Is Cheltenham Town Ladies’ next match against Portsmouth Women the biggest in their history?
The financial implications of the contest during these Covid-19 hit times have made this colossal clash on the south coast more important than ever before.
Sammy Hallsworth, 26, and Morgan Hallett, 20, have been speaking ahead of Cheltenham Town’s imminent return to action, as they prepare for what could be their swansong to the end of the season if they are to be defeated in the next round of the FA Cup.
A tough tie lies ahead of Tom Davies’ side as they are pencilled in to take on Portsmouth away from home on April 4.
The Robinesses have been out of action since their round one win in the FA Cup against Exeter City on December 13, and the reality of the stop-start nature of this season has been ‘frustrating’ for Hallsworth.
“I think it’s always frustrating because for a lot of us we work Monday to Friday, so usually the football on the weekend is a stress reliever for me and many others in the team,” Hallsworth says. “It’s just been stop, start and maintaining fitness from home is not as easy as some people think it is. It takes a lot of effort and motivation.”
There has been a total of 90 days and counting since Davies’ side were last in action, and fitness of players has obviously dipped over this lockdown.
Davies’ assistant Hallett explained how the coaching set up have worked hard in order to maintain the fitness levels of the side over the break.
He says: “The FA Cup announcement came last week, and we anticipated this, so as a result we were ahead of the curve.
“I’m sending out fitness programmes for the girls to do.”
“For example, they include joining every Thursday to do HIIT sessions and now we’re just shifting towards the functional stuff.
“With a date of return for the football, we have been proactive in ensuring that every player does as much as possible to keep fit at home.
“But they have been brilliant. Everything we have sent, they have done. And the attendance for the Thursday session has been mega.
“Although the coaches sit there with their cameras on, pretending to join in!”
Having these plans are all well and good, but the motivation of players to stick to them can be understandably difficult, considering what’s going on during these uncertain times.
Unsurprisingly, full-back Hallsworth reveals the battle herself and many other players have had with keeping motivation levels up has been a tricky one, with some ups and downs along the way.
The 26-year-old says: “I think we were all really optimistic in the first lockdown.
“We all were out running daily and doing our regular hit sessions- everyone was on it.
“We all were really hopeful that we were going to have a quick return which didn’t quite happen unfortunately.
“And then obviously we played one or two fixtures in between the first and second lockdown which was demoralising for all the players.
“I personally lost motivation and really struggled initially. I’ve worked through the lockdowns and it’s been difficult working and finding that right balance for fitness work.
“But In the last few weeks we’ve all picked up together our fitness prep ahead of return. It’s been such a good environment with everybody supporting each other.
“It’s a weird scenario because we will be going into this fixture in the cup not knowing of this will be our last game of the season.”
The reason to why this could be the last game of a rather unique season for the Gloucestershire based side, is due to the prospect of the league being null and voided by the FAWNL.
It’s a scary prospect that defender Hallsworth believes is likely to happen, due to the unrealistic tight scheduling of matches that would need to occur for the rest of the season to be fulfilled.
“I think all the players want to continue playing,” the 26-year-old says. “Nobody wants to be null and voided.”
“But can we logistically find a way to play all the games in a short space of time? I think you have to remember that we all have jobs outside football.
“Playing for Cheltenham Town Ladies is not a full-time job, so we have to work around our working life with is difficult because we still have long away trips that need to be fulfilled if the league season was to continue.
“I just don’t logistically think that we are going to be able to fit in all the remaining fixtures in the league.”
When the players return to training from March 29, the focus will be on the cup and all uncertainty with the league will be put aside for the Portsmouth tie.
A tie which excites both Hallsworth and Hallett.
“I think it’s exciting to have a date to work back towards and I think that increases the motivation,” Hallett admits. “We know that Portsmouth are a dangerous opponent, and we will be training as hard as we can to try and nullify their threats.”
Hallsworth enthusiastically says: “I cannot wait. I’m just excited to get in that car and head down the motorway to Portsmouth for the big game.
“My boots are very clean and are in the bag ready to go. My towels are already in my bag and we are just counting down the days now.
“We know it’s going to be a big test for us, but we have the capability to pull off an upset.
“The team spirit like I’ve already said is so strong from the last round, and it’s been strengthened with how close we have been during this lockdown.”
The winner of the contest down south will play one of Gillingham or Crawley Wasps. Interestingly though, the winner of that resulting tie will face Arsenal Women in the fourth round.
A prospect that Hallett simply sums up in one word – “terrified.”
“I mean what an opportunity it will be for a club in tier four to play a team who have the record for the most FA Cup title wins.
“It would just be a surreal experience for everyone in the club. We all worked hard for prospects like this becoming a reality.”
The emotion of being terrified is contradicted with Hallsworth’s feeling of genuine excitement at anticipation.
“It would be an absolutely phenomenal feeling,” the defender says. “We have to be level-headed and just take it one step at a time.”
“But it would just be surreal to come up against some of the best players in the world. The experience of it all even just thinking about it is overwhelming.
“If we got to that stage, we will battle and give it our all out there.”
To make the first step towards a dream clash against the Gunners, the Robinesses must defeat Pompey in the next round to keep the FA Cup dream alive.
Keep up to date with match coverage by following @CTLadies on Twitter.