Women’s FA Cup: Bend it like Beckham’s unsung heroes and other second-round tales

Hounslow Women FC
Hounslow host Cardiff on Sunday

Sunday's Women's FA Cup second round will see the 24 third-tier clubs enter the competition, with a legendary former England forward and unsung heroes of the Bend it like Beckham movie among those involved.

The 36 teams in action - all of whom are from the third or fourth tiers - are just two wins away from a potential fourth-round meeting with a Women's Super League club.

Chorley are the lowest-ranked side remaining and they host fellow-Women's National League Division One North outfit Brighouse Town, while the respective third-tier North and South leaders, Sunderland and Watford, are the highest-placed.

The clubs are competing for £1,000 of prize money - 54 times less than that which the men's second-round winners receive - but there is no less love for the cup's "magic", as BBC Sport found when speaking to those involved in some of the round's stand-out ties.

Can Hounslow invoke spirit of Bend it like Beckham?

The film Bend it like Beckham will always be synonymous will Hounslow, having featured the fictional team Hounslow Harriers. But on Sunday the drama will play out on the pitch rather on the big screen.

Martino Chevannes, the first-team manager of the newly-named Hounslow Women, was in the credits for the 2002 movie having helped select players to be Jess Bhamra's team-mates and opponents when managing QPR Ladies.

"The vast majority of the players in Bend it like Beckham were from QPR," Chevannes, whose Hounslow side host Cardiff City, told BBC Sport.

"I was involved in the recruitment of players for [the film]. I was contacted about players. Then, with [producer] Simon Clifford, we worked on a lot of the choreography for the football scenes, with a few of our players in the opposition as well, plus players from other clubs."

A long-serving coach at QPR's community programme, Chevannes continued to manage QPR until earlier this year, before the club broke away to be renamed Hounslow for this season.

But the rebranded team are playing their home games at Uxbridge FC's Honeycroft ground - outside of the boundaries of Hounslow - so why the name?

"In pre-season, we had arranged to move to a ground in Hounslow, but in the end that didn't materialise, by which point the name had already been approved by the Football Association," Chevannes explained.

"So we've ended up not playing in Hounslow but being called Hounslow. Once the name is already approved you can't then change the name again until the following season.

"With any new club, we've obviously been through a lot of change. It's like building a new team from scratch. We're getting there, slowly but surely. The time that the people who run the Women's National League put in is tremendous and the league is at a really strong level."

The medical student learning from an England legend

Somebody else who knows the strength of the pyramid is England youth international Ella Pusey, who was playing in the top flight with Yeovil Town until moving to Southampton in 2018.

That saw her switch from the WSL to - at that stage - tier five, but the move enabled the teenage medical student to study chiropractics in Bournemouth while training under the guise of an England legend.

Marieanne Spacey-Cale
Marieanne Spacey-Cale is in charge of Southampton Women

Marieanne Spacey-Cale scored 28 goals in 91 senior caps, in a Lionesses career that spanned three decades until her international retirement after Euro 2001.

She has been in charge of Southampton Women since 2018.

"The opportunity to work with her was something I couldn't really turn down," Pusey said.

"She was such a prolific England striker and is a legend. I know I've improved so much and she's such a great role model.

"We've got a positive atmosphere around the club, with a lot of energetic youngsters coming through. It's a project that I couldn't resist being part of."

On Sunday, Pusey will face her former club Yeovil away from home for the second time in a week, after she scored in a 2-1 extra-time win at the Glovers in the FA National League Cup on 24 November.

"It'll be a weird feeling and there'll be some familiar faces again but I'm looking forward to focusing on the game," Pusey added.

"It'll be a brilliant occasion. Whether it's men's or women's, the FA Cup has that magic feel to it.."

Southampton - who won their fifth-tier regional division last season - are currently top of the fourth tier's south west region, while Yeovil are fourth in the third tier South after dropping down two divisions when the FA rejected their bid for a second-tier licence earlier this year.

Does a regionalised draw have downsides?

While those two teams are meeting for the second time in seven days, at least 16 other sides will also be facing familiar opposition, because eight of the ties see teams from the same division go head-to-head.

That's partly down to the north-south regionalisation of the second-round draw, and one of the southern match-ups sees Chevannes' Hounslow meet Cardiff for essentially a second straight year at the same stage, having faced the Bluebirds in last season's second round when known as QPR.

"Personally I think the format needs to change to bring more magic in to the women's competition, because in a cup, you want to be playing against teams that you don't normally play against," Chevannes added.

"I know you have to take in to account costs for clubs, travelling to away ties, but I'd have loved to have been drawn against a northern team and play somebody we've never played before. You won't get that as long as the draw remains regionalised at this stage.

"It is a great competition and I love it, but a big game is great for your club and your area, facing players that you see playing on the television for England or in the WSL - that's for me is what's going to inspire players to achieve their goals."

Local derby 'makes it even tastier'

However, one arguable benefit of the regionalised draws has seen it throw up some tantalising local derbies.

East Midlands rivals Derby County and Nottingham Forest will go head-to-head in Mickleover, while Sheffield FC travel to Yorkshire neighbours Barnsley.

Meanwhile, in the north east, WNL Northern Premier division leaders Sunderland host Middlesbrough at Hebburn Town FC.

The Lady Black Cats were in the WSL as recently as 2017-18, when they reached the FA Cup quarter-finals for a third straight year, having been semi-finalists in 2016.

Melanie Reay
Melanie Reay is helping Sunderland rebuild after suffering a double relegation in 2018

The club are continuing to rebuild after suffering a double relegation in 2018 amid the restructuring of England's top leagues, but they have enjoyed continuity under head coach Melanie Reay, who took charge in 2017.

"We've had a really good start this season and long may it continue," Reay told BBC Sport.

"We've got a bit more experience now. We came into the league two years ago not really knowing what to expect, not knowing the styles of play clubs were going to use, but having that experience under our belts now, we're a lot more prepared.

"We're looking forward to [facing Boro]. We haven't played for a couple of weeks, so we're chomping at the bit to get back to it, and with it being a bit of a local derby it makes it even tastier."

Unbeaten Sunderland have won eight of their nine league games so far and their only draw came against Boro, as Reay added: "We've picked up a lot of good wins this season but we drew with Middlesbrough, so it should be a good game for the neutral to watch.

"We're realists - we're not going to win the FA Cup - but it'd be good to have a nice little run, draw a big team and get them back to Hebburn for the fans to watch."

BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women's sport available to watch across the BBC in 2019, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women's sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.