Liverpool’s new project a labour of love for Niamh Fahey
‘I’ve always supported the club so I’m delighted to be here’ says Republic of Ireland stalwart
Liverpool’s Niamh Fahey in action against Manchester United during the Continental Cup game at Prenton Park. Photograph: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via ---Getty Images
Things move along so swiftly in the English women’s club game that even the organisers, it sometimes seems, can’t quite keep up.
When the Continental Cup, a round-robin competition with a peculiar system for allocating points in the league stages, kicked off a couple of weeks ago, the Guardian in its coverage marvelled at the fact that the tables on the English FA’s website suggested the association didn’t quite understand a structure it had devised itself.
A decade after touching down in London to play for Arsenal, Niamh Fahey has seen it all before and knows better than to dwell on the shortcomings of the environment in which she and the teams she plays with operate. Clubs come and go, budgets are bumped up then slashed with players hired then occasionally left high and dry.
Somewhere deep down, though, things are slowly moving in the right direction and the Galway woman appreciates that, having played for that all-conquering Arsenal team then Chelsea and now Liverpool, she has never had to endure some of the hardships others have been subjected to in their pursuit of professional football.
Having won two titles a few years back before being overtaken due to heavy spending by Chelsea and Manchester City, Liverpool are billing the news season with its reorganised top two flights as the start of a bright new era.
But the difficulties that others have just surviving at this sort of level is all too apparent with manager Neil Redfearn and skipper Leandra Little both newly recruited from Doncaster Belles after one of the English game’s pioneering clubs decided they simply couldn’t compete at this level anymore despite having topped the second division of the Women’s Super League last season.
Scottish midfielder Christine Murray has also arrived from Doncaster via Glasgow City while Belgian international Yana Daniels has joined from Bristol City. Fahey has been persuaded to abandon Bordeaux after one season to be part of the new Liverpool project although in truth, she says, she didn’t take all that much persuading.
“I had a whirlwind stop in France,” she says with a laugh. “I got all my culture out of me in one year then decided I was done.”
In fact, she acknowledges, she struggled to settle, in part because she never quite got to grips with the language.
“The place is amazing, the city is gorgeous, so much of it was positive and I think if it had been in different circumstances at a different time in my life, it all would have worked. But it’s very much a fluent French environment and even by the end my French wasn’t the best.
“I loved the football side of it, it’s a very free-flowing, technical game although I missed the more competitive edge I think there is in England. But off the pitch I didn’t really enjoy it too much. I preferred the thought of being back in England, feeling that I had more to do and being able to talk to more people plus there was an element too of wanting to be back closer to home. It was grand but I’m happier here.”
In terms of trophies, Fahey enjoyed tremendous success at both the big London clubs she played for and is under no illusions that she is now part of something being built for the slightly less immediate future.
Chelsea and Manchester City, thanks to their bigger budgets and resulting accumulation of talent, have been dominant in recent seasons but the Ireland international believes Arsenal, who Liverpool face in the league opener on Sunday week, and now Manchester United may be able to put some sort of dent in that.
“We are a bit further behind but there are big plans here and we think we can be very competitive in the league and hopefully get a run in a cup,” she says before recalling that when Redfearn approached her he may not have realised what an easy sell both Liverpool the club and Liverpool the city were.
“Yeah, I’ve always supported the club so I’m kind of delighted to be here. And Liverpool’s a nice city, a footballing city; the people are really passionate about it and I love living amongst that. Okay, there’s not as much cheese and wine at your disposal,” she says, laughing again, “but I’ll live with that for the positives. It’s nice, there are cool places to go, there’s clearly been a lot of investment.”
Among the cool places, she reckons, is Anfield itself. The women train and play at Tranmere with the Continental Cup game against Manchester United having attracted just short of 1,000 supporters despite a fair bit of hype. She hopes those numbers will improve with a few good results and a bit of a marketing push but is also keen to get in amongst the crowd for a few of the men’s matches at what she views as an exciting time.
“When I was at Arsenal and they [Liverpool] were down playing I’d sneak into the away section but it wasn’t a pleasant experience being in there. I’m looking forward to being in the right end and with the home crowd now. I think I’ll be able to get a few tickets for games this season, I’m just waiting to see now whether we pay for them or there are a few comps going.”
She has started doing her coaching badges too and is weighing up doing something to start using her science qualifications again so it promises to be a busy season.
But before she settles into all of that, there is tomorrow’s final World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland to be negotiated and while there is ostensibly nothing at stake the 30-year-old believes a win would lay down another marker for next time around.
“It’s been a very positive campaign,” she says. “We were in a very tough group but we have improved in the sense that we have been beating the teams that we were expected to beat and grabbing the odd point off the seeded teams with what is a young squad.”
The emergence of Tyler Toland has, she’s says, been an exciting development while Leane Kiernan’s move to West Ham means another player will have the opportunity to train and play professionally.
“There’s Leanne, Heather Payne at Bristol . . . all of these players are going to be improving over the next few years, you can see the difference already. Colin [Bell] as been building towards the next campaign and it’s all been positive really but the important thing right now is to finish this one on a high.”
* The Republic of Ireland face Northern Ireland at 5.30pm tomorrow in Tallaght Stadium.