Hampstead & Westminster captain: We’ve proved we belong at this level

Hampstead & Westminster Ladies captain Annebeth Wijtenburg. Pic: Mark Clews

Hampstead & Westminster Ladies captain Annebeth Wijtenburg. Pic: Mark Clews - Credit: Archant

Hampstead & Westminster Ladies are taking the Women’s Conference East by storm after their promotion in the summer, going into the winter break in second place.

Hampstead fought back from two goals down to earn a 3-2 home win over Wimbledon at Paddington Recreation Ground on Saturday, securing a second successive victory and leaving them unbeaten in five games.

Slough remain the favourites to take the sole promotion spot and move up to the Premier Division – the top level in England.

But H&W captain Annebeth Wijtenburg believes her side’s success shows they should have been competing in the second tier a lot earlier – a view which is supported by the fact they are seven places and 13 points ahead of the Maidenhead side that pipped them to the title in the South of England Premier Division in 2014.

“The season so far has been amazing,” Wijtenburg told Ham&High Sport. “We probably should have been promoted two or three years ago. The season before last, we lost out on promotion against Maidenhead in the last game – we literally lost in the last minute of the game.

“I think we’ve shown the other teams that we deserve to be in the league, which is really good because we had about 10 new players this season. It’s a new team that has had to grow into the league together and I think it’s very impressive we’re now second.

“We set ourselves the target of either being in the top three before Christmas or being in a place where we’re still able to compete for the top position. “Slough are eight points ahead of us so it’s going to be a bit of a struggle but it would be amazing if we get promoted this year.

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“I think the aim for now is to show the rest of the league and maybe the hockey scene in England that we’re one of the top teams in the national league, which could potentially attract more interest – and then the aim is hopefully to go up to the Premier League next season.

“Without being arrogant or anything, I think we feel we should be towards the top of the national league actually, and it’s a club goal to have both the women’s and the men’s teams up in the Premier Leagues, so that’s what we’re working towards.”

Dutch defender Wijtenburg, 28, moved to England almost three years ago and was training with Hampstead within three days of her arrival. She lives three minutes away from Paddington Recreation Ground and is now halfway through her second season as captain.

It has certainly been a successful tenure so far, with Hampstead & Westminster Ladies now at the highest level in their 30-year history – and the skipper feels the integration of the summer’s raft of new recruits has been an important factor in their form so far this term.

“It’s definitely been more challenging this year,” she said. “As a captain I think it’s really important that everyone feels welcome, and it’s really important that you create that very strong team dynamic.

“That obviously means working together on the pitch, but it’s equally important to do a lot of stuff outside of the pitch and make sure there’s a lot of social things going on, that people get to know each other a little bit better. I always like to say ‘we do it with each other for each other’.”

Hampstead have won three and drawn two of their last five games but now have two months off before returning to action on February 6 – and Wijtenburg has mixed feelings about the timing of the break.

“In Saturday’s game and also the one before [a 2-1 win over Harleston Magpies followed by a 3-2 victory over Wimbledon], they were both tight games in terms of the scores,” she said.

“I think, especially on Saturday, we should have won by a higher margin, but it shows we have a strong state of mind and we feel we’re growing in that respect so it’s almost a shame we’ve got to stop.

“At the same time, it does ask quite a bit of everybody. We take things very seriously and everyone has quite intense jobs as well, so I think some of them are also quite happy to just have a bit of a break and hibernate in the winter.”

Meanwhile, Hampstead & Westminster’s men’s team suffered a reverse of the ladies’ fortunes at the weekend, twice losing the lead as they were defeated 3-2 away against Brooklands MU.

Neil Hamilton put H&W ahead after eight minutes in Manchester and, although Peter Flanagan levelled, Matt Botha gave the visitors a 2-1 advantage – only for Sam Perrin to strike twice for the hosts.

It leaves Hampstead seventh out of the 10 teams in the top flight – one point above the two teams directly below them – as they also take a winter break.