A SIDE from the recently established Rugby Town Academy were invited to play a closed-doors friendly against Manchester United Ladies FC – who were also re-established in the summer after a 13 year absence from women’s football.
United are managed by ex-England international Casey Stoney who made 130 appearances for her country before retiring from playing to take up a role in Phil Neville’s backroom team for the England women’s national team.
The match was arranged as a result of the strong links that have been established between Stoney, Neville and Town’s Academy Manager Liam O’Neill, and O’Neill reflected on a highly successful experience for his Under 17 fledglings.
“The opportunity to play against a Man Utd side was too good a one to refuse,” he said.
“I have got to know Casey quite well over the past year and it gave our teams the chance to test themselves in a very different way than usual.
“I have been personally astounded by how far the ladies game has come as a whole and very impressed by the quality of the United line-up which had eight internationals in it – including Alex Greenwood, Laura James and keeper Sian Chamberlain.”
Valley’s academy team ultimately won the Leigh Sports Village hosted fixture by three goals to two, and O’Neill looked forward to developing the relationship between the two entities in the future.
He said: “It was a really competitive game and a great learning curve for both sets of players and coaches alike.
“Casey and I have been discussing the possibility of playing further fixtures as the season goes on and we’re hoping to return in November during the international break for the first of these.
“For the academy to be able to forge links with arguably the biggest football club in the world can only be a positive thing for us moving forward.”