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Anne Blackham has represented Wolves with distinction for a number of seasons and on Sunday, she undertakes the toughest role of all as her team commences the new Premier League season.
Anne has been appointed as joint manager of the club, along with Dave Ball, but she told Women's Soccer Scene that this should not affect her during matches. "Dave has stepped up from being reserve team manager and he will run the team on Sundays," she says. "I am intending to play as often as possible and he will be there for me on the sidelines."
Whilst looking forward to her new role, Anne also reveals that she took over with a touch of trepidation. "I am a little worried as well as the players are friends of mine and I don't want any grievances," she admits. "I have spoken to the players and explained the situation to them and they understand.
"I still train as normal but feel that I have to train a little harder now. There is no point hiding at the back, I need to be leading from the front!"
Anne's first match in charge is against Manchester City on Sunday at Bilston. "City are always a strong and physical team, and usually experienced," she says. "That is an area where we are often lacking as we have a young team - take me out of the side and the average age drops to 18," she quips.
"Realistically, I want us to have a solid season. As long as we can play well as a team and gel together well, our aim is to get the players used to this level and hope to be challenging again in three years time.
"Last season, we were a bit like the men (Wolves) and drew a lot of our matches - 10 in total. We were quite strong in defence but struggled a bit up front to score goals."
However, one factor which has haunted Wolves in recent seasons has struck again - losing key players to National Division clubs. This time, striker Becky Hall and midfielder Kerrie Manley have departed to Birmingham whilst Beth Bailey has moved to Nottingham Forest. "Every season, we seem to lose two of our best players at the start," says Anne. "It's unfortunate but these things happen and that is why we are looking at a 3-year plan.
"Over the last few years we have lost the likes of Rachel Unitt, Sally Lacey, Claire Hermon, Emily Westwood and Amy McCann amongst a number of others and they have all gone on to bigger things.
"There is always a good atmosphere about the place and the fact that we have produced players of the calibre proves that we are doing something right."
Anne will manage a young squad this season but has high hopes for a number of her players. She moved quickly to replace the departing Becky Hall with former England under-19 striker Hannah Smith from Leafield Athletic. "Hannah is a very good forward," she says. "She is good at holding the ball up and will score goals, and is proven at this level with Aston Villa.
"I have made Chloe Jones our new captain, she has been in our squad for two years and, with a bit more responsibility this season, should continue to improve. Sarah Lambert played her first full season last year and won our Manager's Player of the Year Award and Georgina Watton has moved up from our under-16s and has been with England. Natalie Hall has kept nearly 20 clean sheets in the last two seasons and she has played a big part in our good defensive record."
The Northern Division is usually a closely contested one and Anne is expecting little different this time around. "It changes every year," she replies. "Liverpool should be up there again but teams like Nottingham Forest, Stockport and Manchester City are always strong and well organised, and tough to beat so anyone can do well."
Another change for Wolves is their home base, they will be playing at Bilston this season and the move is a significant one for Anne. "When I first joined Wolves they played their home matches at Bilston and now, in my last season, we are going back there again so things have gone full circle," she smiles.
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