The passionate supporters hoping to cheer Newcastle United Women to silverware success this weekend

The passionate supporters hoping to cheer Newcastle United Women to silverware success this weekend
The passionate supporters hoping to cheer Newcastle United Women to silverware success this weekend

On Saturday afternoon, Newcastle United Women will take on Hashtag United Women in the final of the FA Women's National League Cup. More than 3,000 Magpies fans will make the 500-mile round-trip to Luton Town's Kenilworth Road to support Becky Langley's team who, as well as bidding for silverware, are also on the verge of a second successive league promotion.

And while the likes of Emma Kelly, Kacie Elson and Liv Watt have been integral to those performances on the field this term, their passionate supporters have been similarly central to the team's success.

You probably already know about the attendances at the Lasses' four games at St. James' Park over the past two years - 22,134 v Alnwick Town Ladies in May 2022; 28,565 against Barnsley Women that November; 24,092 when they faced Bradford City Women last April; and most recently, 22,307 as they beat Portsmouth Women in the FAWNL Cup semi-final last month - while United's average attendance at their usual home of Kingston Park, 2,165, is by some distance the highest in the third tier of women's football. Less than five years ago, those numbers were somewhere closer to 100, but the game is growing and Newcastle - who became the first full-time professional football club in FA Women's National League history last summer, one year on from becoming an official part of Newcastle United Football Club - are one of the teams at the forefront.

After winning the FA Women's National League Division One North title on the final day of last season, Langley's side are currently 12 points clear at the top of the league above, while their first appearance in a national cup final is another milestone for a team founded in 1989. Newcastle took massive away followings to Manchester United Women in the Women's FA Cup and promotion rivals Burnley Women in the league, and at 6am on Saturday, four coaches full of fans will depart from Barrack Road for their long journeys south. We spoke to just a few of those who will be on board.

Michael Cauwood, from South Shields, who began organising travel for Newcastle United Women supporters this season after discussions with fellow fans: 'Nottingham Forest (in November) was the first one; I think it being at a Premier League ground, the City Ground, had a bit of pull, but we filled a 50-seater coach. In total there was a few hundred Newcastle fans there. It was a really big success, so I looked to try and do it again.

'The next one was Man United in the FA Cup. At first I said to the bus company 'I'll book one coach, but I might need two.' Within 48 hours, we'd filled two coaches and we ended up with three with nearly 200 fans on, which was incredible. When we went down to Man U and saw the sea of black and white, it felt like a home game - I'm not sure we quite outnumbered them, but it felt like we did and we certainly out-sang them from start to finish.

'It was great to see the Man United players and coaches come round and applaud the fans at the end. (Manchester United Women manager) Marc Skinner mentioned it in his post-match interview, and I think it's made teams in the women's game sit up and take notice that Newcastle are on the rise and they've got this great fanbase. It's not only great for Newcastle but it's great for the women's game as a whole.

'Then we took two coaches to Burnley, with just over 100 fans, and Newcastle took a few hundred fans in total for that game. It was very similar to Man United but we definitely outnumbered them that time. The sea of black and white, the flags, the scarves waving: it sometimes leaves you a little bit speechless. We don't make any money from it, we do it purely so fans can get to the game, so it's more accessible, and when we look at the number of fans that have been at those games on those coaches, as well as attendances at other away games, it makes it all worthwhile. It is quite time-consuming at times, but it's totally worth it.'

Bernie Heppell-Marshall, a former football coach from Gateshead: 'I love going on the bus. I have my speaker on; it's a party bus! We've got songs about the girls - the (Paige) Bailey-Gayle/Andy Cole song; Anna (Soulsby)'s baggy top; Stobbsy in the middle, Pottsy at the back; Hey, Katie Barker, I wanna know if you'll score a goal... we've got a few songs going. The support is absolutely amazing. It's good fun - we have a bit of banter, have the music going. It's just a good laugh.'

Bernie Heppell-Marshall (Serena Taylor/Newcastle United)

Bernie, one of Newcastle United Women's most prominent and vocal fans, attended her first game well over a decade ago, when her daughter, Charlotte Potts, began playing for the Magpies and players packed bags in local supermarkets to raise funds to represent the club. Several years later, after spells in Canada, Scotland and Switzerland, Gateshead-born defender Potts returned for a second spell on Tyneside and has been outstanding over the past two campaigns, giving Bernie - who requires no second invitation - plenty to shout about. But others have become Newcastle United Women supporters for many different reasons.

Matt Walby, who grew up with Kevin Keegan's Entertainers, but took the difficult decision to give up his season ticket during Alan Pardew's tenure: 'My first match was the second St. James' match (against Barnsley Women). To be honest, it was more a chance to get back into St. James' Park than anything for that first match, but while it may not have been the men's team, I'd watched an enjoyable game of football. I went to the next home game after the St. James' match, and I've never stopped going after that.

