Renée Hector rejoined the Golden Girls on Monday after almost four years away from the club, signing from Charlton Athletic.
Speaking in her first interview since returning to Watford FC Ladies, Hector sang the praises of the club's inclusive culture as a key driver for people’s affinity to the side. And, having been injured since the start of the season, the centre-back is now keen to dive into the positive team environment, work her way back to fitness and establish herself at the club.
“There’s just such a great atmosphere around the club, with a real family feel,” she said. “You see it in training too, everyone’s pushing together to try and achieve the best they can achieve but doing it in the right way as well.
“I think it’s just a lovely club to be at. Everyone just gets on and it just feels right. When you’ve played at Watford and then go away somewhere else, I think naturally the majority of people will still have that soft spot for Watford and it pulls you back.”
The 24-year-old has spent the last few weeks training alongside familiar faces, as she has played with many of the current team previously – and not only at Watford. Emma Beckett and Adekite Fatuga-Dada remain from Hector's last spell with the Golden Girls, while she also played alongside Ryah Vyse, Anne Meiwald and Katie O'Leary as well as Beckett while at Tottenham.
“It’s felt natural, I feel like I’ve fitted straight back in,” said Hector. “I’m lucky and privileged that a lot of the girls here I’ve played with before at other clubs and Watford. It’s been quite an easy transition for me and I’ve felt part of the team straight away. They included me and I’ve just felt at home right away.
As well as the environment off the pitch, the new Golden Girls signing has been impressed with the team on the field this season and feels she will be suited to the side's exciting style of play.
“They play great football. Some of these pitches aren’t the best but they still manage to pop the ball around and score plenty of goals,” she said. “They’ve been a joy to watch. I haven’t been to a game where I haven’t felt excited by what I’ve seen, so that was a big indication that this was the right place.”
Hector has spent time training with the Hornets at London Colney already, and she has been impressed with the coaches at the club.
“The staff and coaches are wicked,” she said. “You can tell they’re super ambitious. It hasn’t been a case of me coming and signing straight away, I’ve had to work for it irrespective of what clubs I’m coming from.
“I think that’s the right attitude to have and the right mentality to make a successful team. I’ve bought into their philosophies and there’s some new stuff as well that maybe I didn’t have before and it will challenge me as a player.”
The defender has been a familiar face for supporters coming to see the Golden Girls this season, as she has enjoyed watching the team from the stands.
“I’ve been pretty much watching the girls every week, I’ve been like a fan girl!” she said. “They’re doing fantastic obviously, they had a bit of a blip against Sunderland but to play at the level they have for such a long time, week after week, it’s fantastic.”
After leaving Watford in 2016, Hector went on to achieve promotion with Tottenham to the top tier of women’s football. Since then, the structure of the women’s game has changed and the defender believes it has become more competitive as a consequence – something she craves in her game.
“Women’s football has changed so dramatically since I was last here,” she said. “I think it’s harder and harder each year to get promoted because the standard of women’s football is improving so much and each league is getting more and more competitive.
“I think before you had two or three top clubs, who were miles away from everyone else. Now, slowly but surely, teams are starting to catch up to them and the teams in the leagues below are starting to catch up with the teams in the bottom half of the league above.”
Before achieving promotion with Spurs, Hector was part of the Watford team that won promotion in 2014. The defender brings experience of seeing out high-pressure situations and feels she can pass on her valuable knowledge to the young Golden Girls side while also improving her game further.
“That’s something I can bring to the team as a bit of a calming influence, and a bit of experience and motivation to some of the girls who maybe haven’t had that experience of aiming for promotion,” she said.
“But I can learn a lot here too. I’ve played with Emma Beckett when I was 16 or 17 so obviously she has a wealth of experience, and I can learn things from her. She’s obviously been in similar situations to me, I’m just a few years behind her – no offence, Beckett! – so maybe she can teach me a few things too.”