Beth Hepple the shining light in a miserable North-East football scene
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The North-East was once a hotbed for talented footballers such as Alan Shearer, Paul Gascoigne, Michael Carrick, Steph Houghton, Jill Scott, Lucy Bronze and Lucy Staniforth.

However, it's now much more a dormant land usually fuelled by despair, anguish and hatred. For a long time now, fans of clubs in the North-East have felt destined from their clubs and that it's a chore to watch them play.

It's difficult to argue that feeling when you look at what's been happening the best form of success is when Newcastle United won the Championship in 2017. It's been a succession of same old same old for most teams, even with Durham Women failing to make the leap into the WSL. This season could be different though.

Durham find themselves three points off Leicester City women who occupy the top spot and currently sit five points clear of Liverpool who were relegated from the WSL last season.

This feels like it could be a great season for Durham who have not finished outside the top four since 2015 and seem to have slowly but surely built a great squad to challenge for a place in the WSL.

The glue that keeps them together

The entire Durham squad is great and made up of quality players with great heart and character to drag them through the tough games. However, it's their starlet Beth Hepple who has been catching the eye.

Hepple has been a standout performer for a number of seasons now but has taken her game to a new level this season with 11 goals in 12 league games this campaign.

The dynamic midfielder is the club's all-time top goalscorer (68) as well as making the most appearances for the Wildcats (160). Hepple is a mainstay in Durham despite being just 24-years old and makes the team tick at both ends of the pitch.

Her willingness to track back and help out in her own final third is something which has endeared herself to the fans and her own teammates.

Whereas her ability in the final third has caught the eye of not just people in the FA Women's Championship, but also the WSL with people suggesting she could be set for a January move.

Ready to see the project out

Durham have natured Hepple through her development since she broke onto the scene in 2014 making 24 appearances in her debut season. It would feel wrong to see the Wildcats without their diamond in midfield if she was to depart mid-season.

Hepple seems comfortable in Durham and loves having the pressure on her shoulders of performing every game otherwise the team struggle.

If she was to leave for pastures new, it would sum up the North-East football scene. Just as something starts to look on the up it comes crashing down.

You only have to look at Newcastle United Women and Sunderland Ladies who have seen their seasons suspended once again just as they were getting back in the swing of things to see what life is like for a football fan in the North-East.

However, this time, say it quietly but it does feel different. We could be about to see good times come back to at least one side in the North-East.

Hepple is in the top bracket of players in the Championship and after coming through the ranks at Durham she could be about to achieve her and the club's dream of playing in the WSL.

Durham are now regarded as a top club and could easily replace a team like Bristol City in the WSL and certainly do no worse. For Hepple to guide them to the promised land and represent her club on that stage would be the stuff of dreams for herself and all football fans.

Outgrowing the Championship

After that fine crop of players mentioned at the beginning of the piece the North-East, there's been nothing to shout out. Hepple has raised the level of performance in Durham and she's doing everything in her power to take the club up.

Hepple has the instinct to pluck a finish out of nothing and catch any keeper off guard which has seen a number of her goals come from outside the area.

The raw passion and desire to win is something you see in the very top players such as Houghton and Bronze and it's clear to see in Hepple as well.

The way she can evade markers and manipulate space to make it easier for her teammates to pick her out is what has her at that next level compared to her opponents.

There's nobody that can do what we Hepple does in that Durham side, so if she was to leave it may see their promotion push get derailed and another light turned out on the North-East's footballing scene.

However, nobody would begrudge her for pursuing pastures new but fans will hope she sees the bigger picture of playing for her local team. Spending a few more months in the Championship will help her develop further and learn the dirty stuff of the game.