That’s the Sunderland Women’s Football team you can see. Their exploits deserve more publicity (as well as a fairer deal from the FA). French media, on the other hand, gave good coverage to the Lyon women’s team which beat Arsenal Ladies 2-0 in the first leg of the Champions’ League semi-final with two excellent finishes by Lotta Schelin (*see footnote for clip). More than 20,000 turned up at OL’s Stade de Gerland; let us see whether the Gunnerettes can overturn the lead in tomorrow’s return game in London. To Rob Hutchison, the notion that women can actually play quite well is relatively recent. But he’s a convert …
For years, I’d scoffed at the thought of girls, yes girls, playing football.
They ain’t strong enough, they can’t tackle, they can’t kick a ball properly, they can’t head it, they’re too soft. All are comments so often heard when “blerks” talk about women’s football. But gradually the profile is rising, with more internationals on free-to-air TV and more and more media coverage.
Well words were truly started to be eaten in huge quantities when my daughter started playing the glorious game three years ago. Even better, although she lives in London she’s red and white through and through.
She’s progressed over the course of regular Thursday training sessions and weekend league and cup matches, picking trophies up in her wake, and thanks to the generosity of Sunderland Ladies, she was lucky enough to be mascot for their league game against Barnet on April 10.
We arrived at Hanwell Town FC in West London 45 minutes before kick off. Ladies’ league matches now have to be played at grounds with stands and wheelchair access etc, all the facilities you’d expect from the men’s game.
SAFC provide the Ladies with their coach for travel, which at least makes journeys down from Sunderland for a 1pm kick off as comfortable as it can
be, and it was rumoured they blagged the men’s coach a while back, travelling in real style.
SWFC were warming up as the men would, separate goalkeeping coach for the goalie, and other coaches for the outfield players, stretching exercises, drills, shooting practice all over the place with plenty of balls travelling here, there, and everywhere a la SoL.
We were playing Barnet who are bottom of the Women’s Premier League and fighting for their lives and as SWFC had just won the Premiership, we were hoping for a better result that the men had against WBA 24 hours earlier.
Barnet were confident, and big and strong, best compared to Blackburn/Bolton, whereas SWFC appeared comfortable on the ball, more similar to Arsenal/Spurs. Skillful ball players like Natalie Gutteridge were spraying the passes, one touch flicks and lay-offs around with wild abandon, and it’s plain that up to 10 years of coaching is paying dividends for the girls.
Many have graduated through the Sunderland Centre of Excellence, and the squad contains England stars like Helen Alderson, Demi Lee Stokes (who’s
leaving for a football scholarship in the USA the summer), and Sophie Halliday.
It was also by no means an unphysical encounter: tackles flying in, big strong attacking and defensive headers, and big defenders crowding out marauding strikers (Anton you could learn something here, my son).
Sunderland were playing the smoother football but without joy as half time arrived. Barnet tried to up the ante in the second period and scored early on from a debatable corner, and whilst Sunderland pushed on, and had a few clear cut openings, an equaliser didn’t arrived, and it ended 1-0 to Barnet, so I’d succeeded in watching SAFC lose (in the flesh) twice in under 24 hours.
Comments from the SAFC girls at full time indicated that they’d somewhat underperformed (not quite the exact words I heard like), but as League
Champions, the calibre of the team is there for all to see. Mick Mulhern has coached the girls team for more than 10 years, and the success this year is well deserved.
There were around 60 – 80 people turned up to watch (although I’m told SWFC get a fair few more for their home games with 500+ turning up for their
recent cup game against Arsenal Ladies), including a few parents, and some Barnet fans who plainly watch anything to do with Barnet FC/WFC (anoraks
were on full display).
The FA are pushing the women’s game hard this year with the advent of the WSL Women’s Super League – a professional league with a limited number of teams who’s applications were successful.
Players are paid a guaranteed salary to make them professional in every sense of the word. Sadly although Sunderland are one of the better women’s teams, their application was refused and they can’t re-apply for another two years, meaning their England stars are off to the WSL to earn the big bucks.
The nipper had a brilliant day, including a bit of coaching with Helen Alderson at half time, one of SAFCs England stars who just signed for
Doncaster Belles, and the SWFC ladies were absolute class, with tons of photos and autographs.
So, if you have nowt to do on that boring Sunday lunchtime, and you want to watch football without big egos, attidudes, and a right back who can cross
with both feet, then check out the fixtures at http://www.sunderlandwfc.co.uk. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
You can also follow them on Twitter @swfccouk
* See also:
Lyon 2 Arsenal 0:
* Prime minister drawn into women’s football scandal (not what you think)