This article refers to the Arsenal v Sunderland Ladies FA Cup Final. For the men’s game, visit the most recent Arsenal v Sunderland match page.
Yesterday was the women’s FA Cup Final and as it was in my current hometown I decided to take a look out of curiosity as I must admit I know little about the women’s version of the game.
The FA Cup final remains the highlight of the women’s football calendar in the UK, with live BBC coverage it is the one day of the year in which the women’s game comes to the attention of a mainly ambivalent general public.
It is also very different from it’s male equivalent the most notable thing being that the final is not played at Wembley but other normally midlands based grounds allowing the game to reach a broader audience with Pride Park (Derby County) and the City Ground (Nottingham Forest) hosting the 2009 and 2008 finals respectively.
Despite the grey skies and driving wind over 23,000 people attended the pinnacle of the woman’s game in England armed with horns and enthusiasm creating a jovial partisan atmosphere to greet finalists Sunderland and Arsenal.
The women’s game is semi-professional meaning that it relies on the grassroots levels leading to a family dominated atmosphere further aided by the cheap cost of tickets which were just £5 for adults and £2 for Children. In addition schools and football clubs received further discounts for group bookings.
This meant that the atmosphere was friendly with fans of both sides mixing although they were both far outnumbered by local neutral spectators who were more than willing to get into the spirit and create a loud atmosphere.
The football itself was predictable with Arsenal dominating a plucky Sunderland refused to give in despite being outclassed by a team which has totally dominated women’s football for the last decade. The standard of football was quite low akin to that on display in League 2 of the men’s game but that did not stop the game being an absorbing and entertaining encounter, with Arsenal ladies much like their male counterparts trying to play attractive attacking football.
It is a testament to Sunderland that this game was not finished until the 2nd minute of injury time when the best move of the match and a delightful through ball put young midfielder Kim Little through to finish squeeze an effort past the excellent Helen Anderson. However Sunderland in the division below Arsenal underlined their spirit by pushing forward in the 6th minute of injury time (due to a serious injury to Sunderland’s Sophie Williams) to score with the last kick of the match to mark a respectable scoreline in a game that could have been won by five or six goals.
Ultimately though the winner in these occasions is not just the team that lifts the trophy but the women’s game as a whole that benefits from the final, with 23,000 spectators the profile of the sport has been raised and it will take more than a little rain to douse the feel-good factor that will be spreading across English Women’s football tonight.
Will I be going to next year’s final? I am not sure but there will be many girls who will be asking for a pair of football boots instead of a doll from mummy and dad over the dinner table tonight.