In early 2014 Naomi Cole was part of the same England under-23s squad as Millie Bright, Fran Kirby, Beth Mead and Nikita Parris – four players who featured at this summer’s Women’s World Cup.
However within a couple of years, the former Chelsea and Millwall defender had, by her own admission, fallen out of love with football.
In October 2016, she was convinced by her father, Dave, who had just become assistant manager at Crawley Wasps, to drop into tier five and play in the London & South East Premier Division.
For ambitious Wasps, it was the start of a strategy of attracting players with higher level experience that paid dividends with promotions in 2018 and 2019. For Cole, it reinvigorated her career.
She said: “People who see me play for Crawley can see how much I enjoy it. I’ve got my enthusiasm back and it’s all down to my team-mates and the staff at the club.”
On Sunday, Cole will lead Wasps out against Plymouth Argyle as the club makes its debut in the FA Women’s National League Southern Premier Division, the third tier of women’s football – the equivalent of men’s League One.
They will also face the likes of Watford, Cardiff, Portsmouth, Gillingham and Yeovil Town this season.
And after two years in which they suffered just one league defeat, Cole knows the team will be tested every single week – and wants fans to flock to get behind the team.
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She added: “We’ve built up such a reputation but you can’t live off history. This season there’s going to be five or six sides challenging for the title.
“The buzz has been there from the first session of pre-season. We have made a few signings and kept all of the regulars. You can see that competitiveness in training, everyone is fighting for their place.
“We’re reaching the Crawley community now. People know there’s a team here that shows passion and commitment, a club with people who work hard off the pitch. We all engage with the fans and sponsors. It’s such a great place to play.”
Wasps’ opening game against Plymouth will be played at East Grinstead Town (2pm).
Ins: Rebecca Carter, Charlotte Owen (both Lewes), Hope Nash (Crystal Palace), Tash Stephens (Chichester), Sam Pittuck (Billericay), Maria Ledesma-Viso (Guiseley), Alex Newman (free agent).
Outs: Amy Green (sabbatical), Suzanne Davies (Whyteleafe), Millie Carter, Abbie Measures (both Lewes), Amy Woollard.