Fulham Ladies have established themselves as the dominant force in England
even before reaching the top flight.
They have secured promotion to the National Premier division, clinched
the League Cup and have set their sights on completing a treble by adding
the FA Cup.
Monday's clash with Doncaster Belles will certainly pose more problems
than most of Fulham's matches this season, which have usually seen them
run out easy winners.
Ladies, the first professional club in Europe, have scored 344 goals
this season in winning the southern division, the FA Womens Premier
League Cup and the London County Cup. Today they aim to win
the F.A. Cup
So how does it feel to go through a season winning every game by an average
score of 9-0?
"I love it," said Norwegian striker Margunn Haugenes. "I
never want to stop winning by so much."
Fulham have clearly adopted the professional attitude that befits Europe's
only full-time outfit. And in completing the three-year plan to reach the
top division with a year to spare, the players knew they would be taking
on much weaker opposition along the way.
"We knew we had to make our way up through the leagues and that we
would meet many teams who had less money, and played at a lower level,"
said Haugenes. "If we win 10-0 and it's a lousy match then obviously
it's not so much fun, but when we perform and play well it's great."
Haugenes is an example of the gulf between Fulham and their rivals. A former
Norway international, she retired after helping her country to Olympic gold
in Sydney. The London club has brought in her husband Gaute as coach, and
he admits that the team now needs to play top opposition more regularly
to continue progressing.
"We've improved a lot during the season," he said. "We've
been very focused on creating a team style and a way of playing. "You
can do that whoever you are playing. But to progress further we must start
playing good teams each week, rather than just in the cup."
Among the 11 full internationals in the squad are Rachel Yankey and Katie
Chapman, two of England's rising stars. And both are in little doubt as
to the benefit of being able to train every day as part of a professional
"We're definitely better, and the fitness makes a big difference,"
said Chapman. "When teams tire, we start to play."
Yankey added: "It's definitely helped having world-class players coming
in, not just in playing the game but in the way they prepare and train.
"I've got a lot fitter and been able to work on my strengths, and the
team is getting better as a whole."
The Scandinavian influence has been considerable and both Gaute and Margunn
Haugenes see Fulham as an example of what can be achieved through professionalism.
"The standard in England is definitely improving," said Gaute
Haugenes. "I worked for nine years at the top level in Norway and I
find the same amount of talent here, but they usually can't train more than
once a week. "You can't beat teams like Norway and Germany just training
once a week. "This country needs to start a professional league, and
within two years they would be competing with the big international teams."
But for the moment Fulham stand alone as a professional club. And although
the players clearly enjoyed winning promotion, they were aware of their
fortunate position while rattling up huge scores week in, week out.
"The aim has always been to get to the Premier League, and we've scored
some good goals along the way," said Yankey. "But you do feel
sorry for the other teams sometimes."