Women's FA Cup fourth round: Crossing frontiers from equal pay to Pyongyang

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Powell relishing Man City cup test

A team that toured North Korea and a club with equal pay for its male and female teams are among the sides looking to extend their Women's FA Cup runs on Sunday.

Women's Super League clubs enter this season's competition in Sunday's fourth round. Amateurs will face full internationals and a former national team boss will make her managerial FA Cup debut.

BBC Sport looks at some of the teams to watch, as the competition's remaining 32 sides continue on the road to a Wembley final on 5 May.

'No limit' to equal-paying Lewes' ambitions

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The football club with no gender pay gap

Semi-professional outfit Lewes FC generated headlines in July when they announced they would be giving their women's team the same budget as their men's team.

Since then, paying their male and female players the same salaries appears to have served the East Sussex club well, as their men's team lead their division (in the eighth tier) while the women have reached the FA Cup fourth round.

Additionally, punching above so-called bigger names such as West Ham Ladies and Queens Park Rangers in fourth place in the Women's Premier League South (third tier), Lewes Women are enjoying a fine league campaign.

"We are, as far as we can tell, the first football club in the world - professional or semi-professional - to pay the women's team exactly the same as the men, and the reaction has been superb," board of directors member Charlie Dobres told BBC Sport.

"I got involved in 2010 when the club was, like many clubs, in danger of going out of business. We decided to turn it in to a fan-owned, community football club and we realised, to give maximum benefit to all the community, we were going to back our women's team equally.

"This year, we have stepped up fully so that the playing budget is exactly the same as the men's.

"It makes us incredibly proud to get to the fourth round, at the same stage as Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal."

Lewes FC
Lewes men's and women's teams also share a stadium and have the same level of training facilities

So how far do Lewes, who travel to Keynsham Town on Sunday, want to go in the future?

"I think we can take the women's club all the way," Dobres added passionately. "Our immediate ambition would be for the club to get up in the second tier.

"Then, if we could have a period of time in that, we don't see why we can't ultimately challenge for the top tier. It will be very difficult, but we want to be fully ambitious.

"This is why the women's game is so exciting. A club like Lewes can have equal ambitions to a more 'known' football club. There is no limit to our ambitions."

The former finalists who toured a secretive state

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Players from Middlesbrough praised the North Korean women's team

From "chasing shadows" in North Korea to unearthing a forgotten past at her home club, Middlesbrough's Lindsey Stephenson is not joking when she says her team is a "surprise package".

While a tour to the secretive state in 2010 is something that she recalls as being a "pretty big deal at the time", recently learning of her club's own secret history is what has captured the now manager's imagination before their fourth-round tie against Aston Villa.

Stephenson has been involved with Boro Women for more than a decade but, until speaking to long-serving former boss Marrie Wieczorek recently, she had no idea that the club had reached the 1982 Women's FA Cup final under their former name of Cleveland Spartans.

"A lot of the girls that are playing now wouldn't have a clue what went on in North Korea," Stephenson told BBC Sport.

"There are a lot things that no-one is aware of. Even as current manager, I don't have a clue about these things that have happened, like playing in an FA Cup final.

"It's important that we try to make people aware of where we have been, what we have done and hopefully where we are going to be going."

Boro, who are top of the WPL North table - England's third tier - and pressing a serious claim for promotion to what will be be a new-look second division next season, certainly grabbed headlines in the past.

Their trip to North Korea was organised to mark the city's link with the country which dates back to the 1966 World Cup, when they played at Boro's former home Ayresome Park. It garnered worldwide attention.

Middlesbrough Women's manager Lindsey Stephenson giving one of her players instructions
Middlesbrough Women's manager Lindsey Stephenson is also Regional Talent Centre manager at Teeside University

Matches were broadcast across North Korea by state media and games attracted crowds of about 6,000.

"It was a great experience," Stephenson said. "We played two teams, their national side and army team, and I've not seen anything like it - it was like chasing shadows for 90 minutes."

Before their FA Cup tie against Villa, Boro have shown that they are more than a side defined by 270 minutes of historic matches played three decades apart, as they make their trip to the Midlands on a seven-game winning run, scoring 24 goals in their past five games.

