Pete Sixsmith has been known to pooh-pooh women’s football, though not usually when Monsieur Salut’s football-playing daughter Nathalie is within earshot. But even he has been impressed by the superb efforts made by the Sunderland Women’s Football Club in recent years, many achievements crowned by overcoming outrageous FA obstacles to enter the Super League. So he went along to see them …
The term “Ladies’ Day” is one that I usually associate with the Sport of Kings – not Rugby League, but horse racing, a pastime which I have occasionally dabbled in.
In my student days, I frequented the William Hill shop opposite Sunderland railway station and won a substantial amount of money (£4.50) on Proud Percy in a steeplechase at Hexham. I backed the beast a number of times after that and even trekked up to the Northumberland course to see him one Saturday evening.
Like watching Sunderland, the anticipation was greater than the actuality as he reared up when the tapes were lifted and dumped his jockey on his backside.
Ladies’ Day at Ascot or York or Gosforth Park is often equated with smart dresses, fascinators and copious quantities of bubbly, ranging from Moet and Chandon through Cava down to some fizzy stuff produced in an industrial estate in Hereford. It is also an excuse for Women Behaving Badly but with a little more charm than their male counterparts. Ladies it probably isn’t.
So, Ladies’ Day at Hetton was my first sighting for 18 months or so of Sunderland Ladies, now rightly placed in the Women’s Super League Division Two, after being initially refused a place because they weren’t in London.
As a result of this, they lost some players but manager Mick Mulhern and coach Claire Robinson have recruited well and the Lasses are sitting at the top of the league with a 100 per cent record before their clash with Yeovil Town.
The game kicked off at noon and, by seven minutes past, the crowd celebrated a Sunderland goal, when the very impressive Abby Holmes crashed home a shot from the edge of the penalty box. Nominally a right full back, Holmes pushed forward at every opportunity, making good use of her strength and pace to cause problems for the Glovers all game.
It was clear that the Sunderland side had the experience and the nous while the Somerset team were lacking a little bit of both. As the half went on, Sunderland pressed with Beth Mead going close after a good passing movement with Rachel Furness.
Furness was the best Sunderland player, showing a real willingness to work the length of the pitch, tackling well and giving the midfield the drive and energy that all teams need. Ably assisted by the subtler skills of Kelly McDougall, it meant that Yeovil were never in the game as serious contenders.
The game was wrapped up in the 76th minute when Keira Ramshaw hooked home from inside the box. At 1-0, Yeovil might have snatched an equaliser; at 2-0 there was no way back for them and they were dealt another blow when sub Emma Brazell (proper West Country name that one; they also had a Bleazard and a Tewksbury playing for them) was dismissed for two innocuous yellow cards.
An enjoyable couple of hours in good company but there was one burning question: was this the last game of 2013-14 or the first game of 2014-15? Texts to fellow ground hoppers elicited no concrete answers so the game was, like so many unreformed Catholic souls, confined to limbo. The next game is in July so that will definitely be classed under 2014-15.
Meanwhile, the World Cup continues to thrill and excite, not least in the performances of the national anthems. If you wanted yet another good reason for dumping the monarchy and creating a republic, just look and listen to the national anthems of Chile and Brazil.
The passion on the faces of both sets of players, coaches and supporters was in stark contrast to that exhibited by ours as we plough through the dirge that represents our nation. For many of us, swearing allegiance to an unelected monarch is more an act of necessity rather than passion. Maybe with a president we could even get out of the group next time round.
The football has been brilliant. The goal scored by Rodriguez was stunning and there is more to come. It makes West Brom (a) look a little dull and pedestrian.