Huddersfield Town Women aim to achieve something out of the normal in FA Cup

Huddersfield Town midfielder Sarah Danby feels “robbed” by two disrupted years of women’s football but the inactivity has made her appreciate more fully what she has.

If ever there was a moment for a part-time women’s footballer to enjoy, it is a game at Super League opposition, and tomorrow the Terriers face Hope Powell’s Brighton and Hove Albion in the Women’s FA Cup fifth round –the last game before this season’s competition goes into hibernation until... next season.

It just adds to the weirdness of pandemic football, the second year running the blue riband competition has started in one season and ended the next. The final is not due until December.

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“We’re just getting used to the fact nothing’s normal any more,” says Danby. “It’s the new normal to not be normal, isn’t it?

On the ball: Huddersfield Town Women's Sarah Danby. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

“We’ve been having lateral flow tests for two to three weeks and on Tuesday at training we had the PCR tests which allow us to travel down on the bus. We’ll probably have to wear masks the whole way down, which should be great!

“It sounds silly but the difficulty will be things like food. We still can’t eat inside anywhere, the restaurant isn’t open in the hotel, but they’re very minor difficulties, at least we’re able to travel down together and stay overnight.”

At 30 years old, Danby – a 2009 finalist with Sunderland – is probably at an age where she would anyway appreciate her football more but seeing the Northern Premier Division season abandoned – with Huddersfield top – has heightened that.

“I feel robbed these last two seasons,” she admits. “I feel fitter than ever but you think are you going to be more prone to injury?

Bring on Brighton: Huddersfield Town Women train for the tie.

“I do feel like this season I’ve probably pushed myself harder than ever before because I want to keep as fit as possible. When you’re chasing 18-year-olds around the pitch you’ve got to!”

Given she has such an intense job, working with sex offenders for West Yorkshire Police, distractions from it are important.

“All I’ve ever known is Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday is football. When it’s taken away it’s, ‘What do I do?’” she points out.

“We definitely appreciate it more, what football brings socially, mentally, physically. Football is my social (life) and my release, especially in the job I do, which can be quite heavy at times.

In charge: Huddersfield Town Women's manager Jordan Wimpenny.

“At one point, there was a kind of a hint the league season was going to continue and I certainly got in my head it was going to. But football moves fast and you’ve just got to get on with things.

“It was just good to get back in training because we hadn’t seen each other for months. We’ve had friendlies and it (the Cup) has given us a focus. My fear was we wouldn’t have a competitive game from Christmas through to the start of next season.”

Brighton’s Superleague season has never stopped.

“When we came back training having not played competitively for three months it took its toll,” admits Danby. “But it’s been the best part of two months now so I think we’re getting back to it physically. When we found out our season had been cancelled we were all bitterly disappointed. I suppose that’s then shifted our focus to the FA Cup.

Up for the Cup: Huddersfield Town Women prepare for Brighton.

“A few seasons ago we played Charlton in the Cup one weekend and West Ham the next, both Super League clubs, and had a midweek game in-between so we had absolutely no preparation time. This time we’ve had a month.

“Brighton are going to put up a completely different challenge to any team we’ve played for years so it is good to have had that time to try something different.”

Even under normal circumstances, facing a team two divisions higher would be tough.

“We’re not naive to think it’s not going to be difficult but it’s what you strive to do,” says the former Sunderland, Manchester City, Bradford City, Leeds United and Guiseley Vixens player.

“They’re full-time professionals so we know they’re going to be fit, fast, strong, very well drilled. We have to try and be difficult to break down, just enjoy it and appreciate the fact we all work full-time in normal jobs and we’ve barely played and they’re full-time professionals who have played throughout.

“Liverpool Fed took us to extra-time (in round two) and played really well, Brighouse took us to penalties, Derby was 3-2. We’ve played two lots of 120 minutes and fitness will be key.

“On the back of how we’ve done this season, as weird as it’s been, I think we deserve to be in this round of the FA Cup. We’re aiming to give a really good account of Huddersfield Town. It’s always good to play in a stadium against better opposition.”

The next task will be making this apparently worthless season actually count for something.

“As much as there’s going to be gaps it’s about taking that momentum (into next season),” argues Danby. “We’re 14 games unbeaten. I think over the past nine months, albeit it has been disrupted, we’re starting to really gel as a team and we’re progressing.

“We can look back at this and say, ‘Look how well we did last season, let’s build on that.’ The group we’ve got is good enough to. Imagine what we can be capable of when things are normal?”