Brighton & Hove Albion Women have made a wave of new transfers this week in preparation for the upcoming FA Women's Super League Spring Series.
The south coast side won promotion to WSL 2 after becoming Women's Premier League champions - with a 4-2 victory over Sporting Club Albion in the play-off match in June. With the calibre of new signings Emma Byrne, Alessia Russo, Laura Rafferty and Jenna Legg, Brighton interim-manager George Parris will be hoping his side can set the ground running in the Spring Series and in turn set a precedent for a successful first season in the WSL 2.
Albion recruit Arsenal Ladies legend Emma Byrne
The most high-profile move this week was no doubt the signing of former Gunner Emma Byrne. The 37-year-old goalkeeper arrives in Brighton on a free transfer having left Arsenal Ladies in December.
Byrne underwent a medical at the American Express Elite Football Performance Centre and has signed an 18-month deal with the club, which will see her through to the end of the 2017/18 season.
Byrne has been a stalwart for Arsenal over the last 16 years and is one of the most decorated goalkeepers in the game - winning a UEFA Women's Champions League, 11 top flight titles, nine FA Women's Cups and 12 domestic league cups - alongside a 125 cap international career with the Republic of Ireland.
Although she leaves a stunning goalkeeping legacy at Arsenal, the Irish keeper found herself in search of a new club at the end of last year, after she struggled for game-time for the first time in her career. A stint at number two in the pecking order was due to the arrival and form of Netherlands national team goalkeeper Sari Van Veenendaal, who arrived from FC Twente in 2015.
Interim Women's manager George Parris spoke of his "absolute delight" that the accompolished goalkeeper has decided to join the club, adding, "We've been keen to add experience and quality to the squad ahead of the new season, and Emma brings both as one of the greatest goalkeepers to have graced the women's game. That pedigree wll be vital for us in the upcoming season."
New addition England youth international Alessia Russo
Brighton made their first signing ahead of the Spring Series on Thursday, with the addition of Alessia Russo. The attacking midfielder arrives from Chelsea Ladies, where she captained the team's development squad, before making her debut for the Chelsea first team in the FA WSL Continental Tyres Cup defeat to London Bees in July.
Russo has played for England through the youth levels and most recently played in both the 2016 Under-17 European Championships and was part of the England U-17 World Cup team who reached the quarter finals in Jordan. The 17-year-old made an impact in both tournaments as she walked away from the Euro's in Belarus as joint-top scorer alongside Spain's Lorena Navarro with five goals apiece.
Russo will be eligible to make her Seagulls debut on 5 February in the SSE Women's FA Cup against AFC Wimbledon in the third round.
Interim manager Parris spoke to the Official Brighton & Hove Albion Website and expressed that the club "had to move fast to secure the services" of one of England's most promising young talents.
Parris added,"She's a natural goalscorer, has the ability to play anywhere in midfield or upfront and will be a wonderful addition to the squad."
Chelsea duo Laura Rafferty and Jenna Legg sign on for the Seagulls
Yesterday Parris continued to strengthen his squad ahead of the new season making it a hat-trick of Chelsea transfers, as he added Northern Ireland International Laura Rafferty and England U-19 midfielder Jenna Legg.
Both players have progressed through the youth ranks at Chelsea, graduating from the club's Centre of Excellence. Twenty-year-old defender Rafferty has has already been capped 12 times for her country and spoke to the Irish Football Association Website about the transfer: "Brighton gave me an offer that was really hard to refuse such are the ambitions of the club.
"When I went to visit I saw the great faciltities, the publicity surrounding Brighton is also massive as we have just signed Emma Byrne and she is a great addition. This season we hope we will be pushing for promotion," added Rafferty.
Midfielder Jenna Legg has been capped seven times for England at U-19 level and Parris believes that "they both have great futures ahead of them" and "will play a significant role in the Spring Series".