Emma Hayes believes our FA Women’s Super League opener against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge this weekend will be a special occasion, not just for the Chelsea Women’s team but for the club and women’s football in general.
The Blues begin their 2019/20 WSL campaign with a London derby against newly promoted Spurs this Sunday 8 September with a 12.30pm kick-off. A bumper crowd is expected on a weekend where women’s league matches across the country are expected to attract record audiences. Tickets are now sold out.
Hayes is starting her eighth year in charge and has seen a meteoric rise in the popularity and profile of the women’s game, particularly on the back of this summer’s successful World Cup in France.
‘We’re starting with a home game in front of a sell-out crowd, which is dreamland for us, and we’re doing that on the back of this entire football club working so hard to make it happen,’ Hayes told the assembled media in a press conference at Cobham today.
‘I’m super excited going into the season. I feel fresh and the players are raring to go as well. Winning on the pitch is not enough for us because winning off the pitch is just as important. We have the opportunity to introduce the game to lots of new fans, to have an excitement and buzz around the women’s game.
‘It’s a really exciting time and to start with a game against Tottenham Hotspur has a great ring to it so it’s one I feel extremely proud and privileged to lead this weekend.’
It has been a challenging build-up to the WSL’s opening weekend given international football has punctuated preparations, a frustration Hayes expressed as an issue to be addressed, and she also reported that Fran Kirby would miss the game with an injury picked up in Tel-Aviv in pre-season.
‘We’ve learnt how to manage the international calendar for those that remain here and the importance of not just training them but also making sure they get game-time in some form,’ she explained. ‘For the players returning, it’s about recovering them really quickly for the weekend.
‘Fran isn’t ready, she’s had a slight problem with her knee. She took a shot in Israel in the warm-up and had a bit of discomfort so she won’t be ready this weekend.
‘As I learn with injuries, it’s hard to predict. I didn’t think Erin Cuthbert would be ready this weekend but it’s likely she will be able to feature so everyone heals differently.’Hayes has deliberately brought numbers down in the group this summer as the team prepare for a campaign without Champions League football, though she explained there were benefits to working with a smalller group.
‘We’ve only had one new signing so I don’t need to integrate too many players. I’ve got a great bunch and I think we’re much tighter because we’re smaller.
'We’re going into the season knowing we’re not favourites but that’s fine by me. All I know is that my job is to prepare the team to be the best they can and I’m confident I’ve done that.’
For those attending the game on Sunday, the season opener promises to be a great day out for all the family. Entertainment kicks off at 10am at Eel Brook Common where the Chelsea Foundation Fan Zone plays host to free football coaching sessions, kicking challenges and skills zones for kids of all abilities.
Meanwhile, outside the stadium, we have stilt walkers, face painters, football freestylers and a visit from the London Fire Brigade for photos. And in the run up to the 12.30pm kick-off, enjoy an exclusive pitch-side DJ set from Capital FM’s Marvin Humes.