With Norwich City Women kicking off their National League South East Division 1 campaign on Sunday, we sat down with head coach Shaun Howes to preview the 2020-21 season.
canaries.co.uk: Shaun, you were given the role of Women’s head coach in May. How are you finding it so far?
SH: I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s a challenge but I’m really surprised at the potential and talent of the players, so I’m really looking forward to getting started.
canaries.co.uk: What were the main challenges coming into the job?
SH: One of the biggest challenges was for the players, because they had a really tough season last season. The self-belief of them was tough. Coming into a new role as a new coach with new ideas, I didn’t want to come in all guns blazing and throwing my weight around, so we’ve been working together to try to get the fun back in football. Once we’ve got that, we can start looking at how we play and the philosophy that we want to build.
canaries.co.uk: How have you adapted to the pandemic - are there strict guidelines that you’re following?
SH: We have to follow certain guidelines. When you plan a session, you have to make sure that players don’t swap bibs and have a little bit of social distancing so we can keep them in their bubbles, but I think we’re coping pretty well and it’s starting to get a little bit more relaxed. Now we can play games, it’s a lot easier. We’re coping so far.
canaries.co.uk: Can you tell us about the progress of the Girls’ Academy?
SH: The women’s team is now part of the CSF’s football pathway, so it starts from Under-7s right through the Academy and scholarship programme, so we’ve now signed six girls who have come through that pathway. With myself and Megan, who runs the programme, we’re looking forward to welcoming more players and hoping that they want to come and play for Norwich in the future.
canaries.co.uk: So far, what do you make of the squad at your disposal?
SH: I’m really excited, it’s really good. My biggest task will be making sure I keep everyone happy because they won’t be playing every week, but the talent is good. We’ve had one or two additions and increased the self belief of the players. There are some really good young players coming through who will make up the future of the club, so I’m really excited and hope that we start really well.
canaries.co.uk: Can you tell us a bit about the new signings?
SH: Alice Parker, who was in the programme before and part of the football pathway and went to West Ham, decided to come back to Norwich.
I’ve signed Anna Larkins from Wroxham who I knew and used to work with. She’s a really talented player and should be playing at this level. Ellie Smith used to play for Norwich but had a serious injury and then joined the police, so she had a bit of time away, but she’s back. With those three additions, plus the players I’ve got and a little bit more commitment from the senior players, I think we’re in a really good position.
canaries.co.uk: Have you had a good pre-season ahead of the new campaign?
SH: Yeah, we’ve done alright. Training has been good and intense and we’ve had a couple of decent wins. It’s just nice for them to get back on the football pitch after five months of not playing and, before that, a little bit of disbelief and disheartening around some of the results that they had, so it’s just nice to see them back on the pitch with a smile on their face enjoying football again.
canaries.co.uk: How did the friendlies go?
SH: They went well. We had a mixture of results. With 40 in the squad we’ve had to mix and match but we’ve had some decent results. We’ve won more than we’ve lost, which is pleasing and scored plenty of goals, but there are things we need to work on and we’re a long way from where we want to be. It’s a long-term project, but things are on the right track.
canaries.co.uk: Are there high hopes for the season ahead?
SH: I’m putting high hopes on it and I want us to do well. I think we need to get a little bit more consistency and not be in a relegation battle, which they have been for the last two or three seasons, and then build from there. Certainly, this season is about starting again, having a good season, making sure we’re not in a position to get relegated and then moving on from there to start looking at whether we can get promoted up the tiers.
canaries.co.uk: The fixtures were announced recently. What’s the feeling around those?
SH: We’re excited. If we play the way we can, there shouldn’t be anyone in the league for us to be scared of or worried about, so we’ve just got to play our own way. We’ve got two good fixtures to start off with so if we can get two decent results, I think it will be really exciting.
canaries.co.uk: The fixtures are being played at The Nest. What do you make of the facility?
SH: It’s great for the club to finally have a home. They’ve been using Norwich United’s ground for many years, so it’s finally good for the women’s football club to have a home. There’s still a bit of work to be done, but the pitch is looking magnificent and I think the girls are really excited to play here.
Once the building is complete, I think it will be a really good facility for people to come to. It will be a fortress for us and an exciting place to attract people to come and watch us as they can see the magnificent facility and support the great work that CSF are doing in building The Nest.