Flaherty moves east

Chelsea Women defender Gilly Flaherty has completed a move to WSL1 newcomers West Ham United.

The centre-back switches London clubs again, having previously left Arsenal to join the Blues in 2014, and she does so having played a vital role in Chelsea’s rise to the top of the women’s domestic game.

As well as her undoubted defensive qualities, Flaherty brought a key ingredient into the dressing room – a winning mentality which was ingrained in her at Arsenal, where she first met Emma Hayes, having left Millwall’s centre of excellence to move to north London in her early teens.

Flaherty subsequently won just about every major honour going, and she also holds the distinction of scoring against Chelsea in the first-ever WSL game in 2011.

Her arrival from the Gunners came on the day that Katie Chapman, her childhood hero, made the same move and it was a clear sign that Hayes was building a squad which could overtake the Gunners as the pre-eminent women’s football side in England.

It almost proved to be an immediate success story, but instead Flaherty’s debut season at the club was ultimately one of frustration as we were eliminated from both domestic cups at the semi-final stage and lost out on the WSL title on the final day. Nonetheless, it was enough to clinch Champions League qualification for the first time, beginning an as yet unbroken run of European football.

Flaherty scored two goals in 20 appearances, but the figure in the goals-against column was too high for her liking and in 2015 she formed the league’s tightest central defensive partnership with long-time friend Niamh Fahey, who joined the club from Arsenal during the preceding close season.

As the clean sheets went up, so too did the goals for. Flaherty had netted twice in her first season, and that figure improved to six including a world-class volley against Notts County in a vital WSL win. She also captained the side in seven of her 24 appearances as we won the domestic Double, and a fine campaign with the team was rewarded on a personal level for Flaherty when she was named Players' Player of the Year at the club’s end-of-season awards dinner. She also made her long-awaited debut for England and became a regular for the Lionesses.

The 2016 season included another FA Cup final, this time ending in defeat against former club Arsenal, but she was back to her best during the Spring Series. Playing on the right-hand side of a back three, once again a solid defence was the bedrock of another trophy success. She also chipped in with the opening goal in our 7-0 win over Liverpool in the final Blues match played at Wheatsheaf Park (pictured below), although it was not enough to secure her place on the England plane to the Netherlands for the European Championship.

More silverware followed in 2017/18, although the majority of Flaherty’s 19 starts came in the first half of the campaign, and she was an unused substitute in the FA Cup final. She did, however, start the first leg of our Champions League semi-final with Wolfsburg and our WSL1-clinching win over Bristol City.
Her final act in a blue shirt was to lift the trophy alongside Chapman, a fitting denouement to a Chelsea career which brought with it 96 appearances, 12 goals and five major honours.

We thank Gilly greatly for the big part she played in the rise of the team to the top and wish her well for the future. At West Ham she will be reunited with former Blues team-mates Becky Spencer and Claire Rafferty, and managed by Matt Beard, who was Emma Hayes’ predecessor in charge of Chelsea.