|Picture from Manchester City Ladies FC|
Sunday's 4-1 FA Cup defeat to Manchester City was the ladies' first defeat in any competition all season. And despite being second best last weekend, they certainly did not disgrace themselves against a Manchester City side that is challenging towards the top of the Women's Premier League Northern Division – two tiers higher than Oxford. Though it was eventually not to be this time around, United have previous form for beating higher-placed sides, overcoming Lewes, currently ten points clear in the league above, in the previous round.
Their cup exploits against higher level opposition act as a good indicator of the standard the club is currently at, as well as providing a good benchmark for where the club aims to eventually reach. The club has already made fantastic progress since its formation (it was only a couple of years ago that Oxford City were routinely dishing out thumpings to this side), but the club is not simply content to rest on its laurels and has launched an ambitious five year plan to reach the Women's Premier League – which would put them at the same level as last Sunday's opponents, Manchester City.
|Picture from Oxford United Ladies FC|
This achievement should not be underestimated, with the entire set-up being built from scratch over the last few years. The girls' Centre of Excellence was awarded the FA Standard Charter in 2006, establishing its Academy link with Peers School in 2007 and finally linking the youth system to the ladies' first team in 2008 in order to provide a linear progression from youth to senior football. The phenomenal progress the club has made in this respect was recognised last year when an FA reorganisation of the “Girls' Talent Development Pathway” slashed the number of FA-recognised CoEs from 52 down to 30, with Oxford being included amongst this elite due to its infrastructure and potential to produce future England players.
From this it becomes clear that Oxford United LFC have made remarkable progress over the past few years and this trend looks set to continue. We supporters tend only to judge our club's worth by the league position of its professional first team, but we would do well to highlight the achievements being made in other areas. A few years ago this club was on its knees, stripped completely of any youth or community activity to speak of. That the women's team has gone from strength to strength and now appears to be flourishing is demonstrative of the wider rebuilding job that has been taking place within the club over the last several years and shows that, slowly but surely, we are becoming a proper club again.