Women's FA Cup third round: Southampton's eight-time winners among sides bidding to join WSL giants

Southampton Women in 1976
Southampton Women's FC (seen here in 1976) reached all of the first nine Women's FA Cup finals, winning seven of them

Casting your eye at the fixture list, you would be forgiven for doing a double take. In the Women's FA Cup third round, Southampton FC Women and Southampton Women's FC are both in action on Sunday.

The former, who are away to Cardiff City, are backed by the men's Premier League club, while the latter, who host West Bromwich Albion, are a separate, unrelated team with bags of history.

Southampton Women's FC just happen to have a remarkable eight Women's FA Cups to their name, making them the second-most successful club in the competition's history, behind only record 14-time winners Arsenal.

The Hampshire duo, who occupy the top two spots in Women's National League Division One South West, have one of the most peculiar situations of any local rivals in the country, and they were actually joined by a third club from the city - 'Southampton Saints Girls & Ladies FC' - until the Saints' 40-year history halted as they folded amid financial difficulties in 2019.

But it is the Romsey-based Southampton Women's FC whose formative years brought remarkable success despite the difficulties that followed the ban on females playing the game enforced by the Football Association.

"The amount of people that get us mixed up, it's strange, but we just do what we have to do and make sure people know we're the most successful team in Southampton," vice-captain Kellie Warren told BBC Sport.

"In the back of our minds, we're so proud to say we're a team that have won it eight times. Hopefully the future holds good things for us as well as the other clubs.

"But it doesn't really get spoken about that much in the dressing room because, this season, in terms of our cup run, we see it as this is the furthest we've been in the competition in our recent years as Southampton Women's FC."

After eliminating four sides so far including Bournemouth and Milton Keynes Dons, Warren and her team-mates are now just one more win away from a place in the fourth round of the cup, when teams from the Women's Super League and Championship enter.

Standing in their way on Sunday are third-tier outfit West Brom, who came past Lincoln City in December's second round.

"It's going to be a cracking game because we are both football-playing teams," defender Warren added. "They're in the league above us, they're physical, strong and won't be easy but we're excited because we love good games.

"It's a difficult one to go in to after Christmas but the FA Cup is just a cracking cup, isn't it? Everyone wants to play in it and everyone wants to get really far."

With the far greater financial resources nowadays enjoyed by WSL sides, Warren knows they are unlikely to add to the club's heroics of the 1970s and 80s with a ninth cup triumph this term at Wembley.

Sue Lopez
Southampton legend Sue Lopez was honoured at 2018's FA Women's Football awards

The original Southampton side were trailblazers who romped to repeated victories, reaching all of the first nine finals and 10 of the first 11, winning eight of them.

One of their key stars, forward Sue Lopez, won 22 England caps in her 20-year playing career and also had a one-year spell at Italian Serie A side Roma.

Nearly 50 years on from Lopez and co's first successes, Warren's team's cross-city rivals, with links to the St Mary's-based men's side, are coached by England legend Marieanne Spacey-Cale and also face third-tier opposition in Cardiff City.

Both Southampton clubs came through penalty shootouts in a dramatic second round, with Spacey-Cale's side knocking out former WSL side Yeovil Town.

But they are not the only lower-league clubs dreaming of causing an upset and claiming a place in Monday's fourth-round draw (17:00 GMT).

Sitting seventh in the fourth tier's south east region, West London-based Actonians LFC are the lowest-ranked team remaining in the competition.

They travel to Billericay Town, who sit four places higher than them in the table, in one of two all-fourth-tier ties.

In the other, Brighouse Town FC host their National League Division One North title rivals Barnsley.

Both those sides are unbeaten in the league this term, with Brighouse seven points behind the leaders Barnsley with a game in hand.

Those two ties will ensure that at least two fourth-tier outfits reach this season's fourth round.

But Ipswich - who are top of tier four's south east region - will hope to join them with a home victory over third-tier Portsmouth, while both Southampton clubs also bid to represent the lower tiers further.

There are nine ties in all on Sunday, with the nine victors joining the 23 teams from the top two divisions for Monday's draw for the last 32, including holders Manchester City.

This year's final will be held at Wembley on Saturday, 9 May.

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, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women's sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.

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