Prior to the City v Chelsea Continental Cup semi-final at Ewen Fields on Sunday, I’d never attended a women’s football match. I’ve seen bits here and there on television but I’ve never really seen enough to form any kind judgement on the quality.
I’ve been intending to go and see City Women for a while and finally got chance for this game. I went with real intrigue to see what the standard would be like in general and to see how City’s team were playing given that this is their debut season. Finally, of course, I also want to go and support the Blues.
Manager Nick Cushing made reference in his programme notes to the fact that City had already lost twice this season to Chelsea Ladies and spoke of hard week’s work on the training pitch to improve defensively to nullify Chelsea’s threats. Captain Steph Houghton, herself a defender, spoke optimistically of hoping to cause problems for Chelsea, whilst not exactly sounding confident about claiming a win.
It was instantly clear that Chelsea had enough about them to cause City problems. It was obvious from the start that Chelsea’s number 9, Eniola Aluko, would be the main threat and so it proved. She showed herself to be tricky and full of pace, and adept at operating on either side of the pitch. Chelsea looked the more composed side in the opening exchanges, but it was City who gradually started to control the game.
In the first half City’s breaking and general attacking play was fairly slow, with the hard-working Toni Duggan doing most of the running up front to try and open up some space. The second half was a different case entirely as City committed more players forward, presumably having spotted a chink in Chelsea’s armour. Their increased urgency had the 752 attendant supporters excited and it paid dividends when the lively Duggan slotted home to give City the advantage. It was well deserved and was a lead they would hold onto, despite something of a momentum-swing in Chelsea’s favour in the last ten minutes.
The celebrations at the end showed just how delighted the players were, and so they should be. Continental Cup finalists in their debut season is a hell of an achievement for this fledgling team.
I said earlier on that I was intrigued to see what the standard was like for women’s football at this level, with City’s team the particular focus. There is a question I have heard asked many times when people have been speaking of women’s football since City started competing. Indeed, it’s a question I myself was once guilty of asking, that being: “What’s the standard like compared to men’s football?” or a variant on that theme. It’s a really easy trap to fall into but a question I won’t even try and answer (not that you’ve asked me to).
Just to be clear, I’m not going to try and paint myself as some kind of authority on women’s football because I attended one game, but it struck me that try and compare it to men’s football is to do the game an injustice. To try and work out a relative competitive level is to place women’s football into a context that it need not be placed into. The standard it should be judged against is its own, anything else does it a huge disservice.
I found this particular match to be good in quality and particularly entertaining in the approach of both teams. There was commitment from both sides to playing attractive football, keeping the ball on the ground and playing a fluid passing game. The crowd was there to enjoy themselves and it was so far removed from the stresses of Premier League football that I think I would have enjoyed the occasion regardless of the result. That City won just topped it all off perfectly.
Manchester City is a particularly easy club to criticise these days. To many, they are the symbol of all that is wrong with modern football due to the money they are able to spend and vast resources they can call on. Regardless of your feelings on that, City’s commitment to the Women’s team is something that should be heralded and draw praise from all quarters.
The Women’s game will face derision and sniping from people unwilling to give it a chance for years to come, because football is still cursed with a serious undercurrent of sexism. That City market the women’s team as aggressively as they do is something to be truly applauded by everybody who cares about the sport. How many other clubs produce posters for their new replica kits that feature the captain of the women’s team alongside the superstar captain of the male team? As a club, City are proud of this team and we as supporters should be too. The investment made can only be good for the women’s game as a whole, as well as hopefully driving City Women to success on the field.
There are plenty of Blues fans getting excited about the New York City and Melbourne City ventures. I would encourage those people, if they don’t already, to get to a Manchester City Women’s match at the first opportunity. If you love City enough to care about teams with loose connections on the other side of the world, here is your chance to support a team called Manchester City playing locally. If you love football and love City, celebrate and be proud of this latest success story. I already can’t wait for the next game.
written by Richard Burns