Once described by legendary Arsenal manager Vic Akers as “one of the most feared forwards in the game,” Marieanne Spacey-Cale is hoping to achieve the same success as a manager that she experienced as a player.
The Southampton head coach could lead the south coast club to their first FA Cup quarter-final this weekend with fellow third-tier side Ipswich Town standing in their way.
However, FA Cup success is not unfamiliar to Spacey-Cale.
It is a competition she won seven times as a player – winning four FA Cup trophies in eight seasons with Arsenal and then claiming three with Fulham, including a domestic treble in 2002-03.
Now the former England international has the chance to replicate her success as a manager, but how has the FA Cup changed since her retirement from club football in 2005, and what experience can she pass on to her players?
“The number of clubs that can cause an upset – it’s becoming the magic of the FA Cup,” Spacey-Cale told BBC Sport.
“It did happen before but now there’s greater depth, there’s more teams that can upset teams in different leagues.
“It’s just seen as the magic of the FA Cup, not the women’s FA Cup, and that’s a massive step forward.”
‘You’ve been there yourself’
Spacey-Cale scored Arsenal’s winning goal in the 1995 final, a 3-2 victory against Liverpool, but says it is like trying to get “blood out of a stone” for the Southampton players to make their manager speak about her playing days.
“There are times when I think you might need to have a moment of ‘I know how you’re feeling’ so they understand they’re not alone in these moments,” she added. “You’ve been there yourself.”
Southampton compete in the Southern Premier Division of the Women’s National League, and are currently on a 11-game winning streak under Spacey-Cale.
Meanwhile, their fifth round opponents Ipswich are the leaders of that division, nine points above the Saints who have five games in hand.
“Tier three is a strong league,” Spacey-Cale explained. “Every game is a challenge. Certainly in the top half of the table, every game is a strong, challenging fixture.”
The clubs have met twice already this season with mixed results. Southampton eliminated Ipswich from the League Cup in November with a narrow 1-0 win, while Joe Sheehan’s side earned a 2-0 league victory less than two weeks later.
“Ipswich is a big club, it’s a big fixture for us. Whoever wins that, will showcase the talent that is available,” Spacey-Cale said.
“A team from the Southern Premier will definitely be in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. That showcases the talent we have got in this league.
“You can take this one game in isolation but the bigger picture is, look at what’s happening in the pathway of women’s football. The depth of teams that are capable of playing in the Championship is probably far greater now than it’s ever been.”
‘We’re really building something here’
Spacey-Cale, who made 91 appearances and scored 28 goals for England during her international career, was part of England’s coaching set-up prior to her appointment at Southampton in 2018.
“People talk about Southampton as a club of values and people, and that’s exactly what drew me to this club,” she said.
Her first season in charge was a fruitful one. Saints, then in the Southern Region Premier Division, won all 18 games to earn promotion and they also lifted the League Cup.
Covid curtailed the club’s progress in National League Division One, but their application for promotion to the the Southern Premier Division was granted in the summer of 2021 and they are now soaring towards the top of the table.
“We’ve got a long-term strategy in place of where we’d like to be,” the Southampton head coach said.
“This isn’t two or three years, this is five, six, seven years of being a leading team within the highest level of women’s football in this country.
“We’re really building something here, and we’re doing it as a club.”
Southampton are certainly building in the right direction and Spacey-Cale will be hoping that her players can latch onto some of the FA Cup magic she experienced as a player.
“You go into the romance of the FA Cup – wanting to play the next level and the teams that are above you,” she said.
“Part of that aspiration is to showcase what we’re about as a club and there’s no greater competition than the FA Cup to do that as well.”