No place like home: High-flying Leicester City setting sights on Women’s Super League from comfort of new training base

Two years ago, Leicester City suffered the indignity of 7-0 and 6-1 losses to Manchester United in quick succession in the Women’s Championship, as they endured a run of six defeats from seven at the end of a mediocre season to finish in the bottom half.

Fast forward to the present day and they are a club transformed, sitting top of the table and leading the race for promotion to the Women’s Super League.

After taking the step of turning professional last summer, Leicester club legend and former England striker Emile Heskey has joined the coaching staff and the women’s team are now training at Belvoir Drive, which was the training complex used by their men’s team during their Premier League title triumph of 2015/16.

Five years on from that 5000-1 moment, women’s team manager Jonathan Morgan sits in the office chair previously occupied by Claudio Ranieri, hoping to lead the club to another piece of silverware.

For boyhood Leicester fan Morgan, who has managed the side since 2014, it is “surreal” to be in charge at the former coaching base of his heroes. He said: “Knowing some of the great managers have sat in the seat I’m sitting in is fantastic.

“I’m still picking up little bits and bobs they’ve left around, tactics, little sessions and information. To get a bit of insight into Brendan [Rodgers]’s mind particularly is brilliant.

“I can’t begin to explain to you how much more positive it is here. Having a home and a base, having offices, that makes such a big difference. Just to come to training knowing training is on, that’s fantastic.”

The move came after the men’s team vacated the site and switched to their own new £100m training ground in Seagrave, which includes 14 full-size pitches and even a private golf course.

Some have questioned why the women’s team couldn’t be part of that too, however, they have private access to their own site and Morgan says that brings further benefits, adding: “I can understand from an outside perception that everyone thinks you should be at the same base as the men’s, but when you’re being provide with an elite facility like this, it’s perfect.

“We have our own schedule, our own cook, our own pitches. We get to personalise the environment to female footballers. It’s a no-brainer from that point of view. The players can get comfortable and be themselves. In my opinion it’s the best female facility there is around.”

Jonathan Morgan: 'You shouldn’t be in football if you’re not looking to be the best'


Jonathan Morgan: ‘You shouldn’t be in football if you’re not looking to be the best’


Credit: LEICESTER CITY FC

There have been changes in personnel too, with Russ Fraser appointed as the head of women’s and girl’s football last summer. The former general manager of West Ham United helped oversee the East Midlands side’s transition to full-time status. Then in September, Heskey started a coaching, ambassadorial and mentoring role with the team.

And results on the pitch have followed, with the team winning 11 of their 14 league games this term, as well as reaching the Continental Tyres League Cup semi-finals.

Yet the campaign has not been without setbacks. In February, 10 women’s team players and three members of the Under-23 men’s squad attended a house party, contrary to Covid-19 restrictions. The club were understood to have fined all involved.

Speaking on Thursday, Morgan felt they had “put that chapter behind them” and the team showed their “togetherness” during last Sunday’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, adding: “The line was drawn under it for us a long time ago. The girls were desperate for forgiveness from the squad, the staff and the wider world as well.”

That victory over Palace kept Leicester top of the table, above second-placed Durham on goal-difference, but Leicester have a game in hand.

Their charge towards the WSL has attracted the praise of men’s first-team manager Rodgers, who said in January: “It’s great to see and I obviously follow from afar. I speak to Susan Whelan [CEO] and I know that she was very keen to help and support the women’s team, to make them feel a real part of the club here. She’s done a brilliant job in terms of giving them an uplift. It’s great to see them achieving.”

The next steps of the team’s rapid rise rest upon the remainder of the run-in, as they sit just five wins from promotion, and Morgan has aspirations for the club to climb even higher.

“You shouldn’t be in football if you’re not looking to be the best,” he added. “This [training ground] gives us a massive platform to be one of the best in the country and hopefully across into Europe in due course.”

More Stories
Travel latest news: Cyprus and Seychelles confirm reopening dates for Britons