The International break was back upon us and thankfully only in Nottingham, so I had the more socially acceptable wake-up call of 07:30 on a Saturday morning. ‘you do know that it’s on TV right? You don’t actually have to go.’

I glared at the work husband/proof reader/one who’s BT sport subscription I use and abuse. ( Can you tell he proofread this particular one)

‘It’s in Nottingham, why wouldn’t I go?’  Was my rebuke.

Crick once again my partner in crime, this time with the added legend that is her dad.  Although as he is a Methodist minister, I had to mind my mouth on this one. Anything other than PG was met with a sharp elbow and a reminder to face downwind. Am I allowed to blame the cockney on my foul vocabulary? Probably not.

Because heaven forbid the north and south of the country could be allowed to coordinate successfully, my train was 40 minutes before Crick’s. So I had a little time to kill. Unfortunately, Nottingham station is that little too far out of the town. Which meant for me, I couldn’t wander around the shops aimlessly, such is the great British past time.

After getting the obligatory Starbucks, I settled down on a bench to wait. Not really paying attention to my surroundings, humming to myself. Wait why am I humming we’ll meet again? Where did that come from? It’s coming up to the anniversary of my grandpa’s passing, probably subconsciously telling me to ring my nan. Except for the tiny detail it’s getting louder and is actually not in my head.

I look up and see a piano because of course Nottingham, you have a piano in your station. A man at the youngest in his seventies was playing war songs. Fitting since how tribal football can be, I smirk to myself.  Just as I was leaving, he starts playing Lily of Laguna. My grandpa’s song for his old mum. I look up at the sky and roll my eyes’ message loud and clear gramps, I will call her tomorrow’

Finally, after a quick reunion at the departure boards, the three Musketeers were off to Meadowlane.  Is Meadow Lane two words?

Sidebar why do so many football grounds have meadow in the name. I have been to at least three this season.

Walking down to the match felt like the few West Ham matches I went to when I was younger. Down Green Street, chanting that we were whoever’s claret and blue army. Though not necessarily the manager at the time, I mean no one was a member of Alydyce’s army. Buying pin badges from the dodgy sellers outside. Looking like that old Lowry painting.

This time we were Phil Neville’s barmy army and we still frequented the dodgy sellers all the same.

Jeff decided he needed something to fend off the rain and bought a fetching navy hat plus, very kindly, a scarf each for Crick and myself.  I think we made the seller’s Christmas, so few stopping because of the rain. Come, guys, this is prime football weather.

Finally, in the ground, we quickly find our seats, taken up by some very soggy St George crosses.  The promotion team had factored in everything except the British weather.

Just before kick off a young family sat next to me.  Excellent, more children to annoy, at least this we were supporting the same team. I swear I like children, I am aware I am starting to sound like the child catcher.

As we were waiting for it all to kick off Jeff asked me if I played at all.

‘Oh no I never had the one thing you need to have to play… I am not blonde with a ponytail.’ I laugh

Crick groaned, ‘That’s not true. What about Demi Stokes or Alex Scott? You can’t generalise like that.’  I was vindicated about 15 mins later when she got Toni Duggan and Rach Daly mixed up. HA Point proven.

 

FIRST HALF

BANG, GOAL. England takes the lead in two minutes with a header by Kirby. Well, that was quick. I think a lot of people were still coming into the ground, having just finished off their pre-match pint. To be honest, I don’t know what was more surprising, the speed of the goal or that is was Kirby (at a staggering 5ft 1’) with a header.

Side note, my motto in life is “go into it as Fran Kirby goes for headers”. Jump and hope for the best.  My other motto is “life is too short to care about matching socks”. So profound me.

Brazil are a fascinating and frustrating team to watch play. Their set pieces are something to admire, their pace hard to control but they suffer the same disease their male counterparts do. Cair de tribuo. I.e they dive a lot and fall over a lot. I swear Steph just looked at da Silva and she fell over clutching her ankle. Then again Manchester City had just been knocked out of the champions league by Athletico Madrid, I would have hidden from Steph too.

Because of Brazil’s start, stop, fall down and repeat style of play, it wasn’t the most fluid of games. But I was excited as Brazil has Marta who is consistently consider the greatest of the game. Having won 6 FIFA player of the year titles, she was going to be electrifying

After 20 mins superstar Marta came off clutching at her hamstring.  So that’s a no to anything theatrical then.

 

HALF TIME

Ill-prepared for the rain, I was frozen despite my new scarf. You would think after 28 years of football matches I would have learnt to layer by now.

Crick decides to go on the hunt for chips and brave the crowds, I decide sod that. So I stay with Jeff to keep him company or more importantly I can’t feel my feet, so moving wasn’t an option even if I had felt like it.

We chatted about what I did for a living, how long I had known Crick and how I became football mad.

As always I was wearing the faithful Claret and Blue, so my allegiances were clear.

‘So you’re a claret then’

‘Aye, the best and original’

‘I am a Villa Fan, I don’t know if Crick told you that’

‘Ok, maybe we stole the colours from you’.

