The halfway point of any project gives you the chance to think back on what you’ve done, revel in your successes, and shake your head at the miscues that seem obvious in hindsight. As such, the winter holidays are always an interesting time to be part of a fall-to-spring sports league.
There’s no doubt that London Seaward FC, the East London-based women’s football club my company sponsors in Division 1 South East of the Women’s National League (Tier 4), has performed well in the first part of the season. They currently sit fifth in their eleven-team division after earning 13 points from four wins, one draw, and two losses.
If you throw in solid performances in cup competitions where they were eliminated by clubs a league higher (Tier 3), it's been quite a good year. The wild card has been the weather. At least five matches have been moved or postponed due to waterlogged or snowy pitches that were unplayable.
I got bitten by one of those cancellations when my wife and I flew to the UK in November. Seaward had an away fixture scheduled for the afternoon of the day we landed at Heathrow; I figured there was no way I could get to the venue and planned to continue on to Manchester with Ginny until I noticed that the match would be played at a stadium literally half a mile south of the airport. It was a sunny day so I changed my plans, only to receive a message just as I walked past security saying the pitch was still a bog from several days of rain and the match was off.
Bad news: no game. Good news: a day in London, albeit one where I was worn out from flying. Fast forward to Wednesday when Ginny and I took the train back from Manchester and I got to attend a training session and hand out the Oregon chocolate Ginny and I had brought for the players. (Note to self: bring some for the manager and coaches when we return.) After a meet-and-greet with the players where they gifted Ginny and I signed jerseys, we spent the rest of the week seeing shows, speaking with the club’s management, and getting to know the East London borough of Waltham Forest where the club plays.
On Sunday, two committee members drove us to Folkestone, a small English seaside town near Ipswich, for Seaward’s cup tie against Ipswich Town. It was a two-hour drive each way and, even though we lost 3-0, the players gave a good account of themselves against a side that is in third place in their league and has a realistic shot at promotion to the Barclay’s Women’s Championship (Tier 2).
London Seaward FC (left, in seafoam green away shirts) vs. Ipswich Town. Photo by the author.
At this point Seaward are about one-third of the way through their league matches, with seven played and thirteen to go. Earning promotion would be a stretch, but the club is well ahead of the pace to exceed their point total from last season even though they will play fewer matches. That’s good progress.
As a sponsor, I’ve continued to stay back and let the club work through the season and plan for the future. The social media team promoted my LinkedIn Learning courses that were published in November and will do the same for the independent releases coming early next year, but I didn’t want to generate artificial traffic when I had nothing new to offer. I’ll develop my plans for promotion in 2023 and begin creating material in earnest in the new year.
Seaward have taken several steps forward and are improving by the week. It’s time for me to match their work rate.
To start the ball rolling here, I thought I'd revisit a post I made on my Improspectives® blog back in February 2017 regarding Lincoln's shock win over Burnley in the men's FA Cup.
One of the undying joys of sports is watching an underdog beat a massive favorite. The U.S. Olympic hockey team beating the USSR in the semi-finals of the 1980 Winter Olympics is one such win, as was the #15 seed University of Richmond basketball team’s win in the first round against my alma mater, the #2 seed Syracuse Orange. Even though those wins were improbable, they came in contests among reasonably well-matched teams. Richmond and Syracuse are both Division I programs, so they could recruit and offer scholarships to elite players.
Few tournaments remain where teams of all levels compete on equal terms. Even the famed Indiana state high school basketball tournament changed to four divisions based on enrollment in 1997. The exception is soccer, or football as it’s called everywhere except in the U.S. and Canada. Most national organizations hold a tournament where teams of all levels compete. In England, that tournament is the FA (Football Association) Cup. Premier League, League Championship, and League 1 teams get byes through the early rounds, but the lower division sides advance and, on occasion, knock off one of the big boys. It’s unusual for a League 1 or League 2 side to beat a Premier League team, but it does happen.
And then there’s Lincoln. Lincoln plays in the National League, which is, in rank order, below the Premier League, League Championship, League 1, and League 2. According to the New York Times, Lincoln was 81 places below Premier League side Burnley when they played on February 18. No National League team had ever beaten a Premier League side in an FA Cup game until Lincoln pulled it off.
While the win is shocking, it’s doesn’t come against Lincoln’s run of form. They reached the Round of 16 by beating League Championship sides Ipswich and Brighton, so they were clearly playing well. And Burnley is a mid-table club, substantially behind the leaders but well above the cutoff line for relegation to the League Championship. (The bottom three Premier League teams are relegated, while the top two League Championship teams, plus the winner of a playoff among the sides that finished third through sixth, are promoted.) Burnley has the money to attract top-flight foreign talent, while Lincoln fields part-timers who work to supplement their football pay.
Upsets of this magnitude make for great stories, but they also point to the depth of talent available to take the field for English sides at all levels of the game. The history of the game, its cultural significance, and the pride that comes from playing well shine through Lincoln’s success. As the saying goes, “England expects.” Lincoln has exceeded those expectations.