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Son of Wisbech Town legend Bill Clarkson leads his side to NWSL Challenge Cup success



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The son of celebrated Wisbech Town legend Bill Clarkson has secured his own place in football history by leading a US-based team to their first-ever trophy.

Head coach James Clarkson masterminded a landmark win for the Houston Dash at the inaugural NWSL (National Women's Soccer League) Challenge Cup held in the US state of Utah.

The eight-team, 23-game competition was staged over four weeks, with the Dash rated as 200-1 outsiders to finish top of the pile.

Head coach James Clarkson and captain Rachel Daly celebrate Houston Dash's success in the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah, USA. Photo supplied. (39805175)
Head coach James Clarkson and captain Rachel Daly celebrate Houston Dash's success in the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah, USA. Photo supplied. (39805175)

But after drawing one, winning another and then losing their two of their four qualifying games, the Dash picked up speed to beat hosts Utah Royals on penalties in their quarter-final.

Clarkson then saw his side, captained by England Lioness striker Rachel Daly, beat two-time NWSL champions Portland Thorns 1-0 in the semi-final, with Daly scoring the winner.

That set up a cup final between the Dash and NWSL 2019 season runners' up, Chicago Red Stars.

A club portrait of head coach James Clarkson celebrating Houston Dash's success in the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah, USA. Photo supplied.
A club portrait of head coach James Clarkson celebrating Houston Dash's success in the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah, USA. Photo supplied.

Despite being underdogs, Dash ran out 2-0 winners with goals by Canadian international Sophie Schmidt and American Shea Groom.

Clarkson, who coached the Fenmen's reserve and youth sides in 1996 before moving to the USA a year later, said: "It's been incredible really, getting the win and then seeing the reception we got when we returned home to Houston.

"Having the city behind us was quite amazing and we were the first COVID-era champions to have a drive-through celebration where the fans got to see the players and coaching staff on a stage at our stadium.

"It was only planned to last for 45 minutes, but we were there for two and a half hours."

Head coach James Clarkson with his wife and sons after Houston Dash's success in the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah, USA. Photo supplied.
Head coach James Clarkson with his wife and sons after Houston Dash's success in the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah, USA. Photo supplied.

Clarkson took over as the Dash's head coach in December 2018, having joined the associated men's team, Houston Dynamo, in January 2007.

"I thought we were close to making the NWSL play-offs last year, with some really good performances along the way," Clarkson said.

"We had to make some big decisions, trading away some players who had been with the club for a long time.

"We really worked on the team's chemistry and who we wanted to be.

"I felt we were the fittest team in Utah and as we picked up a bit of momentum, the players believed that we had a chance to win."

Watching the drama unfold from his home town of Wisbech was Clarkson's mum Maggie who said: "I was really excited and James was absolutely thrilled to win this big tournament.

"I just think it's a nice story for the people of Wisbech and Bill would have been proud of his son."



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