With the men’s team taking a breather during the international break this week and next, eyes are turning to Tottenham Hotspur Women, who have quite possibly the biggest match in their history coming up this weekend. Spurs face WSL power Arsenal on Sunday at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium — the first ever women’s North London Derby where both sides are in England’s top flight, and the first women’s football match to be held at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Spurs captain Jenna Schillaci has been with Spurs for more than a decade, playing first as a 16-year old for a season before leaving to play for other clubs. She returned to Tottenham in 2009 and has been here ever since, helping usher the Women through four promotions under co-manager Karen Hills and Juan Amoros.
As captain, Schillaci took the BBC on a tour of Spurs’ facilities at the new stadium and talked about, despite the clear gulf in talent and resources between the clubs, how the Arsenal match is “massive.”
Note: the video itself is region-locked to the UK. A partial transcript is below.
“I think [the NLD] is absolutely massive, especially on the back of [England’s 2-1 loss to Germany at Wembley on November 9] that’s just been played to a sell-out crowd. We’re playing in one of the best stadiums in the world, the first North London Derby here against Arsenal.
“It’s just incredible, and if I look back to a younger me, if I had the opportunity to come here and watch Tottenham Ladies play... how amazing that [young girls] can dream and they can be professional footballers one day. Hopefully they can live my dream as well. We’re hoping to inspire a lot of young girls and hopefully the fans that watch us come back and watch us weekly.”
Schillaci, now 35, was born and raised in Enfield to a Tottenham-loving family. As a defender and local player, she’s the closest Women’s equivalent to Ledley King, though she didn’t think she would have the opportunity to play football on a professional level during her career.
“[I have a] massive Spurs family. I spent much of my childhood coming down to White Hart Lane. We had season tickets so we came down here every other weekend, supporting the team.
“I always dreamed of playing but I didn’t think it was possible for me in my lifetime to be a professional footballer. Dreams come true and now I’m sitting here in the new changing room. It’s amazing.
“It’s a fairy tale story, especially when I look back at where I started. I’ve gone from playing grassroots football to playing semi-professional and juggling a job with it and then turning professional this year. It’s just incredible and I can’t actually believe we’ll be playing here on Sunday.”
Sunday’s match will be a difficult one for Tottenham, who are currently tied for fourth with nine points after five matches. They’ve lost both of their matches against teams vying for a top three finish — a 1-0 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in week 1 and a 3-0 loss to former second division rivals Manchester United — but have so far passed the test against the rest of the league, with wins over West Ham, Liverpool, and Bristol City.
But Arsenal is an entirely different proposition. Despite the local club rivalry, Arsenal have one of the best teams in the WSL, stocked with top-level international footballers. The Gunners handily won each of the last two times these two teams played — a 6-0 win in a preseason friendly this summer and a 10-0 win in the FA Cup in 2017. Spurs are hoping that the home crowd, reportedly a near sellout, can help inspire Spurs to an unlikely result against one of the best women’s club teams in Europe.
For Schillaci, who despite her status as club captain very well could start the match on the bench, Sunday’s game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is further evidence that women’s football in England can continue to grow and attract large crowds.
“Women’s football is here to stay. It’s only going to get bigger and better. The quality on the pitch is improving every season and the interest is just growing. This is just the start and I can only see it getting much bigger and better.”