He laughed and we started to discuss the similarities between the two clubs history, colour stealing aside.

’I think the proudest moment in my short-lived academic career, is managing to get West Ham into my masters’ thesis.* How the middle-class factory owners used recreational activities such as forming football teams. Made sure their working-class minions stayed healthy and off the drink’ Examples of these include West Ham and Millwall. It’s where the rivalry actually comes from. Nothing to do with football at all.

Jeff laughed and told me about his similar argument in his thesis but with the use of religion and the fear of hellfire and retribution for wilful disobedience. So engrossed in our conversation, we didn’t realise Crick had to come back.

‘What are the two of you talking about?’

Middle-Class control over the working class’s free time. You know normal football banter’

Crick did not look convinced. But I think she was grateful I wasn’t telling her father the Mary Earps story.

*actually faithful readers my proudest moment in academia was, in fact, getting a star trek reference in my final dissertation. Middle classes assimilating the working class collective for the win. I mean winning with phrasing, not the action.

SECOND HALF

In short nothing, much really happened second half, other than Fara Williams getting booked pretty much as soon as she came on.

However, I did find a new captive audience for my encyclopedic knowledge of the women’s game. I ended up talking the ear off the American lady next to me. Who did wonder why our players were so short?

Well, one Jill Scott isn’t playing, and two you were on the US volleyball team in the past, so pretty much everyone is short to you. I found out this information out in a very long lull in play and our minds wondered.

She was, on the other hand, horrified when I told her that her tickets weren’t just cheap because it was a friendly. That generally you pay peanuts to see the women games, even the World Cup was going to be next to nothing.

She promised to take her daughter to more games. I hope she made good on her promise.

When the game finished, I said goodbye to my new friend ( whose children I did not torment. See there is a soul in here somewhere ) and we wandered back to town. Starving!!! Crick’s chip hunt had been fruitless, at half time.

Walking past what looked like a pub, we considered a pub lunch till we saw the name.

Nottingham WHY do you have a Hooters. Like really. Needless to say, we did not decide on there. A minister, a cockney and wannabe vegan go into a Hooters. Sounds like the start of a Bernard Manning joke.

We settled on a chippy by the station, much more appropriate.

With that, we said our goodbyes as they got their trains and I waited around for another 40 minutes for my train. Hang on why I am waiting again, I did my waiting this morning. Ah well.

 

#COYI.

 

And now for something completely different.

As mentioned, this is going to be a blog about the women’s game as a whole not just West Ham Women.

 

June 2019 is going to be a big month. The Women’s World Cup in France and England have a good chance of at least equaling 2015’s effort. But back in August 2018 where our story begins, we still had the task of qualifying ahead and we were close. We had won 5 games and drawn 1. It was almost a dead cert but we had some dragons to slay first.

 

I had company this time on my travels. Someone who understands my plight more than most.

Crick is one of my Manchester City buddies who lives down South. Any home game is as much of an epic trek for her as Rush Green is for me. We are quite often faced with the same dilemmas. Do I go to the football or do I eat this week?! Spoiler: football wins 😉

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Wales had the home advantage and boy did they use it.

 

Small capacity ground? Check

Small Away allocation? Check

Welsh crowd filled with several male voice choirs? Chec … well not quite

On the other hand, as Crick pointed out, whoever wins the game, they win the national anthem off.

 

We didn’t stop chanting and cheering. We couldn’t stop. If Wales were loud, we had to be louder.

 

CMON ON ENG-ER-LAND!

 

We didn’t have long to wait as Nikita Parris came thundering down the wing. Greenwood crossed, her shot bouncing off the goal and Parris smashed it home.

 

OFFSIDE. But we we’re rattling them. Except we weren’t. We did very little that half except some heart-stopping antics from goalkeeper, KB.

 

‘What is she doing? Why is she half way down the pitch?’

‘It makes me nervous when goalkeepers don’t stay in their area. Wales are good on the counter.’

 

Still at half-time we were still dead-locked. 0-0.

 

Nervy play from England. Until at the 57th minute – BANG!! Duggan scored off a brilliant pass from Kirby

 

BANG !! Bronze basically planting the ball onto Jill Scott’s nose. 2-0. The goal was followed by Scott running over to the bench to celebrate with Carly Telford, whose mum had recently passed.

 

BANG!! Parris finally got her goal after a blocked shot from Jodie Taylor.

 

3 goals in 12 mins.

 

After each goal you felt the intensity from England shift a little. They had a comfortable three goal cushion with only half an hour to go.

 

But for Wales there was something else in their demeanour as theor World Cup dream started to slip out of reach. Panic. Fear. Desperation.

Most opposing fans love that in the ‘enemy’.

I was recently trying to explain football rivalry to someone. ‘It’s tribal. You pick a side and you all hate each other for 90 mins.’

 

But this game felt different. It felt weighted, odd even, slightly bittersweet. It hit home when Natasha Harding was subbed off at the 89th minute, trying to hide her tears as she took her place on the bench.

