Now the Development Teams season has come to a close, Oliver Coultas sat down with manager Ashley Thompson and spoke to him about the season as a whole and what he’s looking forward to next season.
It’s your first season in charge of the Devs, how were you feeling when you were first put in charge?
I was incredibly excited at the opportunity but was keenly aware that it was a step up for me. Most of my experience had come in junior football and although I’d had offers to move into the women’s game, this was the first project that I felt was right. The team’s pre-season preparation was far from ideal and whilst we recruited some fantastic young players in that time, we had (and still do have) a lot of work to do.
What’s changed since then?
On a personal level, I’ve learned a lot in a short space of time in the role, but I think the biggest learning is actually how much I don’t know! The staff at Guiseley, particularly Glen and Kyle have been incredibly supportive as I found my feet at this level. They’ve always been willing to offer advice and share their experiences.
What were your aims for the season at the beginning?
Two words really, survival and progress.
Setting up a brand new team is a project, rather than a short-term process. Other teams in the region have shown how tough it can be to maintain teams at this level. Leeds Ladies folded after just a handful of games despite a youth setup propping them up. Our first season was always going to be the building blocks for the future. We’ve got a really strong core of the team, most of which have had exposure to first team football this season, which has been great to see. As we move on to the next phase of the project, there’s a real buzz of optimism for the future.
How have you seen the players change throughout the year?
I think it’s easy to see that the players that have embraced the culture at Guiseley have matured and improved massively. At this club, we provide a lot more tactical instruction and analysis than anyone else at this level. Most, if not all of our squad had never experienced this type of coaching before, so it was a learning curve for them.
The FAWPL Reserve division is made up of established teams, and we were taught some pretty tough lessons early on. You only have to look at the final game of the season at home to Hull City, where you can see players applying the principles and playing the type of football that we want to see and people enjoy.
What was your favourite moment from this season?
Tough one as, despite the challenged, there has been plenty. I loved the comeback wins away at Leeds Ladies and Brighouse Town as it showed great character. I thought the performance at home to Newcastle United was a special one and the first time I really saw what the team was capable of. There was also the defeat to Brighouse Town First Team in the county cup which left me brimming with pride. In the competition where teams would rather forfeit games than test themselves against the top teams, we were awesome.
However, the last game of the season has to be the one standout moment for me. On the same day that the First Team won the league, for us to put in a performance where everything comes together so perfectly can’t be beaten.
What challenges were you not expecting?
I think I’ve been surprised by the outlook of other teams in the FAWPL Reserve division, as there’s a number of teams that use their squads as reserve teams rather than development teams. At first team level, the result is the most important thing, but I can’t comprehend why teams focus on results over a style of play that improves their players.
At Guiseley, we ask our players to play a certain way. Players will make mistakes and it will inevitably cost us goals, but I firmly believe we’re doing things the right way. It can be frustrating when you lose to teams that don’t, but that’s life! Of course, when you play teams like Blackburn who tick all the boxes, you have to hold your hands up.
You finished the season very strongly, what are your hopes for next season?
Our vision is for a development team consisting of the best young players in the region, playing a style of football akin to our first team philosophies, with the aim of developing players to make it to first team standard. That hasn’t changed from Day 1 but I think we’re much closer to it – The average age of the squad that beat Hull was just 18. I think with a full pre-season program including acquiring some talented new faces, we can take more strides towards building what we want to achieve here.