You know when you do something without thinking? At the time it makes sense and it’s only afterwards you realised you messed up.
When I am not travelling up and down the country in the name of the good old claret and blue, I enable others to do it. (Enable them to travel, not follow West Ham). My life as business travel consultant is tiring and stressful but overwhelming rewarding, a bit like following West Ham really. A perk is hotels like us to stay with them, mainly so we can sell from experience rather than theoretically. One such hotel agreed I could stay with them for cheap, during a weekend in their low season. Brilliant. So after a lot of toing and throwing, the last weekend in March was agreed. Perfect no five am start for the Chelsea game.

It wasn’t until weeks after I had a sinking feeling that I had messed up somewhere and sure enough I had. Because as any child between the ages of 2-9 could tell you, thanks to the enforced craft making they had to endure, that weekend was Mother’s Day.

Cue the extensive grovelling I was about to do. I had a whole speech planned how we would do a make up weekend the following weekend ( international break, i.e no football mamma raised no fool 😉).

Turns out the grovelling wasn’t needed as my mother was very understanding and agreed to the make up weekend, in fairness she created this monster so she didn’t have much of a leg to stand on.

With that I set about finding a friend to buy my ticket. Not because I was hard up but because I refuse to give Chelsea my money. Yes I am that petty, I was however not having much luck.

Crick thought I was being ridiculous and refused. Ed thought it was funny and refused even though he was buying some anyway and is a season ticket holder because he still hasn’t forgiven me for Yeovil. My mother also said if I truly wanted to go I would give them my money.

I found salvation in my non football loving bestie Fisch who agreed to do.

’ I will buy you a pint if you do’
’yeah no problem’
’ I can’t buy it beforehand as that’s still giving Chelsea my money.’ Cue the eye roll but she still did it.

Saturday was a leisurely day, exploring two of the Royal parks, Brunch with Crick and watching the West Ham men ( though I wish I hadn’t bothered with that one) had led to a day well spent.

I had worked out on my trip back from Everton this trip would be my 5000 mile travelled supporting the team, well this is as the crow flies. I have to go into and out of some randomass places to get these grounds.  5000 miles and my betting about 4500 of those were via the M6. However 5000 miles shows some dedication if I do say so myself.

Well so did my club who showed me some love back.

Worth missing mothers day for. I would say so (sorry mum). I have on the other hand realised I have become like one of Man City friends who missed his own sister’s wedding because there was a match. He didn’t want to break his streak of never missing a game,I get it.  However I hereby promise not to do that, mainly because I am an only child and have no siblings whose weddings I could miss.  (my proof reader has advised I should not miss his future wedding,  though odds on him ever getting married are very low. He wrote this, I am not being mean. As he is a football fan, I doubt it would be in season anyway).

After some last-minute London exclusive present shopping for my long-suffering mother (no sarcastic shop assistant ,  I did not forget it was Mothers Day). I was on my way to Kingsmeadow.

This was the second time this season I had been to Kingsmeadow after my jolly boys outing for the opening game of the season with Man City. I am hoping for something a little more thrilling then the 0-0 we had back in August.
(Though that was the game where Crick both loved me and then disowned me INSERT LINK TO THE RIGHT BLOG. )

Whilst on the bus from Surbiton and yes I did go via that station because of the Good Life I had a very uplifting moment. A young lad sat with his dad watching football on what I am assuming was his dad’s phone, looked like Arsenal. Paying no mind I went back to editing a previous blog.

’Birmingham have to beat Arsenal dad’ 

My head shoots up, that’s the early kick-off in the Women’s game. Right on little dude! Birmingham indeed did need to beat Arsenal ( Spoiler they did not).

Off the bus and walking down to the ground I pass the place of my baptism, for it was here that I was christened by my Man City family.

Let me tell you a story of yore. On one winters night, in a cold January, Manchester City did taken on Chelsea in the league. The brave heroes had battled fearlessly through London traffic whilst our navigator was indisposed ( I.E Dazzler was glued to his phone)  Arriving early we fearsome travellers went on the hunt for food. In our midst we see a chippy, a proper southern chippy.

I divulge this information to my fellow wanderers (city wanders, not Wolves fans) that we had found the holy grail of food.

Haguey ’how you figure that.’

Me ’ it’s got saveloys in it’ ( not I would eat one dear reader. I have been veggie for 13 years)

And thus a nickname was born.  It has since been shortened to Sav or Savlar  however it is a moniker I wear proudly.

Kingsmeadow had decided to do a family fun day before the game which I caught the end of. Ah shame maybe I should of actually brought my mother.