Included in that sequence was a 4-3 extra-time win over Liverpool Marshall Feds, which set up the Villa tie and earned 18-year-striker Emily Scarr the player of the round award for her match-winning two-goal performance.

"We have a good pedigree of players coming through," said Stephenson of a side featuring a number of youth internationals, including Scarr, Emma Brown and the duo of Emma Kelly and Ellie Dobson, who featured for Great Britain at last year's World University Games.

Powell's managerial FA Cup debut

Hope Powell
Hope Powell scored as Croydon beat Liverpool to win the 1996 Women's FA Cup at The Den

Another manager who is certainly no stranger to fixtures in foreign lands is former England boss Hope Powell, whose Brighton side host holders Manchester City on Sunday.

WSL 1 leaders City remain unbeaten in their 18 matches in all competitions so far this season, after Thursday's draw at rivals Chelsea.

"It is a real test for us, playing against that calibre of team, against a team full of internationals," Powell told BBC Sport. "We were excited when the draw was made."

Second-tier Albion are preparing for life in the top tier next term, having earned a licence to play in WSL 1 as a fully-professional outfit from 2018-19, and it is a process that Powell wants to go through as thoroughly as possible.

"It is a very big step for us all, the club and the players. We're trying to be as diligent as we can," Powell continued. "It is fantastic that the club are so behind us.

"This game can be a barometer for us going forward. It'll be a tough battle. The expectation is for Man City to do well, but there's expectation for us to do well too.

"We have got to have to work hard when we have not got the ball and, when we do have the ball, we have got to try to nick something."

'We want more people to know about us'

Plymouth Ladies
Plymouth Ladies compete in England's fourth tier

Three tiers below high-flying Manchester City are Plymouth. They are third in the WPL South West Division One - England's fourth tier - and the joint-lowest side remaining in the competition.

But that is only the case because their cup form has led to them having games in hand on their league rivals - Argyle have won all eight of their league games this term.

The Devon side have already beaten higher-league opposition in the FA Cup this season, winning away games at third-tier Gillingham and Fylde in previous rounds.

On Sunday they host WPL North side Leicester City and will bid to knock out another third-tier side.

"We have played against teams in leagues above us already this season and have beaten them, playing better football," goalkeeper Michaela Phillips said of in-form Plymouth.

"Everyone is working really hard. We want more people in Plymouth to know that there is a women's team here."

Plymouth are one of four fourth-tier sides remaining in this season's competition, along with Brighouse Town - who travel to top-flight Sunderland - plus Lewes' hosts Keynsham and Oswestry outfit The New Saints, who host Chichester City.

The final will be held on Saturday, 5 May at Wembley - which began hosting the event in 2015.

Arsenal, the record 14-time winners, travel to WSL 1's bottom club Yeovil in the fourth round, while last year's beaten finalists Birmingham City are away to Reading in another all-WSL 1 tie on Sunday.

Progression to the fifth round will earn clubs an additional £2,000 in prize money, with the winners of the final earning £25,000.

Manchester City Women
2018 will be the fourth year in a row that Wembley has hosted the Women's FA Cup final

Women's FA Cup fourth-round draw in full

Kick-off 14:00 GMT on Sunday, 4 February unless specified

Durham v Sheffield Ladies (13:00 GMT)

Aston Villa v Middlesbrough

Sunderland v Brighouse Town

Keynsham Town v Lewes

Tottenham Hotspur v Doncaster Rovers Belles

Liverpool v Watford (13:00 GMT)

Cardiff City v Oxford United

The New Saints v Chichester City (12:00 GMT)

Millwall Lionesses v Coventry United (15:00 GMT)

Reading v Birmingham City

Plymouth Argyle v Leicester City

Brighton & Hove Albion v Manchester City

Blackburn Rovers v Charlton Athletic

Yeovil Town v Arsenal

London Bees v Chelsea

Everton v Bristol City

You can now add WSL 1 notifications for line-ups, goals, kick-off, half-time and results in the BBC Sport app. Visit this page to find out how to sign-up.

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