It is that time again! I am back with another hot off the press Crystal Palace Women interview, as I must be starting to get a reputation at the club for being the nag with the questions! So, last time out I was able to talk with the gaffer himself, Dean Davenport. This time though, I return to the heroes on the pitch, and this one is a real thriller! When trying to decide which interviews to do at which times, it can be difficult trying to narrow it down. Sometimes though, the answer is just so obvious, and for me this interview fits that description.
We have made a decent start to the season, and recently brought an end to our home hoodoo, with back to back wins at Hayes Lane. The first was a 4-1 Championship win over Coventry United, for which you can find my review on EagleEyeView29.com. We then followed that up with a 6-1 win over London Bees in the Continental Cup. Two great results which showcased just what we are capable of on the pitch. Currently though, we are in a spell of very few games, such is the nature of how the league has been structured. So, while we are missing the action, I wanted to give all CPFCW fans a bit of the Palace to keep them entertained, and there is no one that has entertained us more in the famous red and blue this season, then Bianca Baptiste!
Bianca is in her second season with the club and was part of the key ‘core’ of the team that we managed to keep hold of in the summer. While last season was perhaps a slow one in front of goal, this season she has been an absolute sensation. Bianca has quite frankly been on fire and it has been fantastic to watch. Her pace and ball control have caused defences all sorts of problems, and she has linked up incredibly well with Shiv Wilson and Cherelle Khassal. In our previous two Championship seasons, goals for the whole team have certainly been hard to come by, which has made life incredibly difficult. This season though, we have been a far more effective attacking team, and while several of the players have chipped in with goals, Bianca has been the most lethal. As any manager would tell you, all the attacking play in the world means nothing if you have no one putting the ball in the back of the net at the end of it. This season though, especially with the form Bianca has been in, it has been a different story for us and if we keep it up, it could lead to our best ever season at this level.
The one gutting thing for me, is that us fans don’t get to be there to witness it. I always loved the ‘Will Grigg’s On Fire’ song and wished we could sing our own version at Selhurst. Now, when we could use that song for Bianca on the terraces of Hayes Lane, we aren’t allowed to be there to sing it! While seeing her bang in the goals live has not been possible, carrying out this interview thankfully has been, although there has been a delay in me getting it written up due to currently taking part in NaNoWriMo to help get my fourth novel written(did I mention I am an author? 😉). While we are enjoying what Bianca is currently doing, you should all know by now that I like to start these interviews at the beginning. So, to get proceedings underway, I started by asking Bianca how she first got into football?
“I lived in an estate with my Mum and brother and I used to go out to play from a young age and kick a ball around with the boys older than me. Ever since then I haven't stop playing.”
Bianca’s footballing path would see her play for Tottenham, the club from which we signed her back in the summer of 2019. But just what was the path that led her to Spurs?
“I used to play for QPR but felt it was too far and too much of a commitment. One of my closest friends persuaded me to go to Tottenham trials and that's where it all begun.”
Prior to writing this interview, I was aware that Bianca had been had Spurs for quite a few years, so I asked her just how long you spent there and how she found her time playing for the club?
“I was there for 10 years, from training behind the train tracks on a field to then training at the men's training ground. I loved my time at Tottenham Hotspurs. I made a lifetime of friends that I now call my family.”
In modern day football, it is rare for a player to spend so long at a football club. The impression I get is that it is even more so the case in the women’s game, with players moving clubs quite often due to short term contracts, or often full-time jobs away from the game. The last of those ten years came in the 2018/19 season, when Tottenham, along with us, took part in the newly re-structured Championship for the first time. That season would see the newly re-formed Manchester United romp to the title, but the more impressive performance was that of Spurs, who finished second to join United in getting promoted to the WSL. Spurs were a very impressive team to watch that season and there was no doubt they deserved to go up. So, I asked Bianca what it was like to be part of such a successful team and season?
“It was absolutely amazing being part of the team and taking part in yet again another promotion. We all worked extremely hard for many years and we all deserved it.”
One of the requirements that comes with promotion to the WSL, is that the club must go full time. This can be an issue for some players, who having been part time for so long, or have other full-time jobs or life commitments that prevent them from being able to make that step. Our very own Ashlee Hincks is one of those players. I asked Bianca if this had been the case for her, and therefore if it had been her decision not to go into the WSL with Spurs?
“Unfortunately, it was not my choice to not move up with Spurs. I was given an offer to play for the reserves team, but I turned it down as I believe I deserved a lot better than that. Considering I was also part of the reason why there were there in the first place.”
With Bianca leaving Spurs after ten years, their loss would become our gain. Staying in London, she made the swap from the white of Tottenham, to the red and blue of Palace. I asked Bianca how that move came about?
“Palace was always a Team I was very open-minded about. A few of my friends played for them and I always knew they had a slight interest in me. As soon as I was released from Spurs, I received an email from a few teams, but Palace was the one I was always interested in.”
So, Palace was the destination, but I asked Bianca why we were her choice?
“Before I joined Palace, I did try out a few teams, but it didn't feel right. The reason I felt Palace was right for me was because of the connection I had with the girls, but also with the coaches. They made me feel welcome and made me feel a big value to the club.”
The summer of 2019 saw quite a large turnaround of players at Hayes Lane, as the gaffer looked to readjust his squad to better adjust to the higher level of competition in the Championship, after a difficult first season that had seen us finish second bottom. I asked Bianca if it had made her arrival a little easier, knowing that she wasn’t the only new face?
“In all honesty, at the time I was more focused on trying to build up my fitness as well as my belief in myself and prove a point to the coaches that I was good enough to play with a Palace shirt on. It felt good having the other newbies, but at the same time, it was a competition, and it was a fight for the shirt.”
