Hashtag United star eyeing ‘big’ Kenilworth Road moment in Newcastle clash

By Staff

Kenilworth Road has played host to some huge games since Luton Town secured promotion to the Premier League last summer.

But, for Hashtag United defender Hayley West, there are few fixtures that loom quite as large as this weekend’s FA Women’s National League Cup (FAWNL) final. It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for Jason Stephens’ side , who only officially started playing under the Hashtag banner in 2020.

Having initially started out as Basildon Town Ladies FC in 2004, the club has progressed through the leagues and currently operates in the FAWNL Southern Premier Division – the third tier of the women’s game. And, for West, who is in her third season with the Tags, the opportunity to play in a cup final feels like a reward for years of hard work.

“When I start a season, I have my personal goals, but there are so many different competitions and every game is an important game so I think looking ahead can be a bad idea because if you can set yourself up for disappointment if you get there,” she says.

“It’s about taking it one game at a time and so for me to actually get to this final is a real reward and we’re just going to love that moment. We’re playing at Luton Town on a Saturday afternoon in front of probably the biggest crowd a lot of us have played in front of and, for a senior player like myself, it will be nice to experience something like that. It really is a big moment and, whatever the result, of the game we’ll be proud that we’ve got there.”

West has played football since the age of ten and has enjoyed spells with clubs such as Charlton Athletic and West Ham United. The 30-year-old, who also works as a physiotherapist, credits her Mum and her Nan with facilitating her football career but believes things could have turned out very differently if she had grown up at a time where women’s football was treated with the same level of professionalism as the men’s game.

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“I think I’m just ten years too old in terms of the development of the game now,” she says. “I’m so jealous of the girls that are coming up through the pyramid now.

“The ability I have now of reading and understanding the game, if I had that now and I was ten years younger I think I’d have more of an opportunity. But I’m just grateful the game has developed in the way that it has and I’m really happy that people now are able to make a career out of it.

“This week just gone we’ve had three games so there’s times where you don’t get home until midnight and then you’re in work at eight o’clock the next morning and then you have training of the evening. Sometimes I feel a bit bitter that, even for some teams in our league, they don’t have to have such a tight schedule. But equally I still feel privileged that I’m still fit enough and well enough to compete at this level, which is ever increasing.”

And, while West may sometimes wonder what might have been had she been coming through the ranks today, the defender couldn’t be more grateful for the chance to play in this current Hashtag side.

This team is something special,” she says. “It’s one of the best teams I’ve been part of. It’s like one massive group of friends. In football, sometimes there can be slightly cliquey but everyone here is so accepting of people’s personalities and everyone can have a laugh and a joke forever.

“There’s just no words to explain how this team makes you feel. The management are so supportive as well and players are chosen on their personality and how that will fit within the squad as well as their ability. I have to give a shoutout to our kitman Wayne as well, who is like the dad of the team. He knows everything and he’s Mr Hashtag!”

This weekend will perhaps be the biggest test yet of Hashtag’s credentials as they go head-to-head with league leaders Newcastle United at Kenilworth Road. Although the Tags and the Magpies both play in the third tier, the fact that the two clubs operate in the Southern and Northern division respectively means they haven’t faced each other this season and, with Newcastle having turned fully professional last summer, it is likely to be a challenging afternoon for Stephens’ side.

“We know it’s going to be difficult,” West says. “We played them in pre-season and lost 4-0 but we’re going into it with an open mind. We know that it’s going to be a hard game, we know they have a full-time set-up and that they have a lot of backing, but we have taken points off teams this season where we probably didn’t expect to, so it will be a good game.”

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