'I first started going to St. James' back in the nineties, watching the men's team in the Keegan years, and watching the way the team plays reminded me very much of when I first started going to watch the men. They don't park the bus, they go out and score goals. They play football in the way I grew up watching football. And it's a nice atmosphere at Kingston Park - there's none of the negativity that can come with the men's game at times. They have a great rapport with the fans, everyone's very friendly at the ground.

'I struggled a bit with lockdown - due to working from home, I'd had the best part of 18 months where I pretty much just spoke to my mother and that was it. Going to Kingston Park was the first normal thing I'd done after Covid. Getting out and going to watch football, and actually see people again, was a big thing for me.'

Matt Walby (Serena Taylor/Newcastle United)

Helen Hudspith, from Cramlington: 'I used to play football at primary school, but went to an all-girl school at 11 and they didn't have any football teams so my 'playing career' was sort of cut short! I used to play for the university team at Northumbria, wherever I was put, really. I was never going to be a superstar but I played recreationally rather than seriously.

'When I used to play, Newcastle didn't have a women's team - the clubs didn't really want much to do with it. I went through a spell after university where I dropped out of playing sport. I think a lot of people do at that sort of time because you have to get a job.

'It's through social media that I first started keeping an eye on them. Me and my dad went to a few games, probably about three or four seasons ago, when they were at Druid Park, but I found that most of the other fans were the parents. I was one of the only people there who didn't know any of the players.'

Elliot Cowens, whose girlfriend, Katie Barker, has played for Newcastle United Women since the summer of 2020: 'In the past, Katie played for Sunderland so it was a bit of a tough start watching women's football from my perspective being a Newcastle fan! You're leaving Sunderland, wiping your feet on the way out and getting stick off your mates saying 'I can't believe you support Sunderland as well as Newcastle.' It's nice now to be able to go and watch her at a good level of football but they're wearing the right colour stripes.

'We first started going out in school, so over eight years now. Katie at the time was still in academy football. She signed for Sunderland academy, then was in the development team, then was quite quickly into the first team and playing in the Women's Premier League. It's hard not to feel a sense of pride, regardless of the badge they're wearing. But the shift to a few years later and being able to wear the black and white stripes, it's an even bigger pride; albeit she's played in the Premier League and against all these stars, but now you're watching her at St. James' Park, in the black and white stripes, with the right badge on and the iconic number nine on the back. She's a Wallsend girl and I'm a Wallsend lad so you can't top it, really.'

Elliot Cowens (Serena Taylor/Newcastle United)

Michael Cauwood: 'I've been a Newcastle fan all my life; from the day I was born I was dressed in black and white by my dad and likewise when my daughter Rosie was born, I did the same thing with her. When Rosie was one week old, we took a trip up to St. James' Park to get some photos in front of the signs, the gates outside the Millburn and things like that.

'She's nine-and-a-half, she'll be ten this summer. We followed the men for years and just before lockdown I started taking Rosie to her first men's games at St. James'. But of course football then went behind closed doors for a season-and-a-half, then Newcastle were taken over and tickets were a lot harder to come by, so we started following the women's team as well, more so because Rosie had started playing for a team.

'In the 21/22 season, we started going along to the Coach Lane and Druid Park and watching the Lasses play and within a couple of games Rosie said 'I enjoy this more than watching the men.' So from there, every game possible we started going to.'

Shiela Donnelly, who began attending matches with her husband, Dee, when their daughter Grace signed for the team in 2017: 'The home games were somewhere along Coach Lane; like a playing field, but there was a football pitch. The lines were marked out but there was no rope or anything keeping you away from the pitch. You were literally standing at the side of the pitch, and you were lucky if there was just the parents - sometimes not even the parents! You'd be lucky if there was 20 of us there, standing or sitting there in the freezing cold.'

Back then, Newcastle United Women operated independently of the club, with players paying to play and supported by Newcastle United Foundation. But things quickly began to change when Newcastle United was taken over in October 2021, and the new owners gave Head of Women's Football Su Cumming and head coach Langley the autonomy to reinvigorate the team.

Elliot Cowens: 'There's been some rather long drives to some let's say rather questionable venues. This season, you've had some nicer ones, and you get to join on the supporters buses now which is a great thing, thanks to Michael, but in previous years - two years ago, when we were challenging for the league and got pipped by Liverpool Feds, you were travelling to grounds down in the South Midlands, three or four hour drives, by myself on cold winter days. When you're going there to watch tough games and it's freezing cold and there's 30, 40 people there, and then fast forward two years later…

"You feel like 'we're here now.' The care and support - not even the money side of it - from the club has gone a long way, not just on the pitch where the results speak for themselves, but the family feel off it."

