Burnley FC Women: Head of football Lola Ogunbote has sights firmly set on promotion following historic season

When Burnley FC Women stepped out onto the Turf Moor pitch at the end of April, it marked a milestone moment.
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The Clarets overcame Liverpool FC Feds 2-1 in an enthralling encounter to finish third in the FA Women’s National League Northern Premier Division.

But this was an occasion that carried extra significance. It was the first time in Burnley's 140-year history that its women's team had graced its hallowed home turf. Watched on by 3,000 supporters, it gave an army of young claret and blue girls a dream to chase.

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Burnley FC chairman Alan Pace and head of Burnley FC Women's Football Lola OgunboteBurnley FC chairman Alan Pace and head of Burnley FC Women's Football Lola Ogunbote
Burnley FC chairman Alan Pace and head of Burnley FC Women's Football Lola Ogunbote
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For the club's head of women’s football, Lola Ogunbote, it was one of the proudest moments of her "whirlwind" two-year tenure.

"That would be one of the things I am most proud of, definitely. It shows there's interest in the women's team. To have 3,000 people there at Turf Moor, watching the team, it was incredible. And what a day it was. The missed penalty, go one-nil down, come back for the win. It had everything you need in a game of football.

"It just was such a nice way to end the season. Jay Rodriguez attending the day after his own game away in Bristol, coming down with his daughter; along with the club owners, representatives from the FA and general fans, it was such a nice occasion.

“We've shown that people do want to see it, and there's value there. So, I'm pretty confident that this will be a fixture that becomes part of the season now."

Lola Ogunbote, head of women's football at Burnley FC.Lola Ogunbote, head of women's football at Burnley FC.
Lola Ogunbote, head of women's football at Burnley FC.
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Lola said the game at Turf Moor took the edge off what was a "painful" end to the season.

With two games remaining, the Clarets needed just six points to secure the league title, and a shot at Championship football through a playoff.

However, a 2-1 home defeat to Wolves meant the result against Feds left them two points behind eventual winners Nottingham Forest.

"After that Wolves game, I cried, I honestly cried," said Lola. "Because it was in our hands. But, when I take time to reflect now – I'm really proud. I'm really proud of the players. They've experienced a lot of change in management, change in style of play, but they've just cracked on. They're a good, resilient group. In two seasons, we've gone from mid-table to challenging to win the league. That's an unbelievable turnaround in a short timeframe."

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It's even more remarkable when you consider that in 2017 Burnley were plying their trade in the fifth tier, before former manager Matt Bee guided them to back-to-back promotions.

Championship football now isn't just an aspiration, it's an expectation.

The club finished the season under Jay Bradford, who stepped in as interim boss following Jonathan Morgan's departure in February.

Interviews are now ongoing to find his full-time successor, with Lola revealing there had been no shortage of interest.

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"We've had over 70 applicants, and I think this time last year we probably had half that. And we can't hide from it; what's going on with the men's side is of course exciting, but I would also like to think that people are looking at where we finished and thinking, 'I'd love a bit of that'.

"I want somebody in for pre-season. We're in a position where we can attract good managers that want to come and be involved. And we need to make sure it is the best person for the job.

"We've shown we can mix it with the best in the league, and now that there's no playoff final there’s the chance to go up automatically. It will be tough. You've got the likes of Newcastle coming up this season; they'll be throwing massive money around. Wolves, Derby, and Forest will all fancy themselves again. But I’ve made it clear this year, we’re in it to win the league.”

The campaign will once again see the Clarets playing their home games at Lancashire FA's County Ground in Leyland.

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Lola wants to bring the team back to the area as soon as possible, but only when the right opportunity presents itself.

"This is something we are trying to change; to bring the women’s team into Burnley. But we need access to pitches and facilities of a good standard and Championship ready It has to be the level of a team that has ambitions to play in the Women’s Super League.

"We are proactively out there looking at clubs we could go in; maybe a groundshare or a fix-up – but until that time comes, Leyland is where we will be. We want to provide an environment that is conducive to women's elite football. And then there’s the criteria for when we get to the Championship. Some of the options in Burnley just don’t meet that criteria. So, even if we wanted to play there, we couldn’t. But, similarly to playing at Turf Moor for the first time, the second thing I want to do is prioritise bringing the women's team to Burnley, and I think given enough time I’ll be able to make that happen.”

Lola’s arrival Burnley at coincided with the Alan Pace / ALK takeover.

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At the time, she said Alan was 1,000% committed to the women’s team.

That hasn’t changed.

"Anytime I’ve got something to ask, or any ideas I want to pitch, he’s always there for me. He gives me the freedom to dream big. ‘What do you want Lola? How are we going to get there? What’s the plan? Have you thought about this? Do you think this could work?’ That’s why we found ourselves in a position where we were able to finish two points away from winning the league. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I didn’t have a chairman and a club that was backing me to do that for the women’s team.

“Last season, we were in and around the top four, so everyone in that position had the opportunity to apply to the FA for their Championship licence; in case they secured promotion. Alan Pace was there when we went to present that application. He prioritised the time, he came down to London, and sat with me in the room. Our COO Matt Williams also travelled to London and supported our application. Another ALK Owner Mike Smith joined the meeting virtually all the way from the USA. All of our heads of departments joined virtually via Zoom. It’s those types of things that show me they are not simplyy’re not just paying lip service to the Women’s Team, but rather they are invested in it. When the FA are looking at that application, they can see that the chairman has made time to be there, that it must be a priority for him. He’s not just doing it for the sake of it.

“Alan and the club want us in the WSL. And we all know what that will take.”