Tipped for FA WSL relegation, a youthful Birmingham City LFC have defied sceptics by reaching the European semi-finals. Karen Carney and Jo Potter discuss their rise.
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Birmingham City LFC may have been runners-up in the first two FA Women's Super League (WSL) seasons of 2011 and 2012, but when promotion and relegation were introduced along with a second division for 2014, many tipped the Blues to be the first through the trapdoor.
What has happened so far this year may give those people second thoughts. Having already made a first UEFA Women's Champions League quarter-final, Birmingham's young team outplayed Arsenal LFC home and away to earn a last-four tie with Tyresö FF of Sweden, who visit their new Solihull home in Saturday's first leg. Even more notable given several experienced players left in the winter, but not captain Karen Carney.
"It's a massive achievement," Carney told UEFA.com. "We've made history for the club, we want to go on and do even better. God knows what we can do with this team, but I've never believed in the team this much before. The sky is our limit."
Like Carney, fellow midfielder Jo Potter played for Birmingham early in her career and went on to clubs including Arsenal before coming back to a Blues side transformed in recent years, both from within and with the support of the men's organisation. "Just the professionalism of the club now, it's gone up levels beyond what I ever thought it would," Potter said.
"So just to be playing in a Blues shirt now, compared to ten, 12 years ago, it's just so different. The club are an honour to play for, for where they are now, it's just so pleasing to see. And as I said, for people behind the scenes that have been here since day one and see where we used to be [compared] to where we are now, it's just nice for those players and staff."
Even before Birmingham's eye-catching European triumph against Arsenal last month, media interest was shown by a big turn-out at the team's 2014 kit launch. "[In the past] nobody would have been interested in what kit we were wearing, where we were playing, what the goalkeeper kit looks like," Potter said.
Despite their European form, Birmingham – who open their WSL campaign against Everton LFC on Wednesday having begun the domestic season on Sunday with a 3-1 FA Women's Cup last 16 defeat of Doncaster Rovers Belles LFC – are still tipped to struggle in the league campaign ahead, against the well-resourced likes of champions Liverpool LFC and ambitious newcomers Manchester City WFC, not to mention Arsenal, all building squads of top internationals. But the Blues showed their key strength against Arsenal, keeping them out with a young side including a back four with an average age of 20. Even more impressively, only three of their 19-strong squad are not from the English Midlands region which Birmingham is at the heart of.
"It's a local team, not just an English team," Carney said. "A lot of us are from Birmingham or around the area. We've invested in our youth, and our local youth, and we've always been about that for the last ten or 15 years. We've always looked after our youngsters and brought them through.
"I was one myself, Chelsea [Weston] was, even Eni [Aluko] who's gone on to another team. We've always looked after our younger players, and they are talented. When they are local and they support the Blues and respect the team, the history and the culture of the club, you get a little bit of grit and fight."