Full steam ahead at last for new Stags Ladies boss Andi Bell
Mansfield Town ladies boss Andi Bell can't wait to start her first full season in the role after the frustrations of last season's Covid curtailment following her appointment as the club's first female manager last summer.
And, despite only one side going up out of the highly competitive East Midlands Ladies Premier League, Bell believes she has a squad capable of seriously challenging for promotion to the National League.
“I think we have the nucleus there, though we are always looking to improve. I don't think anyone is really the finished article,” she said.
“We have a really great core and I can't fault any of the players from last season and the effort they put it under difficult circumstances.
“We have trials in a few few weeks and from those we may get one or two people in areas we need to strengthen.
“I believe our league will be stronger than it was last season even though it was curtailed. Three good teams came up who will certainly hold their own and just one decent team was promoted.”Bell wants to go up playing easy-on-the-eye football, but knows they may need to mix it up along the way.
“From the start we have tried to play good football,” she said.
“Without doubt getting out of this league with just one promoted is really difficult.
“I do believe we have the right players to do it.
“I think within this league you also need to have a Plan B. In certain games playing nice football sometimes does not work, though it will always be our aim.
“But we will be adaptable enough that we can play other ways if we need to. Physicality and a bit of aggression within this league certainly helps alongside your football.
“It will be a very difficult task and I am sure there are a few other sides in our league next season that will have the same aim for themselves.”
The Covid lockdown has now wrecked Bell's first two seasons with the club.
The former Nottingham Forest Ladies and Derby County Women player spent 2019/20 as a player and assistant manager to Tony Palmer, but played few games as Covid struck.
“It has been a strange time for everyone, not just me, with a few obstacles to overcome. You just have to deal with things as they change as we go along,” she said.
“It has been difficult with planning and not knowing what's going to happen with restrictions.
“But I think we have dealt with it quite well. It has probably given us different strengths we will come out of it with going forward into next season.
“I have enjoyed it, even though it's been difficult with the organising, dealing with the restrictions that have occurred and the stop-start.
“I have been very pleased with how the players have applied themselves and the backing I have had from Alan (Director of Ladies Football Allan Woodfield) and the club has been really good.”
The side managed to get in seven games in a hastily-arranged tournament after restrictions were eased in April.
“We won three out of three in the league stage and went into the knock-out stages where we went all the way to the semi-finals.
"It was a decent competition with some good teams.
“The attitude we showed and how we played was really pleasing and a positive for next season.”
Although based at Stags RH Academy in Pleasley, the girls enjoy occasional games on the main One Call Stadium pitch.
Bell said: “We will play mostly at the Academy. We tend to play cup games at the One Call.
"Hopefully again this season we will get a few games in there.
“We played there towards the end of the season for one of our league games in the cup which was really pleasing.
"It's a brilliant environment for us. The girls love it when we play there.”
Andi’s predecessor as manager, Tony Palmer said: “I thought Andi was the ideal candidate for the job.
“I've known her a few years - I used to work with her at Forest.
“She should do well there and they'll push on this year, hopefully.
“Andi was a good player and when she was younger she was one of the best players around, and she's a good goalscorer.
“She's got the experience and she's learned a few bits in management. I think she'll do well next season.”
In the cup competition, Stags made light work of the group games, bearting both Arnold Eagles and Sherwood 4-0 and Notts County Development 2-0.
Into the knockout-stages they saw off Derby County 4-3 before bowing out to Lincoln City 2-1. Stags also beat Notts County Development 7-1 in a friendly but lost 2-0 to Nottingham Forest.
Stags Ladies return for pre-season on 24th June and could be bolstered by anyone impressing in the trials on 27th June ahead of summer friendlies.
The league is expected to start in early September though they may have a WFA Cup game before that in August.
Stags Ladies play in the East Midlands Women’s Football League Premier Division - Step 5 of the women’s pyramid – while their Development team play in the Notts Girls and Ladies Football League Division One - Step 7.
Trials take place on 27th June (1.30-3.30pm) on 4G at RH Academy, Woburn Lane, Pleasley, followed by further sessions on 29th June and 1st July. To register email [email protected] or text 07764 762623.