Part of the entertainment was a Q&A with players past and present, I recognised Katie Chapman and Fran Kirby and a third unknown player (well unknown to me).
As they finished they all were taking selfies with the crowd.
One young Chelsea fan looked most upset that Fran was here and not on the pitch.
Are you not playing Fran’ 
’ No not today, sorry I am injured’

Ever the cheeky Cockney I joked back.
’As a West Ham fan, Can’t say I am sorry about that’
Luckily Fran has a good sense of humour and laughed. Slapped me on the back and told me could at least support her in the England squad.

I now go to take my seat, surrounded by Chelsea fans. As I make my way down I see Tess Middag standing by the tunnel, I take this chance to talk to our Dutch superstar. We spoke about her rehab when she was most likely to be back,  and how she likes East London.
A bit different from Manchester City eh’ 
She laughed ’ Claret is more my colour no’ nice diplomatic answer there Tess.

We also talked about my travels and Tess seemed very excited that I was the girl the club tweeted about.
Where are the West Ham fans. You need to bring a bigger group.’  its good question Tess and I am trying.

We were also joined briefly by Julia Simic who seemed confused why I would be up at half 5 before most games.

Do you get nervous, is that it ’ Tess and I laugh before explaining what my commute normally is.

I take my seat the lone claret voice in a sea of West London voices.

FIRST HALF

Out the gate Chelsea were pushing. They needed the win in order to keep the pressure on Manchester City for European football next year. Beth England and Maren Mjelde both having very clear cut chances within the first 20 minutes,  both chances denied by fine keeping from Moorehouse. West Ham did have some of the ball and looked to make a few chances, Chelsea however were definitely running this game.  Their break came just before half time, in the 39th minute. Moorehouse had done well to deny England with a save with her feet after a hard low shot, the rebound bounced up and with a stunning header at close range England beat the diving Moorehouse.

1-0 to the girls in Blue.

Just before half time, Ramona Bachman shoved over Leanne Kiernan in an attempt to get the ball. She got a stern talking to from the ref for her trouble.

One of the dads next to me laughed ’ nothing wrong with that challenge.
I glared at him ’ just because her missus plays for us, doesn’t mean she can do what she wants’ he laughs again.

The first half ends 1-0.

HALF TIME

Half time I take a moment to actually look at my surroundings. I am completely fenced in by Chelsea fans. Like the only claret and blue I can see is over behind the tunnel where our injured players are sat. This could get interesting.
I also noticed there were lots of children around me I could antagonize. This could definitely get interesting.

SECOND HALF

In the second half Chelsea seemed to take their foot off the gas peddle,  a little sloppy in midfield which we could take advantage of. Matt the coach had also put on a bit of firepower with by bringing on Kate Longhurst and Raff. With a little more control of the ball we looked more comfortable and crated an early chance, Jane Ross tore up the field only to have her shot pushed away by England ‘Keeper Carly Telford. The save resulted in a corner for the Hammers. Although cleared by the Chelsea back line the ball only fell as far the left flank and quickly gathered by Leanne Kiernan, a pinpoint cross allowed Gilly Flaherty to rise above her old teammates and smash the ball home with a fearsome header on the right.

1-1 even Stevens with last season’s champions.

I jump up cheering, till I realise I am the only one. A very long voice surrounded by silence. OOPS.

I look around and luckily I am surrounded by families. The dad from earlier caught my eye.
’ It’s Gilly, you’re alright. Anyone else and you might be done for’. 

The rest of the game was frantic. Chelsea couldn’t drop points against us and we desperately wanted the win. Lots of end to end football with Chelsea having more dominant possession. My nerves on tenterhooks in the dying minutes of added on injury time. Erin Cuthbert taking three quick shots at goal with Moorehouse expertly saving all three before pushing the final one out for a corner, which was subsequently dealt with by Raff.

The final whistle blows and we both take the spoils and split the points.

As I was clapping the players off I felt a tap on my shoulder.
Made it down ok then’ a familiar voice asked.
Standing there was Pauline, Raff’s mum, and Mollie, Rosie our number 16’s sister.

Mollie hugs me and comments that I am at least wearing a proper coat now. Seriously, what is everyone obsession with me having the proper outerwear? 😂.

So I stayed a little while longer to catch up with Pauline. Like Kate’s family, Pauline is one of the nicest people you will meet and gives the best hugs. Always has a kind word and is fiercely protective of both her children. As showcased when Charlotte ( who plays for Bromley) rang to update her mum on her game. Apparently, some parents had mouthed off at her after a particular challenge. Pauline quite vehemently told me they wouldn’t have done that if she had been there. Having seen the look on Pauline’s face, I have no doubt that would be true.

