The Vitality Women's FA Cup

Revived Dragons fly into the Women's FA Cup fifth round hoping to cause another upset

Friday 24 Feb 2023
Cardiff City Ladies squad for the 2022-23 season

Cardiff City Ladies are a club with a rich and proud history but last summer they knew things had to change. 

‘New Season, New Identity’ was the mantra as Cardiff looked to overhaul the club in a bid to return to former glories.

For a proud club who had spent time in English football’s top division, prior to the formation of the Women’s Super League, and represented Wales in what is now the Champions League having won the Welsh FA Cup a record-breaking 11 times, relegation from the Southern Premier to the fourth tier last summer was tough to take.

Not to be confused with Cardiff City Women, who play in the Welsh Premier League and are officially linked to the men’s side, Cardiff City Ladies are an independent amateur club and last summer they set about a major revamp, both on the pitch and off it. 

Cardiff City Ladies decided to change their club colours from blue to red, altered their badge, changed their nickname to The Dragons and moved ground to Cwrt-yr-Ala. They brought in more volunteers to help run the club, introduced their youth section ‘The Dragons Training Centre’ and coach Jamie Phillip was promoted to manager.

The major changes have helped revitalise the club and not only are they second in Division One South West, with games in hand on leaders Exeter City, but they have also gone on a superb run to the Vitality Women’s FA Cup fifth round proper.

A 4-1 victory over Burnley, who are second in the Northern Premier, means they now travel to Championship club Lewes on Sunday as the only amateur team left in the competition.

“We are very proud of what the girls have done so far this season, they have been incredible,” said club secretary Karen Jones MBE, who was a founder member of Cardiff City Ladies when they launched in 1975 when she was a 16-year-old goalkeeper.

“There is no comparison compared to this time last season when we were in tier three. We struggled massively on the pitch and off the pitch. 

“After our relegation, we took a hard look at ourselves and said ‘what can we do to improve the situation and the club as a whole?’”

Cardiff City Ladies may have changed a lot around the club but one thing which has largely stayed the same is the squad of players, something Jones believes has been key to their success this season.

The likes of Sophie Ingle and Jess Fishlock may have had to move on to progress their career but the Dragons have a talented squad which includes Wales No.1 Laura O’Sullivan and a forward in Cori Williams who has been scoring for fun.

Cardiff City Ladies chairwoman Michelle Adams and club secretary Karen Jones have played crucial roles in the development of not only their club but the Wales national team
On Sunday they come up against a Lewes side who sit in mid-table in the Barclays Women’s Championship and Jones is hoping Cardiff will be able to produce another upset.

Jones, who played 19 times for Wales and helped the national team become officially recognised by the Welsh FA, said: “We look at this game as similar to the Burnley match where they are beatable.

 “It is not a Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea. They are a Championship side so the girls are confident and if it doesn’t go to plan, then so be it. But we are the underdog and that is a great place to be in.”

With the Vitality Women’s FA Cup prize money increasing by £3m this season, it has meant significantly more money is being received in the earlier rounds of the competition.

Cardiff City Ladies entered this year’s competition at the third round qualifying stage, meaning from their four victories so far, they have received £43,000 in prize money.

The winners in the fifth round proper this weekend will land a further £20,000, with the losing side still receiving £5,000.

Chairwoman Michelle Adams MBE spoke this week of how the club’s FA Cup run has ‘made a massive difference to this season and hopefully next season’, with the club planning to save a proportion of the funds for beyond the current campaign.

It is hoped the money will help Cardiff City Ladies in their goal of securing a return to the Southern Premier Division in the next 18 months, with the long-term objective of promotion to the Barclays Women’s Championship.

With Cardiff City Ladies’ staff and players all amateur, Jones is hoping the increased exposure from their Vitality Women’s FA Cup run may help generate even more revenue opportunities moving forward.

“We are the premier club in Wales and we are the oldest club – we have a rich and proud history,” Jones said.

“We have had a lot of support locally and we are still on the lookout for more support and sponsorship partners like all independent clubs like us are.

“We’re hoping that this FA Cup run will help us find new investment and we want them to become a part of our journey.

“It is a really exciting time for the club and who doesn’t love a good cup run?”

Elsewhere in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup fifth round proper

Arguably the standout tie of the round comes at Kingsmeadow when reigning Barclays Women’s Super League champions Chelsea welcome fellow title-challengers Arsenal.

The match comes just a week before the two teams face off in the FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup Final at Selhurst Park, with tickets still available and prices starting at £10 for adults and £2.50 for under-16s.

For those unable to secure a ticket for the Vitality Women’s FA Cup fifth round proper tie this weekend, the clash will be shown on BBC2, iPlayer and online.

It is one of three all-BWSL ties in the last 16, with nine clubs from the top flight reaching this stage of the competition.

We are guaranteed at least one Barclays Women’s Championship club in the quarter-finals, with Birmingham City travelling to Charlton Athletic, and also the winner of Lewes versus Cardiff City Ladies.

Interestingly, Championship title-chasers Bristol City welcome Manchester City in a fixture which is replicated in the men’s competition just two days later.

You can view all the Vitality Women’s FA Cup fixtures here.

By Frank Smith