Why Norwich City Women's merger with men's club could lead to a brighter future for Norfolk football

For years, they've worn the same kit and even shared the same name as the men's club.

But up until recently, Norwich City's women's team have had to operate almost entirely independently.

The team was originally set up and run by volunteers, but that's now about to change.

The ladies team have just been formally integrated into Norwich City Football Club, meaning day-to-day operations will now be managed directly by the Premier League outfit.

It's still too early to know exactly what that will mean, but the transition should result in increased exposure and funding.

Norwich City Women play their home games at The Nest in Horsford. Credit: ITV News Anglia

There's also an expectation that the women will be able to share some of the men's state-of-the-art facilities - a far cry from the recent past in which they were only able to train at Norwich's 'Nest' community hub as tenants.

"It should make us more professional in everything we do," manager Shaun Howes told ITV News Anglia.

"I think we'll get more support in what we do. It will allow us to use the resources that they've got, so maybe Colney (Norwich's training ground), the medical team, the commercial team, the marketing team - hopefully it will just make us more visual."

Striving for that level of professionalism is likely to be a long journey.

The club are currently in a relegation battle in the fourth tier of the women's game.

The matches at The Nest now attract big crowds. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Their most recent match was a 5-0 defeat to the league leaders Hashtag United, a team who were formed online but are already some way ahead of Norwich.

As are Ipswich Town, who have just made it through to the quarter-finals of the FA Women's Cup for the first time in their history and are now in a position to hand out professional contracts.

That's largely been made possible thanks to the FA's decision to make Ipswich the preferred pathway for elite talent in the East of England, but also because of the financial support they've been given by the men's club.

"You have to give them (Ipswich) so much credit," Norwich star Megan Todd said.

"It does showcase the Eastern region more and how people look our way. It shows there is talent and there's girls that have gone through our system in that squad as well. I know Norwich v Ipswich is the rivalry but I hope they continue to do well for the rest of the cup run."

Lauren Hemp in action for England. Credit: PA

As for Norwich, they're now hoping that the new merger will allow them to keep talented players in Norfolk for longer.

North Walsham-born England star Lauren Hemp had to leave the club's former centre of excellence to pursue her career elsewhere, and coaches say that doesn't necessarily have to be the case anymore.

"They've got the role models on the TV but hopefully with the support of the club, and the support of CSF (Community Sports Foundation), and the visibility hopefully we'll get, these young girls will see Millie Daviss, or Megan Todd, or Kathryn Stanley, as their role models and want to emulate them," Shaun Howes said.

"That's the ultimate dream and if we can get to that, we've done really well."

Millie Daviss has gone from being a mascot to captaining Norwich City. Credit: Millie Daviss/ITV News Anglia

Whatever the future holds, just being an official part of the wider Norwich City family is a huge honour for many of the players - including captain Millie Daviss who was once a mascot for the men's team.

"I used to go to the football with my dad when I was like five years old, used to sit in the Barclay, Darren Huckerby days, and I've grown up to love the club," said Millie.

"I'll continue to do that and being able to play for it and put the shirt on every Sunday, and just go out there knowing I've got the badge on my chest - it's a real privilege."