Women's FA Cup: Man City 'an astronomical mountain'

Sporting Club Albion's Leigh Dugmore (left) and Manchester City's Lucy Bronze
Lucy Bronze (right) was shortlisted for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in 2015

"Lucy Bronze, I'm coming for you."

Sporting Club Albion striker Leigh Dugmore does not mince her words when discussing the prospect of facing the Manchester City and England defender in the Women's FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday.

Dugmore, Albion's leading goalscorer with 18 in 19 games this season, has gone so far as to tweet Bronze exactly those words.

That message from the distribution warehouse worker from Birmingham, and the determination behind it, sums up just how the lowest-ranked side left in this season's Women's FA Cup are treating their tie against one of Britain's richest and most glamorous sides.

"The best thing we can do is be confident," said 25-year-old Dugmore, who was playing for Leafield Athletic in the fourth tier of English football last season, while Bronze was starring for England at the Women's World Cup in Canada.

"If we pull out all the stops, stick together and play at our best, then we have a chance. If they underestimate us, and they will, we can surprise them.

"I tweeted Lucy Bronze that I'm coming for her. She is a great player and this is a great chance for all of us to see if we can step up.

"It's the biggest game of most our lives - it will definitely be mine."

But has Bronze replied? "No," laughs Dugmore, sounding slightly disappointed.

Leigh Dugmore tweets Lucy Bronze

'Rubbing shoulders with their heroes'

Albion, an amateur side from the third tier who train three hours a week and whose management team are volunteers, are associated to men's Premier League side West Bromwich Albion through its foundation.

The FA Cup is famed for pitting the unheralded against the game's giants - the poor from the lower reaches of the football pyramid against the rich with an international tapestry of talent at their disposal.

But rarely will the divide be as stark as at the Academy Stadium on Sunday when Sporting Club Albion, whose players pay to play, face one of the few fully professional women's football teams in the country.

To say they are in a different league is an understatement. Their respective league competitions do not even start in the same year - Albion's campaign is already seven months old, while City's Women's Super League season started a week ago.

"It's an astronomical mountain in front of us," says Albion manager Graham Abercrombie. "We all watched the World Cup last year - the players will be rubbing shoulders with their heroes."

Sporting Club Albion huddle
Sporting Club Albion knocked out Women's Premier League South leaders Brighton in round five

'Fighting the same fight'

Five City players helped England claim bronze at the 2015 Women's World Cup - a third-placed finish that saw a spike in interest in the domestic game.

There was a major increase in WSL 1 attendances, with City boasting average home crowds of 1,500. Albion have also enjoyed a rise in interest, as Abercrombie estimates average attendances went from 20 to about 100 this season.

"We are all fighting the same cause, no matter the level," said Abercrombie.

"The game is fantastically growing, but at our level we are still paying to play, that is the bottom line. We have players in Sheffield who are doing 160-mile round trips to get to training.

"The commitment level of the group is second to none in the country when you talk about the financial and physical commitment of the players."

Abercrombie says both the staff and players at City are "heroes" in the English game as the club is playing a leading role in taking women's football into a new era.

Players now earning as much as £65,000 a year have been in a similar position as Albion's players, forking out subs and paying for fuel to get to training and games.

Sporting Club Albion captain Kelly Darby
Sporting Club Albion are captained by Kelly Darby

An unexpected journey

Albion are the only side from outside the WSL to beat a team from the top two divisions in this season's competition, ousting newly promoted WSL 2 side Sheffield FC in the fourth round.

Dugmore admits few could have expected them to reach the quarter-finals and that it has already been an "unbelievable" run.

"We have proven people wrong by beating Coventry, Sheffield and Brighton to get here," she said.

Abercrombie, who works as a school games organiser for the Youth Sports Trust - while also moonlighting as a graffiti artist, among other things - insists his side will not be overcome by the occasion.

"We appreciate who we are up against, absolutely," he said. "But we are not daunted, we are not going to get there and freeze. We are going there to try our absolute best.

"We are all excited, but the challenge has also really focused the players. There is an ambitious bunch here and they are hungry."

Destination: Wembley

Six other sides are also trying to reach the semi-finals this weekend, with a place in a Wembley final now just two wins away.

Arsenal host Notts County in a repeat of last year's WSL League Cup final, while Sunderland host Reading in another all-WSL 1 tie.

But holders Chelsea, like City, face lower-league opposition in WSL 2 outfit Aston Villa.

Villa edged past Everton 1-0 in round five to earn a trip to face the 2015 double winners at Wheatsheaf Park.

Hannah Blundell (centre left)
Hannah Blundell (centre left) helped Chelsea to their first ever major trophy with last season's FA Cup

"We know we can't underestimate Aston Villa. Obviously we've got to defend our title," Chelsea defender Hannah Blundell told BBC Sport.

"Anything can happen in the cup and we have got to concentrate and stick to our strengths.

"Our behind-the-scenes staff have been doing their research and tipping us off about certain things.

"Last year's final was an amazing experience and Wembley is a massive occasion. We want to experience it again this year."

Villa have started 2016 with one win and one defeat from their first two league games.

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