Women's football will be thrust into the spotlight next month when the European Championships take place in Sweden. However, closer to home a new club is gearing up for their Super League bow. Steph Clark met up with the team behind Durham Women's FC

WHEN The Football Association announced the list of successful applicants to enter the next phase of the Women's Super League, there was one name that surprised everyone.

The leading North-East club, Sunderland Women, were included after they were overlooked for the inaugural season in 2011, but also present on the list was an entirely new club from the region.

Durham Women were the surprise name and, despite having never competed at the top level of the women's game, will be part of the new WSL season in March 2014 after the FA decided to expand and introduce a second tier.

Ten teams were accepted into the new league after a rigorous application process, and the likes of Sunderland, Watford and Aston Villa - formerly of the FA Women's Premier League - will be joined by newcomers Durham.

So who exactly are Durham Women? A brief search on the Internet brings up very little, but after meeting the men behind the club it's clear they certainly mean business.

The brainchild of Lee Sanders and Quentin Sloper, the new venture sees South Durham and Cestria Girls and Durham University come together under one umbrella, and they will form part of the Durham Wildcats franchise that already boasts a team in the British Basketball League.

It is the coming together of one of the most successful girls' clubs in the region, who will bring the infrastructure with the resources and reputation of Durham University sport.

After Sanders, manager of South Durham and Cestria, approached Durham University's Head of Sport, Sloper, an application was hastily put together to beat the deadline and from that moment they've never looked back.

"Our initial aim when we established Durham Wildcats after the basketball was to move into football, netball and volleyball so when Lee walked through the doors and said he was keen to do it, it was music to our ears," Sloper explained.

"It provided us with that real opportunity from nowhere to make something happen and it became evident that when we pulled together resources we had a really powerful programme to offer.

"We cobbled together an application incredibly quickly and I guess it's testament to how strong what we can offer is that we are where we are today with the opportunity to play in the Super League."

Even though their Super League debut is nine months away, preparations are already in full swing with player recruitment the priority.

Several of South Durham and Cestria's Northern Combination title-winning side will step up to the first-team squad, with the university recruiting the rest.

The team will be led by experienced coach Andy Cook, from Redcar, who has spent a year as an Elite Development Coach with Arsenal Ladies, and they will play their home matches at Durham City's New Ferens Park

"In many respects it is going to be similar to the basketball in that we're stepping into the unknown, but we've got a lot football people involved that know the game inside out," Sloper said.

"We believe Andy Cook will do a tremendous job and Lee from a management perspective.

"Player-wise it's going to be a blend of everything. We've got plenty of time to look at players and see what our strongest team will be.

"We know there are some very good players in the North East so I don't really see the need to go looking elsewhere, apart from those who will join through the university."

There could be some oversees acquisitions too, and despite the fact they will be up against well-established clubs, Sanders is confident Durham will compete in the inaugural WSL 2.

"Nobody knows who's going to have who so we can't say we're going to win it or finish wherever, but we wouldn't enter it if we didn't think we could be competitive," he said.

"Our long-term plan is to gain promotion into Super League 1. I believe we've got the right people in to do that and with the university's backing it probably gives us a bit of an advantage when it comes to recruitment because we can draw players from all quarters."

Both Durham's and Sunderland's inclusion signals a new era for women's football in the North-East and Sanders hopes it will see the region's talent remain where they are.

Former Sunderland stars Steph Houghton, Jill Scott and Jordan Nobbs were all forced away from the region to play at the highest level, but Sanders believes the women's game will now go from strength to strength.

He said: "It's good for both Sunderland and ourselves in terms of crowd participation. You'd like to hope that when we go to Sunderland or they come here it will be one of the biggest crowds.

"It's healthy for women's football here and it'll be great from a spectators point of view.

"You look at the likes of Steph Houghton and Jordan Nobbs. They've all had to move away to play at the highest level, but now the region has two teams in the Super League, hopefully we will now be able to keep the best players from the North-East here instead of seeing them leave."

FA WSL 1: Arsenal Ladies, Birmingham City Ladies, Bristol Academy Women, Chelsea Ladies, Everton Ladies, Notts County Ladies (formerly as Lincoln Ladies), Liverpool Ladies and Manchester City Ladies.

FA WSL 2: Aston Villa Ladies, Doncaster Rovers Belles Ladies, Durham Women's, London Bees
Women's (Barnet), Millwall Lionesses, Oxford United Women's, Reading Women's, Sunderland
Women, Watford Ladies and Yeovil Town Ladies.