Sports Gazette

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Manchester United’s Hayley Ladd on FA Cup Final: “There’s more to women’s football than a traditional top three”

As in society, the sporting landscape is increasingly dominated by an exclusive elite at the top, where success is pooled between two or three teams. Yet this Sunday, Hayley Ladd’s Manchester United will compete in the Women’s FA Cup Final and buck that trend.

Since that prodigious summer day in 2022, the buzzword around women’s football has been ‘growth’. Growth in crowds, growth in visibility, and growth in interest.

Yet, as more and more teams want a slice of the action and make the belated realisation that, oh wait, women’s sport is worth investing in, we have begun to see growth in competition too.

Hayley Ladd smiles in grey Manchester United coat. She will compete in the FA Cup Final on the 12th May 2024.
Credit: James Boyes via Wikimedia Commons

Nowhere is that more visible than in this year’s FA Cup Final. Since 2012, no club outside of Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal have won the competition, yet on Sunday United and Tottenham Hotspur have the opportunity to compete for their first major trophy.

“It’s really brilliant for the growth of the game and for the sustainability of the whole league that we do have opportunities to showcase every team,” Ladd told the Sports Gazette.

“I’m really proud of the football that we play across the whole WSL and how the game is viewed.

“There’s more to women’s football than just a traditional top three or four. It’s really nice for us to be able to showcase our abilities and skill sets and similarly for Spurs as well.”

The Welsh international joined United in 2019, following their promotion to the WSL and has been core to their progression ever since.

“This is my fifth season now. I’ve had the privilege of seeing the club grow, seeing the squad grow and take on different challenges. Hopefully, we are still on track to be a really top successful team,” reflects Ladd.

“I came as a 25-year-old and the squad was quite young at that point, so I’ve always felt like I was older than the average age and therefore able to help younger players and lead in that way.

“It’s part of my nature that I do that anyway, but as I’m getting older and understanding the club and understanding the league I take a role in helping the team in any way possible.”

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Last season, the Red Devils soared to their most successful season yet, finishing second in the WSL and narrowly missing out on silverware with a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in the FA Cup Final.

They have not quite been able to replicate those heights this year, currently sitting fifth in the league, out of contention for the Champions League places. Yet this Sunday offers a hope of redemption and the chance to go one better in the cup.

“We haven’t done as well as we’d hoped in the league, but we can rectify that a little bit with the FA Cup,” says Ladd. “Silverware is massive for a football team, and if we manage that, then it will be successful for us.

“You’re going to have highs and lows and tough parts of seasons. That’s just inevitable when you try and evolve and perhaps try new things.

“We were really proud of the finish last season. We probably punched above our weight as well in some respects which has perhaps made it difficult this season.

“But this team doesn’t stand still, and we’ll keep evolving and trying to improve and come back next season hungrier than ever.”

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Despite the lacking league performance this season, including disappointing losses to Liverpool and draws against West Ham and Brighton, United’s place as favourites in the FA Cup Final is testament to their development.

That status is in no small part due to their stellar semi-final performance which saw them beat Chelsea for the first time in their history to knock the holders out of the cup.

“The Chelsea game was really special. It was massive in terms of doing things we’ve never done before, and that goes for the final as well,” says Ladd, who came on as a 64th-minute substitute.

Confidence can also be taken from the fact they have been here before. A Wembley cup final is no longer unfamiliar territory, unlike their north London rivals, for whom this will be a new experience entirely.

It is here Ladd hopes her United team, who are unbeaten against Spurs this season, can find that extra edge to see them over the line when it matters.

“I honestly think it’s a huge component us having played in a final. It’s just having that experience of playing under those extreme conditions,” she explains.

“I was completely taken aback. It was something that I’d never experienced before. It’s sunny and everybody’s out. You need to be able to translate that energy and perform under the pressure and the expectation.

“Once I was playing and I felt the intensity from the crowd, it’s like nothing else. The fact that we’ve had that experience so recently will definitely put us in really good stead to hopefully go one step further.”

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Having drawn 2-2 at home to Tottenham, requiring a late equaliser to salvage a point under a month ago, Ladd is under no illusions as to the challenge that awaits on Sunday.

“Spurs are a top side. It’s really difficult to play against them and they’ve got great individuals as well so we will definitely have to be at the top of our game in order to beat them,” says the United midfielder.

“They’re underdogs so there’s no pressure on them. That can be a dangerous situation for a team to face.”

If this year’s FA Cup Final has taught us anything, it is that underdogs cannot be underestimated. Whatever the outcome on Sunday, a new name will be engraved on that trophy come the final whistle.

Ladd has guided her team from WSL newcomers to potential glory under the Wembley arch. Women’s football should take note and guide its own progression into an era of increasing competitiveness for the good of everyone.


  • Laura Howard

    Laura is a sports journalist with specialisms in football, hockey and cricket and has bylines in The Hockey Paper and The Non-League Paper. Her work often explores the intersection of sport and social issues with a particular interest in disability and women’s sport. Laura is also a recipient of the NCTJ Journalism Diversity Fund.