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Ladies Night - London Calling

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London Calling – Part One

Television presenter Tim Lovejoy referred to it as “Monkey Tennis”, the Football Association banned it for 50 years, and film character Andy from Gregory’s Girl stated “If women were meant to play football they’d have their t*ts somewhere else!”  Nevertheless, despite these less than enthusiastic references, I am undeterred in taking my first proper venture into women’s football.

Ok, this is not strictly my first game. Thanks to a clutch of free community tickets, I have attended England Internationals at Southend and Colchester. However, spending almost the entirety stream feeding my kids an incessant supply of crisps and sweets while the little cherubs chanted En-ger-land  to their hearts content, gave yours truly little chance to accurately assess the fare on offer.  

This is also the first time I have reported on a women’s fixture and I’m cautious of coming across patronising. The last thing I want to sound is surprised by the standard or say “didn’t they do well” after all, if you play football for any team associated with Arsenal or Liverpool then you’re going to be a bit good!

However, I’m looking forward to the contest, not only to observe the country’s elite first hand but also so I can doodle the words “reporting from the Emirates Stadium” in my notepad, finally a page of grandeur amongst scribbles from more rustic venues such as Burroughs Park and Roots Hall!

Although this is my first taste of the FAWSL, I am aware of the somewhat oppressed history of the game in this country. During the 1914-18 conflict, teams such as the Dick Kerr Ladies played football matches to raise funds and lift morale for the war effort. Crowds flocked to see the likes of Lily Parr (the games first super star), Alice Kell and Florrie Redford as the games popularity continued after the war (see link below). Unfortunately, in 1921 English football authorities prohibited woman’s football, limply claiming, “The game is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”. Incredibly, it was fifty years before the association finally saw sense and lifted the ban, by which time women’s football had flourished in other corners of the globe. This left England trailing the likes of Germany, Sweden and the USA who had embraced the sport.

The Emirates Stadium is a majestic venue. Gunner’s supporters must have had some nagging doubts when the club bid farewell to the much-loved Highbury in 2006. Nevertheless, the Arsenal knows how to do things the right way, the Arsenal way. The move was seamless, and unlike so many new football grounds, the Emirates has a traditional feel to it as opposed to the many breezeblock monstrosities that have clinically cemented over our rich football heritage. Tonight, even with just 2,017 present, it still gives off an aura that is hard to ignore. 

Arsenal made a decent start, crating several chances. Ciara Grant headed beyond Liverpool goalkeeper Sarah Quantrill only for Fara Williams to clear off the line, then Quantrill denied Gemma Davison, blocking with her feet. Ellen White was next to try her luck. Her chipped effort beat Quantrill but was headed clear by Whitney Engen.

Liverpool almost grabbed the lead when Katrin Omarsdottir headed wide following Louise Fors pinpoint free kick, however, the Gunners were still carving out the lion’s share of the opportunities.

Danielle Carter teed up Beattie, who shot wide, and then Quantrill was called upon again, this time to thwart the busy Kim Little. Liverpool hit back when Nichole Rolser shot over, while Arsenal received a huge let off when Natasha Dowie fired wayward when it appeared easier to score.

Finally, Liverpool had found their feet. The impressive Amanda Da Costa got sight of goal then struck a venomous shot beyond Gunners custodian Emma Byrne to give the visitors the lead.

The pace of the game accelerated. Arsenal started to mount wave after wave of attacks. When they finally managed to beat the inspired Quantrill, they were frustrated by the woodwork as White’s headed attempt clipped the top of the bar following Little’s’ flag kick.

If Arsenal thought the second period would bring them better fortune then they were soon in for a shock. Liverpool clearly sensed that the storm had been weathered and so set about finishing the job.

After the teams exchanged half chances, Corina Schrodder found Da Costa with a delicious ball, and the little American made no mistake in doubling Liverpool’s lead.

Within minutes Liverpool were out of sight. Dowie rose to head past Byrne and a static Arsenal rearguard for three, then before the dust could settle, Fors raced clear to make it 4-0 with the Arsenal players expecting a whistle for what they believed was a foul on Davidson.

At this stage, sections of the crowd became animated with referee Ihringova. Any lingering thought I might have that the FAWSL game was less passionate than any male form of the game was dispersed in an instant.

Gemma Davison did her upmost to haul Arsenal back into the game, showing great ability with both feet and a desire to run at the Liverpool defence.  Then 2,017 inside the Emirates believed Little had given the Gunners hope, only to see her goal bound effort cannon back off an upright. Soon the crowd were left open mouthed again as Carter’s thundering strike again hit the frame of the goal.

Liverpool’s goal led a charmed life. Amazingly, Gunners captain Steph Houghton became the fourth home player to hit the woodwork. Strangely, Arsenal was out of the contest without being out of the game.

At the final whistle, Liverpool were clearly delighted with their evenings work. This result will send out a clear message that they are ready to challenge for major honours.

I depart the Emirates Stadium impressed with what I have witnessed. Women’s football is alive, kicking and deserves to be acknowledged. It may be some time before football supporter’s flock to Women’s Super League games in the same volumes as followed Lily Parr and co, but with clubs such as Arsenal and Liverpool placing so much emphasis on promoting the game, it is clear to see there is a bright future.

Arsenal Ladies:  Byrne, Scott, Flaherty, Grant, Beattie, Houghton, Nobbs, Davison, Little, Carter, White.

Arsenal substitutes: Bailey, Tracy, Spencer, Bruton, Bragg.

Liverpool Ladies: Quantrill, Bronze, Engen, Bonner, Schroder, Fors, Williams, Omarsdottir, Da Costa, Rolser, Dowie.

Liverpool substitutes: Holbrook, Fenlon-Billson, Gibbons, Easton, Evans, Keryakoplis, Ricco.

Attendance: 2,017

Links;

Dick Kerr Ladies: http://www.dickkerrladies.com/

Lily Parr: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lily_Parr

FA Women’s Super League

Brian Jeeves reporting from the Emirates Stadium.