waited so long to earn their deserved promotion to the second-tier of women’s football, you could forgive Rovers Ladies for being down on their luck about the 2019/20 campaign.

It is a season that manager Gemma Donnelly has described as ‘a bit of a nightmare’, and with good reason. She has seen her promotion-winning side broken up, coupled with a string of postponements that has seen them unable to gain any momentum, playing just 12 league matches.

With the season suspended indefinitely, the challenges facing the Ladies team are significant, but they retain the support of the club and owners Venky’s whose six-figure investment, believed to be in the region of £100,000, is in addition to the funds raised from the Ladies team in sponsorships.

While under contract, the players, some of who are frontline NHS workers, are only paid expenses for training sessions which were upped from two to three a week following their promotion from the third tier which was eventually rubber-stamped after their application was accepted.

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The previous two summers had been ones of frustration, winning the 2016/17 and 2017/18 league titles at a canter, but after defeats in the play-off final to Tottenham and Charlton, and subsequent failed applications, they remained in the third tier.

Then just when they thought their luck had changed following another title success and approved application, they find themselves in limbo.

Women’s matches below the top tiers have been scrapped, but like the senior men’s side, the Ladies are waiting on the next move as to what happens with their season.

Rovers haven’t played a match since February 23 in any competition, and have played the fewest matches of any team in the division. They sit seventh in the table, but only three points above the one relegation spot occupied by Charlton Athletic.

With still 10 more league matches to fit in, should the season resume, then the schedule will be extremely demanding on a group who haven’t trained together as a group in three months.

The Ladies are working with a skeletal staff in order to comply with FA guidelines, retaining the services of three members of staff, including Donnelly, as well as their strength and conditioning coach and general manager.

But that has enabled communication with the players to continue, while the individual training programmes will allow them to be as prepared as they can be should the season resume, though Donnelly admits they are somewhat in limbo as things stand.

“It’s really tough, because you’re trying to plan for eventualities, but nobody knows what that might be,” she explained.

“What we do know is The FA want us to resume the league, when it’s good and proper to do so, but it’s difficult to suggest how long that might be, how many weeks we have to play those matches in, what happens with next season.

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“So it’s hard to combine the relevant training intensity and ensure that players have that focus as well, because it’s incredibly hard to motivate them when they don’t actually know what’s going to happen.”

Moving in to the Women’s Championship, formed in 2019, brought with it different requirements that had to be met.

Training sessions were upped from twice to three times a week, but use of the senior training centre at Brockhall, as well as access to the medical and HR departments, has helped ease the transition.

However, a nationwide league has brought increase in travel time, and cost, with London City, London Bees, Crystal Palace and Charlton, as well as Lewes and Durham, providing several long journeys for part-time players.

Captain Saffron Jordan admitted that ‘free time’ had become dominated by football, not helped by the lack of consistency to the fixture list because of the heavy rainfall in 2020 which saw several matches called off, some on the day of the game after long trips south had already been made.

But whether the season resumes or not, Donnelly is looking to use the time as effectively as possible.

“This year has been a bit of a nightmare really, with the floods and then the postponement of games and now this,” Donnelly added.

“We anticipated there would be a lot of change in personnel, but perhaps I didn’t anticipate how many and the reasons why, but we’ve addressed that, as staff and players, and as a collective from a club perspective as well.

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“So our first season in the Championship has certainly been very hit and miss, and we’ve been able to gain very little momentum, but from a plus side, it’s enabled us to really reflect on what we could have done better and improved on, what we’ve done quite well and, ultimately, it’s allowed me to reflect and ensure that I am planning accordingly for next season.

“There’s been a lot of planning that’s gone on, probably more than there ever has been, so there’s been some real positives within this situation.”

She added: “We have a number of key workers involved in the Ladies team. People that work in hospitals. So I’ve been checking in with those people. They’re obviously doing a super important job out there, but everyone seems in high spirits or as well as they can be given this strange and surreal time.”