It’s not just Stephanie Roache with that goal, the one that won her second place in the 2014 Fifa Puskás Award and an invitation to Barack Obama’s White House St Patrick’s party. Nor is just the exceptional progress of Sunderland Ladies, against unjust official odds, to the Women’s Super League top flight.
Despite the curmudgeons who still cannot see merit in women’s football, the game is on the rise. And when you’ve seen it played well, and also seen Sunderland at Southampton, you begin to see why public perceptions have begun to change. Monsieur Salut’s daughter Nathalie Randall may not play for Sunderland or with Stephanie but her team, Old Actonians has just risen to Women’s Premier League status (SAFC Ladies are in the WSL now but were in the WPL until not long ago). Here’s her story …
As my own season comes to a belated end, I look back and reflect on the fortunes of both my own team and my second team, Sunderland, (sorry dad but both come after the one I play for!).
Let’s start from the beginning. My sister Christelle hasn’t a clue about football. I followed a couple of years later. No boys then, much to my father’s disdain, so he decided to mould one of us into as much of a boy as possible, and I got the short straw.
My first memory of football is watching Liverpool on the TV upstairs (some rubbish like Coronation Street was on downstairs and this kind of pushed me towards watching anything else). I was completely taken by John Barnes, and Liverpool in general, and that was probably the day I became a fan, not just of Liverpool but of football as a whole. Much to my dad’s bewilderment.
Not to be denied, my dad would take me up and down the country following his beloved Roker Lads, rain or shine (or hail and snow often enough).
It was something I just endured for a while and then, suddenly, something bizarre happened. I found myself enjoying it. The one thing that always struck me was how wonderful the support was, especially at away matches.
I started to play football in the garden then evolved into park football with the lads. My mother was rather disapproving of all this, believing little girls should be playing with their Barbies (I did that too, just not at the same time..).
And I got quite good at it to the point where I could hold my own against the boys. My dad even started to make excuses for why he couldn’t play football with me (although he always had time to play badminton, often giving me 14-0 start on my serve but still beating me).
As I got older I decided to try playing for a girls’ teams which my dad helped me with. Out of all the teams in West London to try for, he of course picked the red and white stripes of Brentford Ladies Under 17s. Because of exams, I really lasted only about three weeks for them, but I did score on my debut with a Maradona-esque goal. Sadly, it was Maradona-like in being the handball one, not the dribble-past-Peter-Reid-and-whole-team one. Mine was not deliberate, though.
Then I moved onto Uni, and starting playing regular football for the first time in my life. However, Uni football consists of chasing the ball, no positions strictly necessary, and then running down to the pub/club afterwards.
Upon my return from Uni, my father helped me get trials for Arsenal Ladies although if I am totally honest I wasn’t really that interested due to my fitness being at a low with all the partying so that didn’t get very far, though they did recommend I try out for Surbiton Town [but she justified the headline reference by being sent on as a second-half sub in a pre-season Arsenal hammering, as in 13 or 14-1, of Swindon – Ed].
I did eventually find my feet in the women’s game, first at QPR Ladies and now at Old Actonians LFC. At my current team Old Actonians we usually have the kind of season Sunderland fans can relate to – avoiding relegation, or at best midtable [we get nose bleeds looking that far up the league – Ed].
But I have just finished the best season I’ve known. We narrowly avoided relegation two seasons ago, last season we ended up midtable. When we lost, we lost badly (I have been on the end of many a 8-0 type hammering).
Then we acquired a couple of new players for the 2014-15 season, though there were no other major changes. We started brightly, winning all games in pre-Season, and embarked on one unbeaten run that lasted until November and, later, another until we lost a game at the end of April.
In between, we found ourselves top for most of this period while fighting off competition from Carshalton LFC who themselves were having a good season after winning promotion.
We also went on three good cup runs – nice little run against in the FA Cup, good run in the County Cup only losing to the eventual winners Charlton and also the League Cup, which we ended up winning.
Our good old League officials aren’t very organised when it comes to setting up fixtures. We were not scheduled to play our arch-rivals Carshalton at all until the last five matches and we also played our last game of the season two weeks before other teams.
We won the first of the head-to-heads and Carshalton had their star player sent off (this turns out to be crucial). We then, heartbreakingly, lost our next game which gave Carshalton the upper hand going into our last game with them.
All we had to do though as win the game and we would win the league. We scored in the first half and held onto the lead before conceding a devastating equaliser in the last 10 minutes to level the scores.
This meant with all our games finished, all Carshalton had to do was win in their last league game, which was a doddle for them, hammering opponents who turned up with nine players. So Carshalton won the league and that was that.
Or was it?
Unknown to us, Carshalton had in the final run-in fielded the player who had been sent off although she was banned. And she had gone and scored.
After a long investigation by the league, Carshalton had point or points deducted and we were declared champions, awarding us promotion to the FA Women’s Premier League!! We fly off on Friday for a triumphant little tour so you can imagine what our celebrations will be like; watch out Spain.
I fully expect normal service to resume next season and we will be more like Sunderland, maybe just hoping we can emulate the survival characteristics of the Black Cats the last few seasons.
In terms of Sunderland, I am optimistic about what retaining Dick Advocaat means to the club. The supporters definitely deserve some success and with any luck, Advocaat will bring in some desperately needed quality signings.
I heard that Sunderland were interested in Celtic’s central defender Virgil van Dijk. From what I have seen of him, that would be a great signing; Liverpool were interested in him a while back. He is also a brilliant dead ball specialist. I also think, while it worked at the back end of the season when the mantra was survival at all costs, Defoe should be not used regularly again as a wing back.
While he did an admirable job, that is not his position. He wasn’t one at 18 and isn’t one at 32. He is best used up front as a poacher. Use him properly and get the right service and players alongside him and he can still score the quantity of goals he has managed on numerous occasion for all other teams he has played for.
Stephanie – see our story about her at https://safc.blog/2014/12/safc-vs-man-city-can-wait-catch-stephanie-roche-if-you-havent-already/ – and the clip that’s been viewed not far short of a million time. She should contact Old Actonians if the move to Houston falls through