Beth Hepple on the rise of Durham Women and why her North East Football Writers' award is a team effort
For a modest Beth Hepple, her latest personal accolade represents another achievement in the growing rise of Durham Women.
The rapid progress of the North East’s leading Women's team is one to be admired and a person that has been at the heart of it all is Sunderland-born Hepple.
And for the second time in just three years, the influential midfielder has been recognised as the best female player in the region by the North East Football Writers.
Covid-19 pending, it is hoped Hepple can be presented with the award, which is still in the hands of teammate and previous winner Kathryn Hill, at the annual NEFWA dinner later this year.
“Yeah, I’m really proud,” Hepple tells the Echo. “Some great players have won it in the past, so it's really nice to win and it's really good for the club as well.
“It's great to win it two years out of three and I think it just highlights how well the club and the team have done, especially this year.
“Obviously, it's nice to get personal accolades but I think it comes from the team as a whole as well.
“Kathryn won it last year – it just shows the quality that is actually up here in the North East.”
Hepple’s journey with the Wildcats perhaps epitomizes what the club is all about. After all, she has been there from day one.
As a successful graduate from the club’s youth programme, the 24-year-old has gone on to establish herself as a cult figure in the club’s FA Women’s Championship era.
Indeed, out of the current squad, only her and defender Ellie Christon have featured in each and every one of Durham’s seven seasons in the second-tier of Women’s football.
Off the pitch, the Wildcats continue to make strides in the community via their Sister Clubs programme, which now includes over 10 members.
The club also works closely with Educational Partners in the local area to ensure players on their talent pathway can combine their studies with playing football – which a number of players have benefited from.
The present is bright. The future is bright.
“I think it has progressed year-on-year and it's really exciting.
“You see all the brilliant young players that come in through the whole RTC set up and it's really exciting to see where the club could go.”
On the pitch, the Wildcats are well on course to secure their highest-ever league finish as they sit second in the Championship table.
But in the grand scheme of things, second place may not be so welcomed with Lee Sanders’ side locked in a title battle with Leicester City.
Hepple is spearheading the promotion charge with her eight goals – the third-best total in the division, which isn’t bad for someone who doesn’t associate themselves with goals….
“I never really try to think about goals as much because I'm a midfielder, so it's always nice just to get a goal.
“Hopefully, I've added a bit more to my game this year in terms of other attributes, so it's always nice to get goals as well.”
In their 15 league games, Durham are yet to taste defeat and have conceded just nine goals. Even by the club’s recent high standards, that is seriously impressive.
So, what’s the secret to this year’s success?
“We've always had that core group but maybe just a blend of new players coming in, the progression behind the scenes and everything that we get in terms of support, like the staff.
"I think everything's just kind of clicked this year and hopefully, it can keep going.”
A potential title decider is on the horizon.
After this weekend’s game at Blackburn Rovers, the Wildcats welcome the Foxes to Maiden Castle. The two clubs are level on 35 points, albeit the visitors have a game in-hand.
In the Championship, only top spot seals promotion to the Women’s Super League, so it really is winner takes all.
Hepple insists the pressure is on the current leaders.
“We’re excited. It's a huge game obviously, but the pressure is on them at the end of the day.
“They're top of the table and everybody is kind of expecting them to walk all over us.
"It's an exciting game and one I'm sure we can hold our own in.
“It'll be massive if we can earn promotion, absolutely. I think that's always your end goal.
“We'll all know what we can do as a team, but I think we're kind of the underdogs and also, it's really exciting.
“Of course, that's your ultimate goal as a player is to win the league, so let's see what we can do.”
It would be very fitting for Hepple, someone who has been at the club since its inception, to be part of the squad that historically takes Durham Women into the top-flight for the first time in their short but proud history.