Standing with Pauline, both Chelsea and West Ham players came over to say hi. Through this I found out something extraordinary. Some Chelsea players are actually really nice. Specifically Erin Cuthbert who came over and was just super sweet, even though she was getting some off the cuff medical advice from Pauline. Huh, maybe I should have given them my money.
Gilly also made a point of coming to see me before doing her post-match interview which I am sure made me super popular with the Media Guy at West Ham.

Before Pauline left she hugged me goodbye and then proceeded to make my year.
’It’s good by the way. ‘ I look confused

The blog its really good’ I think blushed as hard as when her daughter called me her biggest fan.
So thank you, Pauline, for giving it a read.

With that I made my way back to Victoria. Well I tried, with a major fault on the line back to Clapham it involved multiple changes and serval false starts till I made it to Worcester Park where I had wait a whole HALF AN HOUR for a train. Goodness me this is London not Dorchester, again.

Soon I was back in the coach and dreaming of my next adventure.

Next time I travel for the Semi final, try and find the West Ham fans and almost have a heart attack.

Coyi

Two matches in one week, to what do I owe the footballing gods. I am joined on the road by mummy dearest again. Though she would like it to be known that anything I report her saying is taken wildly out of context. Like all good storytellers, I take a kernel of truth and embellish accordingly for my own selfish purposes.  I however, think I make her even more hilarious. But each to their own.

This time we are only heading a little down the M6 to Birmingham, well Sutton Coldfield to be technically specific. I was trying to show my mother wonders of coach travel. Yes, it takes a little longer but it’s cheap, gets you were you need to be and it gives you great blogging time. Ok, that’s an advantage only to me. If I can convince mum these things are true, I might get more company.

However, National Express why won’t you let me have nice things! You had one job, get us to Birmingham on time. I can’t let my mother be right. Again!! It had started oh so well and we had made good time chugging along the M6. We were sailing passed Walsall stadium a whole hour before we should have been. However, I had forgotten what March 17th was other than match day.

ST PATRICKS DAY

Birmingham like most major cities have a giant st Patrick’s day parade

After the not magical but very mysterious hour tour of Birmingham, I did not want or require we are finally off the coach. An hour later than we had been promised. I was fuming, so much so I did not say thank you as I got off the coach.  Yes, dear readers, that’s how angry I was.😂

’RIGHT’ I bellow at mum, ’If we bomb it up to New Street, we should make it on the last train before kick off.’

There is nonetheless no bombing it anyway in the middle of a parade. People are more concerned with lurid fluorescent green beer and taking advantage of the unofficially relaxed street drinking laws. Then you know getting out the way. It became abundantly clear, we weren’t making that train.

’I bet you’re not even Irish’ my mother seethes at a particularly drunk Brummie. They looked at her like she had grown three heads but still did not move.

Thankfully Uber could come to our rescue, with a guarantee to get us to the game on time. If we could find a place away from the fake Gaelic crowd. A more expensive route nonetheless a guaranteed route.

Our driver was actually super delightful who tried to engage with us even though he didn’t really follow the sport. Props to him for knowing Birmingham City had a women’s team and that it was a world cup year. He also gave us some great recommendations on some curry houses in Manchester.  More importantly, he got us to the game with 10 minutes to spare. (Somebody got a 5 star rating a tip)

St Michaels at Boldmere is an odd ground. It’s by far the most bizarre ground I have been to, I am even including Birmingham City’s. Which is so close the Birmingham International Airport’s runway, that one game I went to was stopped because the fourth official had air traffic interference on their earpiece. So maybe it a Midlands thing to have odd ground.

Aston Villa’s ground looks part leisure center, part working men’s club and part bowling green. It also feels they couldn’t decide what they wanted it to be and half-built all three.  There is only one stand for seating which is only 6 rows deep along four blocks. The standing around two sides of the pitch is on a high rise which only allows fans to stand single file, resting along the barrier. This also gives the impression that you are staring down at a sunken pitch.

The West Ham clan ( well Geoff, Mark, JT, mum, and me ) decided to stand on the High Rise behind the goal. Along with Jack Sullivan our teenage wonderboy director. He might regret this decision.

FIRST HALF.

As with our previous Championship opposition, Aston Villa wanted to play physically. Using their considerable height advantage over our slight players, they pushed West Ham to the middle so we couldn’t play our normally advantageous system on the wing.

Villa had the first shot of the game with Jodie Hutton narrowly missing out on giving Aston Villa the lead. Between Moorehouse’s quick-reactions and a slight deflection meant the Hammers were safe for now.

Serving as a wake-up call, the girls in dark blue ( for today anyway)  took their chances. Shots from Cho,  Leanne Kiernan and Alisha Lehman  all scraped the crossbar.  Each time we got closer.