Elliot Cowens

'I remember the first game at Kingston Park (a Women's FA Cup tie with Ipswich Town Women in January 2022). There were like 2,000 people there and we were astonished by it. Then you go to St. James' and it's in front of 20-odd thousand. It's crazy. Now you're at Kingston Park with a minimum of a couple of thousand people in a proper ground, with a proper set-up. You feel like 'we’re here now.' The care and support - not even the money side of it - from the club has gone a long way, not just on the pitch where the results speak for themselves, but the family feel off it.'

Bernie Heppell-Marshall: 'Before I had the drum I had a horn and I have a bit of banter with people in the stands - not away supporters, just our fans. If they're not loud enough I'll say 'howay, let's get this going,' and sometimes the referees make some bad decisions, don’t they, so you might hear me shout out from the stands 'the referee's a Mackem,' things like that, just to have a bit of fun with the crowd. Charlotte sometimes goes 'Mam, you've got to control yourself - you're not a fan, you're a parent.' I say 'Charlotte, I'm your parent but not everyone else's, am I? So basically, I am a fan!'.

If Bernie leads the noise, Helen, who runs a graphic design business, helps to bring colour to the stands. She has produced a number of flags and banners for Newcastle United Women over the past two seasons.

Helen Hudspith: 'I wanted to celebrate the team and make it more visual for people, but also build my own skillset. I'd seen what Wor Flags were doing for the men but it was never intended to copy Wor Flags - just to make it more visual for people and have people say 'there's Katie Barker's flag', so people could recognise the individual players by name, because I think when you first start attending that's quite a difficult thing. You're sitting in the crowd but you don't necessarily know who the players are, so it's hard to cheer them on by name.

Helen Hudspith (Serena Taylor/Newcastle United)

'As a fan, you don't expect any of the team to know you, and it was never about 'I want to be known in the fanbase' but for other fans it's given a talking point and the players recognising them and getting pleasure out of them... hopefully it gives them a little bit of a boost. If it makes them feel supported and encouraged then that's awesome, isn't it?'.

At 16, Helen was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition and is now partially-sighted, while she recently underwent an operation on her back so currently attends games in a wheelchair.

Helen Hudspith: 'That feeling of being part of a community, where you know when you're going to attend, you've got something to aim for. With everything I've had going on with my eyesight and my back in combination, I have had problems with anxiety in the past, because everything is more difficult for me than it would be for your average fan turning up. But the fact that there's specific fixtures, you can aim for that day. You can think 'right, I need to be up and ready and out the door and attending the game.' And then because they keep winning, you come home in a good mood!

'There's the socialisation of it as well. I think Matt, especially, has found that. He has anxiety problems as well, and he attends the game on his own - I go with a carer - but everybody makes you feel so welcome that once you get to know a few people in the crowd, you don't really feel like you're on your own.'

Matt Walby: 'It has been a big confidence-booster for me personally. I've joined the company football team with work - it must be a good ten years since I'd last kicked a football in any kind of level at all.

'I've had a little bit of interaction with the lads from (fan channel) Newcastle Fans TV - more in the background, providing stats, than actually on camera, which I'm happy with. But going out and getting to games... I never got to away matches with the men's team, so that's new for me.'

Rosie, Michael's daughter, started playing for her local team three years ago and has established herself as a goalkeeper.

Michael Cauwood: 'Funnily enough before lockdown, I was always trying to get her to join a football team. She tried gymnastics and dancing and stage school and she didn't have much interest. I kept saying 'you love football. We go and watch it, you play in the park. Why don't you join a football team?' and she kept saying 'no, I just enjoy playing for fun in the park.' Then a week into lockdown, she turned around and said 'Dad, can I join a football team?'. I was like 'of all the times you've chosen, it's a week into lockdown when the world's come to an end and you can't!'.

'But as soon as lockdown ended, I found a club for her to start training and she's never looked back. She absolutely loves it. Nick Pope, Mary Earps and Grace Donnelly - they're the people she looks up to.

Michael and Rosie Annette Connolly Cauwood (Serena Taylor/Newcastle United)

'I remember the first time Rosie met Grace Donnelly. It was at Durham Cestria in that first season we started following and Rosie got the goalkeeper kit - the pink one with the purple tint on it - for Christmas. She had 'Rosie 1' on the back, and at the end of the game, Rosie was standing down beside the pitch, quite shy and timid, and she really wanted to meet Grace. This lady turned around and said 'Grace, there's a little girl here who wants to meet you' and that was Shiela, Grace Donnelly's mam.'

