Burnley duo create history

History makers: Nicola Shirtcliffe (centre) and Emily Farrell (right) with fellow Brit Lauren Allison with the Sun Belt Conference Women's Soccer Championship
History makers: Nicola Shirtcliffe (centre) and Emily Farrell (right) with fellow Brit Lauren Allison with the Sun Belt Conference Women's Soccer Championship

When South Alabama claimed the university’s first-ever Sun Belt Conference Women’s Soccer Championship title on Sunday in Texas, it was a success forged in Burnley.

The Jaguars defeated the top-seeded Western Kentucky University Lady Toppers 1-0, at the Bobcat Soccer Complex, with two of the team hailing from the town.

Nicola Shirtcliffe, playing at full back, and Emily Farrell, daughter of former Claret Andy, at centre back, helped the Jaguars create history.

The winning goal in the final was scored by Oxford’s Lauren Allison, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and also claimed the SBC Offensive Player and Freshman of the Year titles.

Nicola has played for the BCS England College squad for two successive years, prior to moving to Alabama in July.

She is a former Blackburn Rovers Ladies’ reserve team player, while she also featured for Blackburn Community Sports Club.

Nicola, who attended Accrington and Rossendale college, also represented the ACCROSS girls’ academy before earning a scholarship at the South Alabama.

Emily also played alongside Nicola for ACCROSS and Blackburn Rovers, having come through the centre of excellent at Rovers.

She started out at the age of eight with Burnley FC Ladies.

The pair, from a squad of 32 girls, have bucked the trend with the Jaguars, with freshmen - first years - not always starting games.

But they have been mainstays of the side - Nicola played in 20, and Emily 18 of their 22 fixtures over the season.

Their proud parents were thrilled at their exploits, watching live on an internet stream. Nicola’s mother Debra said: “I’ve spoken to Nicola and she’s on a high, they’ve made university history.

“She’s loving it out there, especially winning this title.”

Emily’s dad Andy added: “I was trying to watch it on the computer, through the buffering, but it’s excellent news, she was buzzing.

“She’s played most of her football in midfield like me, but she’s done well at centre back, she has plenty of energy - she’s box to box like I was but with more technical ability!

“It’s what she’s always wanted to do, she was brought up in a football kit, playing in the back yard, which became a mud heap!”

The Jaguars will now face Florida State this weekend in the opening round of the 32nd NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship - playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

Florida State are one of four number one seeds, the automatic qualifier out of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

South Alabama will have to beat Florida State and win a further three rounds to reach the NCAA Women’s College Cup in December at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina - where Burnley FC played and trained in the summer of 2008.