So, having arrived at Hayes Lane, what were her first impressions of the club?
“My first impressions of the club were amazing as I was a little bit worried of coming into a team after what Spurs did. I must admit that Palace were very welcoming and also so very understanding about my situation, and continue to be, considering I didn't have the best season last season(2019/20).”
As with the 2018/19 season, 2019/20 was another that saw gaffer Dean Davenport have a hard time trying to regularly get the same players out on the pitch consistently, with injuries once again playing their part. This in turn made it tricky to try and pick up some momentum and regular form. Then, just when things settled and began to click within the team, the pandemic brought the season to an abrupt end. With one goal in eight league and two Conti-Cup appearances, I asked Bianca how she felt that season went for her?
“As explained in the previous question, I don't feel I had the best season because of injuries but not only the physical side of things but also mentally. Then unfortunately the pandemic ended the season.”
The first Lockdown, caused by the Covid pandemic, forced everyone into their homes. It took away the ability to train properly, as well as to play. It restricted the freedoms that we had always been so accustomed to. For the players in the middle of a season, it brought everything to a grinding halt. I asked Bianca how she adapted to lockdown life?
“Lockdown life was extremely difficult, but at the same time I was extremely grateful for it as it gave me time to think. At the same time though it also gave me time to spend with my family who have always been there for me throughout. I kept up my fitness with the daily exercise but also doing the exercises that were given by our strength and conditioning coach as well as online hits sessions.”
In the early days of Lockdown, everyone was limited to one hour of outdoor exercise per day when absolutely necessary. This led to people finding inventive ways to keep fit within their homes. To begin with for the players, there was the need to stay fit in case the season suddenly restarted. Then, it became the need to stay fit ahead of the return to pre-season training. I asked Bianca if she found it hard to maintain her fitness during that time.
“It wasn't too difficult to maintain my fitness levels as I’m a personal trainer and also because my family are quite fit and active as well. We would always push each other to train whether that was using weights within the house or going for a 10k run.”
When football returned and the players returned to training, it was under much stricter guidelines set out to prevent the spreading of the virus. This initially started with players training at separate times as well as no contact. I asked Bianca how she found training under these guidelines?
“Frustrating but of course understandable. I feel that we dealt with the guidelines really well as a team. I definitely don't like being tested though, especially when they put the thing up your nose!”
As I mentioned earlier, the summer of 2020 saw the core squad from last season stay, and then some quality new additions made to the areas that needed them. With Bianca being one of those key players to stay, I asked her what made her decide to stick with Palace?
“I felt like I owed it to Palace, especially for what they did for me last season and how they made me feel even though I didn't have the best season. I also stayed because I felt we were a strong team and when you have a strong team the passion is there and that's something you can't train.”
Bianca has certainly shown so far that keeping her this summer was a massive coup for the club. At the time that this interview was conducted, she had scored three goals in six league appearances, and two goals in one Conti-Cup sub appearance. I asked her what was the secret to her red-hot form in the season so far?
“If I'm completely honest it's all about staying focused, eating the right foods and also being consistent when it comes to training. I believe is also the coaching and the bond between the team.”
This season has seen Dean Davenport opting for a front three, mostly consisting of Bianca, Cherelle Khassal and Shiv Wilson. With Amber Stobbs and Kate Natkiel back from injury, it means we have options up top and some good competition. The movement between the front three has been key, but I asked Bianca what her favourite position is?
“In all honesty my favourite position to play in would be left winger, as on the left-hand side it's easier for me to cut in. Although some of my goals have been from my head and cutting in on my left foot.”
The goals have certainly been coming in all different ways, and with high quality too. So, we have all seen Bianca the player, but who have been her biggest influences on her way to becoming the talent that she is now?
“My biggest influences would be my mum for always believing in me. My dad for always dropping me to every single training session and every single game when I was younger even if it did take up his whole weekend. My brother, he always gives me that motivational chat and always tells me that I can be the best.”
So, having already made a fantastic start to the season, what are her personal goals this year?
“My personal goal for the rest of the season is to maintain the fitness but also keep on that score sheet.”
As for the club as a whole, I asked Bianca what she felt the team could achieve this season?
“This season hasn't gone the greatest but I think we can finish a lot higher than we have ever done with in this league.”
At the time of her answer, we had been on a run of three successive defeats. But back to back home wins have seen our season kick back into gear since then, with Bianca continuing to play a key role in our growing success. Now, on a personal note, as well as my determination to help provide more and more coverage of CPFCW, I have started taking an interest in the women’s game as a whole, and what could be done to help move it forward. With that in mind, I asked Bianca, if there was one thing she could change in the women’s game to help take it to the next level, what would it be?
“Give women more recognition such as promotion on TV, in stadiums, in shops & financially. I believe this will help women's football fight against the negative people that believe women should not be playing football.”
I could not agree with her more! There is still a lot of work to be done, and I hope that we start to see the positive steps moving forward, especially once fans are allowed back in stadiums. That though, sees the interview come to its end, and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Bianca for giving me the opportunity. Since this interview, she has continued to be the ‘girl on fire’ and her stats now read four goals in eight league games, and four goals in two Conti-Cup subs appearances! She is already our highest overall scorer for a season since our promotion to the Championship and is well on course to be our highest ever league scorer at this level! Bianca has the chance to set new individual records for the club, and in doing so, set some new club records in the process! I wish her the best of luck, and hope that us fans get to be there to see it happen. With that in mind, I am going to end on this note, and I hope you all sing it in your heads as you read it.
Baptiste’s On Fire…Your Defence Is Terrified…Baptiste’s On Fire…Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na….
*All Photos Credited To Tara Hook Photography*