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Villa Ladies manager: Tony Xia has “been extremely supportive” of the team

AVLFC manager Joe Hunt is looking to bring his team to promotion within the next year.

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Photo courtesy of Aston Villa

All week here at 7500 to Holte, we’ll be featuring news, interviews, writing, and podcasting about the Aston Villa Ladies team. On Sunday, they get to play their first Super League 2 match at Villa Park, and we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to highlight the squad.

Today we get the chance to talk with Aston Villa Ladies manager Joe Hunt. The club has had a bit of an up-and-down year, and I was curious as to why that was. Additionally, I wanted to know what the relationship between the men’s and women’s sides of AVFC were. Luckily, Joe was candid in his responses and gave us some truly enlightening answers. Here is our conversation.

You've been the manager of AVLFC since 2012, and you were with the team for seven years before that. What changes have you seen between when you started and now?

In the time I’ve been directly involved with the ladies team, I’ve had one season in the ‘winter pyramid’ and now three seasons in the Super League running across the summer months. Getting accepted into Super League was massive for the club and we’ve seen the ladies game become more professional even though the players don’t have that status.

At Aston Villa we have gradually improved the set-up with every season. There’s a great deal of work that goes into running and organising a ladies team. When I first took over the ladies first team there were three members of staff - me, Karl Fellows and a physio! Now we are up to around 20 with coaching staff for two teams, medical, strength and conditioning and general administration. Plus we have more support from media, marketing, sales, partnerships, ground staff and many more.

When I came in as Head Coach I wanted the links between our elite youth section and the senior team to be stronger. Both come under my department at the main club anyway but I wanted to see more of our exciting youth players step into the first team and play Super League. We have an impressive record of getting these players not just in the first team squad but actually the starting 11. And we’ll continue to do that and the youth section is HUGE for the club. And credit must go to all the coaches that have worked over the years to get the players to the required level.

How much do AVFC and AVLFC work together. We've seen Katie Wilkinson tweet about seeing Gabby Agbonlahor in training, but is there actually a lot of overlap between the teams?

I’ve covered some of this in my last question. The ladies is part of the men’s club. It’s organised through the Football Development department which I head up. So we have the support from football development plus the support from the different departments at the club. If we didn’t have that support then the ladies section wouldn’t be able to run. The majority of departments here have some involvement, whether it is the kit from the retail and licencing department or the social media coverage from our media team, it’s pretty much all together.

Since the takeover in the summer, the Chairman, Dr Tony Xia , Chief Executive, Keith Wyness and Operations Director Shaun Darke have been extremely supportive. This has been shown not only with the support directly towards me but allowing us to play our first ever Super League game at Villa Park and sending the first team to Italy to play Brescia in a prestigious friendly. It’s great to have the full support of the main club.

The team made the FA Cup quarter-finals before a loss to Chelsea ended the run. What is it going to take to win it all?

We’ve had some excellent cup runs over the last two seasons. We got knocked out in the quarter-finals against Notts County away and Chelsea away. Both are Super League 1 teams, both full-time professionals and Chelsea were the Super League champions at the time with international players in their team.

The difference between Super League 1 and Super League 2 is huge. They get paid to play football. That’s it. Our girls combine football with either full-time jobs or school/college/ Uni. The contact time is the difference. We get three sessions a week, one is normally a recovery then in the other we have to incorporate technical, tactical and Strength & Conditioning sessions. We see the ladies for a maximum 6 hours a week, some of the Super League One clubs could see their players for 6 hours a day!

Are there any things you advise the ladies to do before they play in Villa Park? This seems like a special occasion, so is there an emphasis on soaking it in?

The emphasis is on winning the game. If they go out and make a day of it I’ll be furious! As I’m sure the majority of the club and supporters would be too. It’s fantastic that the club are allowing us to do it but we want to show everyone what a good team we are but at this level it’s also about winning games. This season has been very frustrating for us all. We had ambitions to be in the promotion race and for various reasons that hasn’t happened. At times we have played well, dominated teams but lost the game. Sometimes you look back and think I’d rather play ugly and win than play well and lose. It’s not through a lack of effort though. Everyone involved works hard, and yes we’ll learn from it but we’ve had three Super League seasons of being middle of the table, the next season needs to see Aston Villa Ladies seriously challenging for promotion.

Thanks to Joe for taking the time out of what is an exceptionally busy schedule to chat with us. Hearing a bit about the disparity between the leagues of women’s football (not to mention the differences between the men’s game and the women’s) is absolutely fascinating.

If you want to get the chance to watch Joe lead the AVLFC squad, you can see them at Villa Park this Sunday at 2 PM. Tickets can be found here, and most are only £5. If you’re in the over-65 or under-18 groups, your ticket is only £1! Go out and support the ladies in the last match of their season!