SUNDERLAND midfielder Kelly McDougall has welcomed new kids on the block Durham into the top echelons of the women’s game.
But she’s hoping it’s a losing start for the team who are something of an unknown package in the second division of the FA Women’s Super League.
Both side’s league campaigns get under way tomorrow when they meet at New Ferens Park (7.30).
“It’s great to have Durham in the Super League - and great to have two teams so close to each other,” said McDougall.
“It creates an extra buzz and a rivalry on and off the pitch.
“Tomorrow’s game has been well advertised and I think we’ll get a decent crowd.”
The two club’s routes to this place in the football pyramid have been wildly different.
Long-established Sunderland failed in a bid to join the original Super League four years ago, at a time when they had proved themselves in the top national division.
It was no surprise that now, with the backing of SAFC, that Mick Mulhern’s side won a place in the second tier of the Super League.
Durham Women’s name on the list of teams accepted into the league was more of a shock – as they are a brand new team, born out of links with the South Durham and Cestria club.
Former England international McDougall is pleased to see the development of the women’s game, and hopes that Sunderland can put years of frustration behind them by winning promotion back into the top flight.
“The introduction of the Super League has benefited the game,” she said.
“I think everyone knows we were very disappointed to miss out first time round. We deserved a place on the basis of our football but it didn’t happen.
“That’s gone now. We are in the second division and we – along with all the other teams - can see a route to the top again, with one promotion place up for grabs.
“It’s hard to know how all the teams will do, though. We won the Premier League for the last three years, but this is a completely new league.
“There have been a lot of players changing clubs and changes with the way some clubs are run, with more money coming in.
“Durham have attracted quite a few players and we’re all looking forward to that game. We just have to take this season as it comes.”
While Durham have created a brand new team, it’s evolution rather than revolution for Sunderland - and that’s how McDougall likes it.
“We talk a lot about the Sunderland ‘family’,” she explained.
“We have been together a long time and a lot of players come through the ranks at the Centre of Excellence before joining the first team squad.”
It’s a proven system, which has produced a stream of senior England internationals. The likes of new captain Steph Houghton, Jill Scott, Jordan Nobbs, Demi Stokes, Lucy Bronze and Carly Telford are all Sunderland products.
The target now must be for Sunderland to boast senior England players in the ranks - and not have them leave to other clubs to help fulfil their ambitions.
“It’s a great group we have,” added McDougall. “We have girls in the England set up at younger age groups, and more coming through behind them.
“The support, having been taken over by Sunderland AFC, has been great - they have been brilliant to us.
“We have been kept informed of all the developments, have a new general manager, head coach, backroom staff, and great facilities. We could not have asked for any better, to be honest.
“It’s nice to be part of the club and hopefully we can get some extra supporters come along to watch us.
“We can’t wait to get the league season under way and obviously we want to get off to a winning start at Durham.”