Chelsea Women’s manager Emma Hayes believes the fans at Kingsmeadow are the best in the land, and that their support holds the key to the Blues knocking Lyon, the reigning European queens, out of this year’s Champions League on Sunday.
“I’m looking forward to a packed house on Sunday, with our loyal fanbase making it difficult for our opponents,” she said at a press conference in the media centre at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground.
“Our crowd is unbelievable, and I’m certain on Sunday that I’ll hear every one of them inspire the players to produce the performance that I expect from this team, and if we produce that performance then we give ourselves the best possible chance and I am even more excited to watch my players play this week than I was last week.”
A noisy crowd in France last weekend gave the home side a lift via drums and a wall of singing, but Hayes is confident the ever-increasing numbers who turn up to cheer on Chelsea Women at Kingsmeadow will play a crucial part in turning a 2-1 deficit from the first leg into victory, to send the Blues to Budapest for the final.
She knows that the crowds are building at Kingsmeadow, but is realistic about how consistently high attendances will be achieved.
“The reality is that single games are easier to promote, but it’s about games in quick succession and finding repeat audiences. We’ve been going from 500 to 1,000, from 1,500 to 2,000, 2,500, 3,000 and hopefully 4,000+ this weekend, and having a sustained audience that you build upon is the sensible way to do it,” she said.
“We have to keep investing in the marketing of our games, to make sure we maximise [potential]. Seeing more of a presence in the mainstream press on a more regular basis will in itself continue to help those numbers improve.”
Surbiton and Tolworth have been blanketed in A3-size posters – some legally displayed in shop windows with the agreement of shopkeepers, but many simply fly-posted on walls as the club’s officials throw their usual caution to the wind to attract a packed crowd to the stadium this weekend.
Chelsea Women were perhaps guilty of showing the European champions too much respect in the first half of the first leg in France, but captain Karen Carney knows that her side’s remarkable fitness level meant that the second half of the match was dominated by the Blues.
“I think this team is extremely fit, and we always seem to push on an extra gear,” said Carney. “We seem to get stronger and stronger and stronger, and I think that was the case with us. We always come stronger in the second half, but we know that Lyon come at you in the first 20 or 30 minutes.
“How many teams, if they’re 2-0 down to Lyon in front of 20,000 or 30,000 people, would crumble? We didn’t. We’ll be even braver. We have nothing to fear; we just have to enjoy the moment in front of our home fans, who are incredible.”