Shiela Donnelly: 'They were stood at the other side of the pitch and every time the ball went out behind the goal, this little girl would run and get the ball for Grace and give her it back. She had 'Donnelly' on her back so I said to them 'do you want to get a photograph with her?'. She was like a mini-Grace, with her blonde hair and her ponytail.'

Rosie Annette Connolly Cauwood: 'I felt nervous because I'd never spoken to her before or met her before. But at the same time I was really excited because I am also a goalkeeper and I want to be just like Grace when I grow up. I was wearing the same kit as Grace for the match and we got a photo after the game. She also signed my autograph book. We beat Durham 2-1 so it was an amazing day.'

Michael Cauwood: 'Rosie's got it up in a photo frame in her bedroom and there's one in our sitting room at home as well. This season, Newcastle Women signed Tyler Dodds and we went to Norton & Stockton for a pre-season friendly and a few of the new signings were playing. Rosie went 'Dad, that new player's really good, what's she called?'. I said 'that's Tyler Dodds' and she said 'I like her blue hairband.' Again, after the game, she was getting photos, autographs and she got one with Tyler. She got back to the car and she went 'Dad, don't tell Grace but Tyler's my new favourite player!'.

"It's bitter-sweet because her dad is missing out on all this. But we wouldn't get his head through the door. I cannot describe how proud I am; the whole family is."

Shiela Donnelly

Rosie Annette Connolly Cauwood: 'I really love Tyler Dodds. She is such a good player; she's really fast and she sets up lots of goals. She always says hello and talks to me at the games. I have 'Dodds 7' on the back of my home shirt and even have a blue hairband just like her now! At the same time I also really love Grace because she is a goalkeeper like me and I want to be a goalkeeper when I grow up. I have 'Donnelly' on the back of my goalkeeper shirt and I wear goalkeeper gloves just like Grace's.

'I couldn't choose between either of them - they're both my favourite players! They inspire me so much whenever I play football. One day I would love to be just like Tyler and Grace and all of the other Newcastle Women players, playing football for Newcastle United, especially at St. James' Park.'

Michael Cauwood: 'Earlier in the season, Tyler came up to us after a game - we were playing Boldmere in the cup - and she said 'Rosie, I've got something for you' and she pulled a blue hairband out of her pocket and said 'my mam made this one for me and I'm going to give it to you.' Rosie's face lit up and you could see she was holding back the tears a little bit. It's moments like that kids remember.'

Shiela Donnelly: 'We lost Grace's dad a few years ago through cancer. We went all over - when she played for the college, for uni, we went to all the home and away games. We only missed the last university one because he wasn't well at all by then.

'My friend started to come with me so I wasn't by myself, and now my mam's neighbour comes with us, my niece's girl comes with us, my friend's daughter comes with us, so we've got quite a little group that come with us now. When you hear people talking about Grace - and not just Grace, the other players as well - and saying 'I hope I get so-and-so's photo or autograph,' it's unbelievable.

Shiela and Grace Donnelly (Serena Taylor/Newcastle United)

'It's bitter-sweet because her dad is missing out on all this. But we wouldn't get his head through the door. I cannot describe how proud I am; the whole family is. I can't put into words how proud I am. She's worked hard and my god, she deserves it.'

Elliot Cowens: 'The one thing missing from Katie's journey, and dare I say my journey with Katie, is we haven't lifted a trophy. As much as they won the league last year, it was the fourth tier and you always knew that was eventually going to happen. But going down there, as much as it's an occasion and an event for a lot of people, it's a game of football and we've got to come away with the trophy in our hands.'

Matt Walby: 'I've never been to a cup final before, even with the men's team. I can't wait for this one. I'm a bit gutted it's at Luton of all places, but it's going to be a very, very memorable day.'

Bernie Heppell-Marshall: 'I am getting a bit nervous - and on the morning of the final I'll probably be more nervous - but I'm going down there with my drum, I'll get my face painted and I've made ten cardboard cut-out cups and glued some tin foil on. Dawn (Bernie's wife) even bought proper ribbons, and they're to dish out to the kids. And we've got a fan zone before the game, so we'll get that up and going.'

Michael Cauwood: 'You think back to those games at Druid Park and Coach Lane, behind the green fences; going from 50, 100 fans to thousands in a stadium like St. James' Park or down at Kenilworth Road.

'Yes, the league is the priority this season but winning breeds confidence so if you can get to a cup final and win a piece of silverware, that's going to benefit you in the league as well. Why not try and win it to give us that boost to just get over the line for the rest of the season and get that promotion to the Championship.'

Newcastle are set to take on Hashtag United Women at Kenilworth Road on Saturday, March 22nd at 14:30 GMT. Tickets can be purchased here.