Photo credit: @westhamwomen
West Ham WFC made history earlier this week by playing their first ever top flight game of football, securing a well-earned draw against Reading in the FA Women’s Super League (WSL).
Not that you would have known it from looking at the major media outlets.
While it’s true that from the outside this might not seem groundbreaking – after all, plenty of clubs make their debuts in their respective highest tier each year – but take a look at how they got there and it’s soon clear just impressive this is.
This time last season they were playing in the third tier Premier League South and were about to embark on a run of 12 losses in 17 games.
Go back to October 2016 and the club was embroiled in its third scandal in as many years as former chairman Stephen Hunt accused the main West Ham body of sexism due to inadequate funding and support that led to the team supposedly warming up on zebra crossings.
That came 12 months after former captain Stacey Little was one of six players whoU quit the club in acrimonious circumstances, while in October 2014 Little had set up a fundraising page in order to raise money to allow her side to train and play the game they loved.
Therefore, if you take all that into account, the sheer fact that West Ham are now a fully professional outfit who look set to challenge the very best teams in the country is something quite remarkable.
And that’s what makes it all the more frustrating that no-one has really paid any attention to it.
Yes the Champions League was on that night and yes they played out a goalless draw, but surely this is just too impressive a story to miss?
Or perhaps that’s the point – no-one was interested because it wasn’t a scandal.
It was interesting to hear on Newsnight earlier this week a politician – of all people – state that as Brits we always tend to focus on the negatives rather than the positives in any situation and this certainly seems to be the case with West Ham.
While they have hit the headlines on at least three separate occasions over recent years, when have we ever heard of their success?
It’s not like there hasn’t been any either – following their formation in 1991 the team raced up the divisions, finding themselves in the then-second tier Southern Premier League after just 13 years of existence.
They also turned around their poor start to 2017/18 to only lose one of their final 14 games, also won two cups, while the trophy cabinets for the junior teams must have been bulging at their hinges such is the amount of silverware they’ve won over the years.
But has that ever been reported on a national scale? Of course not.
The last time most of us heard of West Ham was back in October 2016 when Hunt made his very bold and damning allegations against the West Ham board.
While obviously an excruciating moment for the club at the time, it actually turned out to be the best thing that could have happened for the women’s team, although not Hunt as it saw him sacked.
Whereas previously the women had only been affiliated with the club, West Ham now took them on as a fully pledged part of their brand for the first time, giving them the access to the funding, facilities and equipment that had been lacking before.
Such was the speed of their change that just 18 months later they had been awarded a position in a full-time professional league, charged with lining up against the greats such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. Not even the most optimistic of individuals could have predicted that.
This alone is worthy of the highest praise, but what further illustrates just how strong a position the club now finds itself in is the clientele it managed to recruit over the summer.
Many highly talented international athletes joined their ranks, including New Zealand’s Ria Percival and former Manchester City player and Scottish star Jane Ross, but the marquee signings were certainly those of Gilly Flaherty and Claire Rafferty.
What makes these acquisitions so important is that they are two players in the prime of the career, were regulars at Chelsea – last year’s FA Cup and WSL champions – and both with international caps at their game, yet they felt comfortable moving to a club newly promoted from the third tier with nowhere near as much history for the next stage of their careers.
If that isn’t a sign West Ham are in a good place then it’s difficult to know what is.
This tale is a proper rags-to-riches journey, a feel good story for even the most hardened of football fans that now just needs its perfect ending.
A debut WSL title perhaps?
They couldn’t… Could they?