Culture shift, valuing veterans and dance music: How Tottenham Hotspur Women went to the next level

·7-min read
Culture shift, valuing veterans and dance music: How Tottenham Women went to the next level - Tottenham Hotspur
Culture shift, valuing veterans and dance music: How Tottenham Women went to the next level - Tottenham Hotspur

If Scottish DJ Ewan McVicar’s dance anthem Tell Me Something Good can be heard reverberating around the dressing room at full-time, it means Tottenham Hotspur Women have won again. Defenders Kerys Harrop and Shelina Zadorsky are singing along at the top of their voices and goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer is leading the dancing.

It’s a scene that is becoming increasingly familiar for Rehanne Skinner’s side, who are through to the semi-finals of a major cup competition for the first time in the club’s history and exceeding expectations in the Women’s Super League, sitting level on points with Sunday’s opponents, third-placed hosts Manchester United (kick off is at midday and can be viewed on FA Player) and just four behind leaders Arsenal.

And it's not only results that have changed for Tottenham. The women’s side moved into the club’s Hotspur Way complex in December 2020 and last year a new pitch was laid at the training ground for their own exclusive use. Currently under construction is a new building on the site that will be dedicated for the women’s team’s use, too, as a culture shift continues. “You can’t underestimate the way that that makes players feel, as a real genuine part of the way this club is moving forward, that they’re valued,” head coach Skinner said, of the team’s switch from their old shared training base at Barnet's The Hive.

Experienced defender Harrop, who joined Tottenham in July 2020 after more than 20 years on the books of Birmingham City, agreed, adding: “It’s a big deal. Getting the switch to the training ground was massive, it just feels more like a club, doesn’t it? We’re one club, all in the same facility.”

Another major change the club made towards the end of 2020 was the appointment of former England, Wales and Arsenal assistant coach Skinner. She replaced long-serving co-managers Karen Hills and Juan Amoros, who had laid tremendous foundations by overseeing the club’s rise up the divisions from the lower, amateur leagues. A little over a year later, the club are enjoying their best top-flight campaign to date; At the midway point in their 22-game season, they have already surpassed the final total of 20 points that they achieved in each of the past two seasons.

For Tottenham’s former Bristol City, Chelsea and Everton forward Rosella Ayane, 25, it’s Skinner’s management skills that have been central to results, telling the Telegraph Sport: “In one word, she’s a leader. She’s ambitious, she’s very driven, she works so hard, and she’s got extreme detail to things which raise every individual’s game. You can see when we’ve ground out wins or fought back to get an equaliser, that sort of mentality breeds from the top."

Tottenham forward Rosella Ayane - Tottenham
Tottenham forward Rosella Ayane - Tottenham

Harrop, a cup winner with Birmingham in 2012, added of Skinner: "She’s very calm, professional and organised. I don’t recall ever coming out of a training session thinking ‘oh that was rubbish’, you know? All the sessions she puts on are really good." Skinner's sessions this week has been preparing the team for a trip to Manchester, the city where their campaign kick-started early on when they pulled off a shock victory that ended Manchester City’s 19-game unbeaten league run, in September. Not only had Tottenham never beaten Manchester City in the professional era, they had lost all of their previous WSL meetings by a three-goal margin, making the 2-1 victory special.

“That was almost like a turning point,” Harrop said. “I think that was when we really realised, we can beat the big teams, we’re there to compete, we want to go on and try and achieve those top three places for the Champions League. It gives you that extra belief. It was like a little party afterwards, in the dressing room. We had the tunes pumping, everyone was dancing.”

As she recalls the moment, Harrop briefly begins to sing McVicar’s anthem - the team's regular song of choice after victories - down the phone: “Tell me something good, tell me that you love me… It’s a very positive song, that one usually gets put on the playlist first. I’m definitely one of the loudest [singers]. Shelina likes a good sing song too and Becky Spencer is the dancer. Everyone gets involved. There are no cliques in the group. That’s definitely a factor as to why we’re doing so well too.”

Defensive stability has also been key for Tottenham, who have conceded just eight times in their first 11 WSL games. Harrop, who helped Birmingham reach the Champions League semi-finals in 2014, has undoubtedly been a key part of that backline, but her experience has also added a great deal to the camp. She chuckles as she says: "You can use the word 'veteran', it's ok, they say it a lot in the commentary, I’m used to it now! When I signed for Spurs, they were kind of looking for some more experienced players so I knew that was part of my role."

Tottenham defender Kerys Harrop - Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham defender Kerys Harrop - Tottenham Hotspur

But at 31, Harrop is not alone. Tottenham Hotspur have had the oldest average starting eleven age of any WSL side this season, at 28 years and 333 days according to Opta. Reading-born Morocco international Ayane, who feels Wednesday’s win over Liverpool that put Tottenham through to the last four of the League Cup for the first time “shows where we’re heading as a club”, also believes there's a unique togetherness in the group, adding: "We have such a positive team and it’s a pleasure to come into work every day. We push each other up. The word positive keeps popping up but that’s the only way I can really describe our environment, it’s a great place to be."

Skinner, who is no relation to her namesake Marc Skinner, the Manchester United head coach who will be in the opposite technical area on Sunday, admits her squad is “a little bit light on the ground” for this meeting of the sides level on points in third and fourth in the table. Australia forward Kyah Simon, China midfielder Tang Jiali and South Korea midfielder Cho So-hyun are all away at the Asia Cup, which began on Thursday. But she remains positive about the team’s chances, adding: “Being the hardest-working team has 100% been what we’ve been about. There’s never been an occasion where I would question any work ethic. I’m really proud of the way they’ve come together. This is a team with fantastic togetherness and caring support for each other.”

The question now is, can Spurs continue their form and break into the European places? Harrop's not ruling it out, but adds: "We’re quite happy just to stay under the radar and keep picking up the points. It’s really interesting because, for probably 10 years, it was always the same clubs that were winning the league, but it’s a real open race this year. There have been some shock results and it just keeps it interesting.

"We’ve put ourselves in a great position to try and finish in one of those top three places, so it’s definitely achievable, but we’ve got some big games coming up now. But I don’t really think about it personally because, if you think about it, it puts more pressure on yourself. We’ll see more towards the end of the season, where we finish up."

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