Sophie Haywood’s first league game as an Aston Villa player ended in a 12-0 defeat to Manchester United.
But since walking off the pitch on that dark day in September 2018, the winger has been part of the Women’s remarkable – and rapid – rise to prominence.
A strong end to last season coupled with an unbeaten run during the current campaign has seen the team lose only one game in their past 24 FA Women’s Championship matches.
Reflecting on a whirlwind 18 months at the club, Haywood is proud of the club’s progress since that defeat to the Red Devils.
“That first game against Manchester United, it was a tough time,” she said.
“It was my first proper game for Villa, and it was a bit like ‘what have I done?’, ‘am I at the right place?’ and ‘what does the future hold for the club?’.
“After that loss, a lot of the girls took it hard and there was a lot of stuff on social media, but we had this belief that we had something to build off and that things were going to get better.”
Investment in the team, under the guidance of CEO Christian Purslow, has taken the Women’s set-up to a whole new level, in terms of support staff, playing staff and their training regime.
The next step is to secure promotion to the FA Women’s Super League, which would bring with it the chance for Villa’s players to become full-time professionals.
For Haywood, who took up the game at eight-years-old, it would be a dream come true if Villa can secure top spot this term.
“I can speak for most of the girls when I say that we’ve dreamt of this,” she said.
“We’ve trained from childhood to now and it’s all been leading towards this. It’s an exciting time, a nerve-wracking time as there’s still a way to go and performances to put in.
“We’re all very focussed and excited for what’s to come.”