Hayley Ladd: Man Utd's past Wembley experience is 'massive' ahead of Women's FA Cup final

  • Man Utd head back to the Women's FA Cup final on May 12
  • Hayley Ladd looking to draw on experiences gained from 2023 final
  • Marc Skinner's side to face Tottenham Hotspur after they beat Leicester City in semi-final
Hayley Ladd & Man Utd are back at Wembley this season
Hayley Ladd & Man Utd are back at Wembley this season / Matt McNulty/GettyImages

Manchester United midfielder Hayley Ladd is hoping the "experience" of last season's FA Cup final at Wembley will help steer the club to victory this time around and a first ever major trophy.

United were Wembley debutants 12 months ago, seeing a Leah Galton goal inside the opening minute disallowed and a few others chances go begging, before ultimately succumbing to an agonising 1-0 defeat at the hands of a hardened Chelsea team used to winning.

It was a momentous day in many ways, with the final attracting nearly 78,000 fans to set a new world record for a women's domestic club match. On Sunday, Marc Skinner's team will face Tottenham Hotspur, themselves now in the final for the first time, in the hope of going one better.

Looking back, Ladd, who started last season's final, admits it was difficult to try and rise above the occasion despite trying to mentally frame it like any other game.

"A huge component of playing in a final is just having that experience of playing under those extreme conditions. Last year, personally, I tried not to think too much about it, but once I was playing and you feel the intensity from the crowd it's like nothing else," she says.

"Definitely, the fact that we've had that experience – and so recently – will put us in really good stead to hopefully go one step further."

Ladd has played in big stadiums and in front of sizeable crowds in recent seasons both at club level and with Wales – her United debut in 2019 was a WSL record attendance at the time in a Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium, while she has grown accustomed to tens of thousands of fans in the stands at Old Trafford each season. But Wembley really was totally different.

Ladd started last season's FA Cup final as Man Utd lost to Chelsea
Ladd started last season's FA Cup final as Man Utd lost to Chelsea / BEN STANSALL/GettyImages

"Just speaking for myself, I try and always stay quite level-headed with occasions - obviously, across the WSL we've had some really good attendances," she explains. "But I was completely taken aback [by Wembley last year]. I don't want to say an out of body experience but it's the closest thing I can relate to something I've never experienced before.

"For me, personally, I'm so fortunate and thankful that I've got that experience of just knowing what that occasion is like. I've been to Wembley and the FA Cup final many times as a fan, soaked up the crazy atmosphere, it's sunny, everybody's out and it's amazing. To be able to translate that energy and perform under pressure and expectation, read the game and work out ways and shift momentum, that experience [from 2023] is massive."

United have spent the last few years trying to close the gap on the WSL's established leading clubs, but the real big game experience is something that only comes with regularly playing in them.

"[Experience] is probably something that maybe still differentiates us a little bit from Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal," Ladd says. "So if we're on our way to succeeding and achieving, it puts us in a really good position."

For United, major silverware has been the aim ever since the sweeping the second tier Women's Championship in 2018/19. Now, having been just two 1-0 defeats to Chelsea away from a WSL and FA Cup double a year ago, the club is faced with the cup final taking on arguably extra significance after slipping away in the league and being at risk of a lowest ever top flight finish.

"Success looks like different things in different seasons and you can only do what you can do in that position," Ladd explains. "We'll certainly be really proud of winning [the FA Cup] if we do and probably admit there's always growth to be made. To be honest, we were really proud of the finish last season. I think we probably punched above our weight in some respects and that has perhaps made it difficult this season. This team doesn't stand still. We'll keep evolving, trying to improve and hopefully come back next season hungrier than ever."