 

England had done it and I was so ecstatic we were going to France. But still my heart broke for Wales. There was that little part of me that wasn’t so happy that Goliath had beaten David.

 

The game highlighted for me the inequalities in the Women’s game. Not just between that and the Men’s game. The inequalities that can exist from one team to the next. Wales is not a professional side. I mean in the legal sense of the word not in terms of their behaviour. Most of their squad had to get permission from their full-time jobs to play the qualifiers.

 

None of the Welsh players had their names on the back of their shirts. So the line up could change with out additional cost.

 

We may be making strides in the women’s game but we have a lot to do and a way to go.

 

AFTER THE MATCH

 

Whilst we waited by the hoardings for the team to do their lap of honour, Crick nudges me.

 

‘Who’s that on the pitch over there? I feel like I know her’

 

‘Yeah it’s Mary Earps, ya muppet’

 

‘Alright! I just didn’t recognise her in a tracksuit! She looked different!’

 

‘Yeah, but it is an England one.’

 

Dagger eyes.

 

Mary Earps is one of the sweetest people I’ve met, you guys, and she has a wicked sense of humour. She was thoroughly amused at Crick’s mistaken identity feat. Mary Earps story. Crick very much was not. I am a bit of a git ( Note from Crick, I am a lot of a git.)

 

After a quick conversation about goalkeeping and Crick pestering about one England goal-keeper in particular, Mary noticed my West Ham shirt.

 

‘Hey bet you’re glad they are in the Super League now?!’

 

I nodded and gestured to the name on the back. ‘Yup. Already went to see them play Arsenal. It took 16 hours. Worth it.’

 

Mary looked slightly stunned

 

‘You’re insane. Like you could’ve gone to America in that time, but you didn’t. You could’ve gone to Harry Potter World. I would’ve gone there.

 

Random Mary Earps Trivia: She’s a Slytherin.

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Rachel Daly’s another one with a wicked sense of humour. When a fan asked her for a photo but couldn’t quite remember her name.

 

‘You forgot my name, didn’t you?’

The fan shrugged her apology.

‘Don’t worry it happens to me on the Daly.’ Pause. ‘See what I did there?!’

 

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With Daly was Millie Bright (Chelsea Defender) who had been great this game and Crick’s ultimate dilemma. In recent years there hasn’t been a bigger rivalry then Chelsea and Manchester City in my honest opinion. In the women’s game at least.

 

A small voice next to me blurted out ‘Great game, Millie’

Millie smiled and nodded her thanks and ran upfield to find an England flag.

 

Crick turned me with a strange look on her face. ‘Did I just compliment Millie Bright?’

 

Me, laughing now, ‘Yup. Yup, you did.’

 

Crick looked quite disgusted with herself after that. Like I said folks, it’s tribal 😉.

 

 

There are just so many moments which made this game something special.

 

Like when Lucy Bronze practically stripped herself to give fans a piece of the night. She ended up wandering around bootless in a warm up vest and shorts.

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When a fan asked Jordan for her boots, she looked mortally offended and declined so abruptly that lately whenever I don’t want to do something, I (over)use the following phrase: ‘In the immortal words of Jordan Nobbs, no!’

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I would also like to take this opportunity to apologise to Jill Scott for rudely abandoning her mid-conversation when Jodie Taylor walked by.

 

In our not so brilliant defence, as Scotty plays for City, we actually have spoken to her a few times, whereas Jodie Taylor plays in Seattle now, so we had to take the opportunity when it struck. I said it wasn’t a brilliant defence.

 

Sorry Jill.

 

But we did get a good picture with a very smiley and lovely Jodie Taylor. So a slight win. Maybe

 

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Despite not wanting the game to end, we were being kicked out by one of Rodney Parade’s friendly stewards so we slowly started to head back to Cardiff.

 

Nearing the station, I felt about in my pocket for my tickets. It was empty. That wasn’t right.

 

I started to panic. I had had my hotel key and railcard in there as well as my train tickets. This was not good. How I was gonna get home?!

 

Thank God Crick was there to calm me down. Come on, let’s retrace our steps.

We wandered slowly back through Newport with me cursing my life and Crick being slightly more practical (and a lot more distracted by puppies – okay it was really cute).

 

We headed back to the stadium and talked our way back inside where we encountered our friendly steward again.

 

‘Thought I got rid of you lot.’ He smiled.

 

‘Well, idiot features here lost her railcard and hotel key’ I said, grimacing at my own stupidity.

 

I was lucky to find the hotel key and railcard in the ground, but no rail tickets. I consoled myself that at l least I could get home now. Sort of.

 

Finally we headed back to our hotel room. Crick was getting ready for our night out when I looked at the bedside cabinet.

 

‘Crick!’

‘What?’

‘I am a fricking idiot!’

 

I had left my tickets in the room, knowing I might lose them. So I smartly left them in the room so they wouldn’t fall out my pocket but stupidly forgot I had done it.

 

I am officially not allowed to travel on my own anymore.

Next time we return to our scheduled programming and talk about Yeovil at home and I have parental supervision