For any fans more used to watching the men's team, the first half had a very familiar look about it - lots of possession, plenty of passing, but with opportunities limited by a hard working, physical and well-organised opposition. Haugenes, though, was not worried by what was a frustrating opening to the match.

"I knew that the game would open up at some time," he said, "So the main thing for us was to make sure that they didn't create anything, and they didn't. I was pleased to get to half time with the way things had gone, and then I was able to make some small changes which made us more effective.

"When we went 2-0 up, I thought, we've won the game, and then they scored straight away. If they hadn't scored that goal, we could have won by four or five."

That goal didn't seem to knock the confidence of the team who carried on playing their assured football. Things were not so calm on the Fulham bench.

"The players were probably much more comfortable than I was," laughed Haugenes, "I definitely grew some more grey hairs after the goal! I never really thought we would lose the game, but of course every time they get a corner or a free-kick in a bad area the there's a chance that they can score. It could have gone to extra time, but I think overall we were much better than a 2-1 scoreline indicates. We are very competitive here, and we are not that silent on the sidelines! We like to get involved in the game."

It must have been very emotional on those sidelines when the final whistle went - to finally see the rewards come after so much hard work must be immensely satisfying. For Haugenes it was the release of a lot of pent-up feelings.

"It was a fantastic relief," he said, "There has been a lot of pressure on us to win this Cup after the defeat last season. We were the favourites and people expected us to win, and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves as well that we had to win the Cup. So it was a big relief - I was ten kilo's lighter by the time the game ended! It was a fantastic feeling though.

"This win was very important for the Club because women's football is taken very seriously here. We have the full support of everyone, fantastic support from the men's team and their staff, and fantastic support from the Directors and everyone else who works here. So it's good to be the best so that we can reward them, and there's no doubt that after the season we've had, we can definitely say we are the best team in the country.

"This puts Fulham on the map, not only in England but in the rest of Europe as well - there was a lot of media interest from outside this country. And of course the game was shown live on the BBC as well, which was fantastic."

So celebrations were in order after the game?

"We had a very good time!" said Haugenes, "We had a good celebration at Selhurst Park, and then we took the coach back to Craven Cottage and had a party - some food and a few drinks! It was a good evening.

"The season has ended now; we'll have the players back for some fitness testing before they go away on holiday, then we'll have a short break and report back for pre-season training on the 1st July.

"And after that it is the big challenge of the Premier League. It will be a whole new experience for us playing against top-class opposition every week. I'm confident that we can challenge for the title straight away, but of course we won't know how we will do until we are actually there. But it is an experience that we need, and the only place we can get is in the Premier League, so we are really looking forward to it. We will approach the challenge with confidence."

Unfortunately there is no European prize for the Cup winners in Ladies football - for the winners of the Premier League however, European competition beckons. Season 2003/04 therefore promises to be one like no other - Premier League Champions and playing in Europe - book your tickets now.