It was a lapse in judgement from the home side that allowed us our lead.  Despite confining us to the middle of the pitch for most of the half, they miscalculated how quick Ria Percival was and did not mark her during a West Ham goal kick. A run down the wing led to a cross to Leanne who’s pinpoint shot was punched away by the Rodgers the Villa keeper, only for the ball to land at Jane Ross’s feet and she managed to catch the keeper out, her strike sending Rodgers diving the wrong way.  The fox in the box indeed

0-1 to the cockney lasses.

The game remained pretty even for the rest of the half with neither side really testing each others backline. Quick movement from Villa was met with quicker movement from Anna in goal which kept the score in West Ham’s favour at the whistle.

The Aston Villa fans hadn’t stopped singing since the first whistle so we retaliated with another out of tune rendition of blowing bubbles. We got a very sarcastic round of applause from the opposition, we also seem to have lost Jack at some point. Told you he might live to regret his standing decision.

HALF TIME.

The weather on this March day had been unpredictable to say the least. So far it had rained, snowed, been a heat wave and now it was hailing. At least I had to the right coat on this time. Behind us were some smaller astroturf pitches with some kids having their traditional Sunday kickabout. This was going to get confusing.

It was announced as the teams trooped back on that Matt had  made some changes. Leon and Longhurst off for Visalli and Reichardt.
Geoff just shook his head

’ I am not biased but I think Kate should have stayed on.’ 
You’re not wrong Geoff, you’re not wrong.

SECOND HALF

This second half was a real test for our backline. As Villa had been the unfortunate first opponents of Manchester United’s new team, a 12-0 drubbing had put a massive dent in their season and this was their last chance of silverware this season. You could feel the want and passion from the Championship side and the onslaught was relentless.

The partnership between Gilly Flaherty and Brooke Hendrix had never been more vital at the heart of defence, nor had I seen it as strong. The connection between the two lead to some quick thinking amongst the back line, allowing Anna the thinking time to make crucial saves.

Jodie Hutton definitely tried to slice our midfield in half but we held strong.  Offensively Leanne almost put the game to bed, her strike just wide.

In the end it was the early strike by Jane Ross that was the deciding factor.

We were through to the Semi final. Now, all we could hope for was a favourable draw.

The turn around on that pitch was immense and we were soon surrounded by middle-aged men aggrieved that they couldn’t get into the changing room for their walking football tournament, because a bunch of girls were still in there. Told you this ground could not decide what it wanted to be.

Back in the clubhouse, we await with bated breath two results. On the TV in the Men’s FA Cup Brighton and Millwall were down to penalties. In a room full of West Ham fans no one was cheering on the latter. Except for our captain, possibly😏.

The other was the last quarter-final match between Manchester United and Reading. The other two had finished as expected with Chelsea and Manchester City winning theirs.

The Reading game, on the other hand, had Dramatic last-minute goals which led to extra time. In a twist that could only happen thanks to the magic of the cup. Reading got a last minute scrappy goal over the line and the final four were complete.

As we were leaving, the coach pulled up and I saw Gilly getting ready to head out.

Hey, Gil’ I shout after her. She looks up and smiled.

’Alright Trouble, made it then.’ I nod and point at my mum.

Thought you might want to meet the woman whose heart I am breaking next season with my shirt selection. Though I think you might’ve won her over. She voted you player of the match. 

Gilly laughed ’ just tell her I am a West Ham player. Forget who I support’  I nodded and with that left her be.

After a long day, we headed back home on the coach. Hoping by tomorrow’s breakfast, we would have the match we wanted.
Of course this time the coach ran as it should. Not like when we actually needed it to.

Next time, some of our players face their old compatriots, I lose the best daughter award and I get some love back from the club.

#COYI

The most common question I get is why do I travel the way I do?

Especially midweek, and especially when involves taking time off work to do so! The simple answer is: There is nothing quite like a live game of football. Yelling at the Ref through your laptop does have the same emotion. (Nor do your neighbours appreciate it) So for the sake of societal cohesion and making sure my rent doesn’t go up, I travel to the matches.

SIDE NOTE -Crick called me a terrible influence as she wasn’t going to go to Manchester City’s midweek game until I talked her into it. To be fair didn’t take much persuading.

It had been over a month since the Reading game and I was getting withdrawal symptoms from no football. There was however a potential foil to my plan. Storm Marcus was sweeping the North West and was threatening to kibosh my travel plans; Trains and coaches were being cancelled,  along with most of the championship matches. Here’s hoping Rush Green’s brand spanking new under pitch drainage system lived up to the hype.

My journey was actually pretty uneventful and we only had a slight slow down in Milton Keynes. On the train, itself was a different matter. