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“They are just as big an idol as Alfie May”- Former head of media on last time Cheltenham Town Ladies played at Whaddon Road

Cheltenham Town Ladies will play at the Completely-Suzuki Stadium, for the fifth time on Saturday as they host London Bees in the Women’s National League South.

The game is part of a double header featuring Cheltenham Town against Exeter City in its regular 3pm slot. Maidenhead United were the first team to visit the ladies at the home of the men’s club back in 2017 when playing under Graham Fletcher; where a crowd of 211 people watched the Robinesses lose 2-1.

They played again the same season as they faced Forest Green Rovers in the GFA Women’s Trophy with Ella Hitchcox scoring the only goal of the game, Andy Liddle was in the dugout as the club chairman stepped in after Fletcher’s departure.

The third game saw another manager taking charge as another double header saw the Ladies face Swindon Town after the men faced the same opponent. There were 375 fans out of the 4306 at the men’s game who stayed for the Ladies, as Georgia Brown and Cerys Dolloway scored for Cheltenham but the Robinesses were pegged back by Alice Telling and Milly Colford.

It was a full dugout for the home side with then Manager Alex Cheal joined by nephew Cameron Cheal, goalkeeper coach Alyta Norman, and coaches Jack Costeron and Ben Ware and physio Ollie .Davies taking charge on Saturday will mean that each Ladies game at Whaddon Road will have taken place under a different manager.

Former Head of Media at Cheltenham Town Ladies Dan Lodge was at the beginning of the time with the club when the Swindon game took place, covering the Robinesses for the University of Gloucestershire’s Tone Radio. The occasion was a huge one with build up to match:

“I remember it being a really big build up. Lots of social media posts and image sharing, little posters going up around the ground at Saracens (their old landlords). I don’t remember a whole lot because I was recording an audio documentary in Ireland the week before so it was all a little bit of a blur.”

The atmosphere was better than the club were used to at Petersfield Park, with Lodge saying:

“I remember the atmosphere was electric, even though there was about 375 in attendance, the drummer and the little singing section were great. We didn’t have the best performance, given where we were and where Swindon were, but Ed Draper (of Sky Sports News) did say it was a fantastic evening in a comment on the club’s Instagram page.

“It was really fantastic to see the players being asked for autographs after the game too. I think you kind of forget that even though they’re not professional sports stars, to those young girls in the crowd they are just as big an idol as Alfie May.”

It wasn’t just a big occasion for the players, but for Lodge too, with the fact that it was a double header then and now a good sign.

“I think I was really nervous. I wasn’t even officially part of the club at that time although I was probably as near as I could be without actually being in it. But I really had the nerves, just because it was such a good thing. They had played at Whaddon Road before but the turnout wasn’t huge. I think there was like 175 in a game against Forest Green a year before that but the fact it was a double header, with both games against Swindon, made it feel way bigger.

“After the men’s team picked up a big win there was the anticipation that we could make it a double which is maybe where the performance suffered a bit…Under the high expectations.”

Cheltenham Ladies did play at the stadium in 2021, but there were no fans in attendance due to COVID-19, meaning it has been quite a while since fans saw the team play.

“It’s an odd one because the last game at Whaddon Road was in 2021 against Gillingham in the FA Cup but we couldn’t have fans there. So technically it hasn’t been that long since they played there, but then it’s also been four years since a crowd has seen the ladies play there (2019). Four years sounds a lot but when you factor in the pandemic, I don’t know if it’s too bad.

“There’s more the men’s club could do, if I remember correctly it’s worked out every other year we’ve played there but I think the fact that a crowd hasn’t seen the ladies play there since 2019 isn’t really the club’s fault.”

Lodge is now in training to become Gloucestershire’s first and only DDP Yoga instructor, a form of yoga created by former professional wrestler Diamond Dallas to aid his recovery from injury.

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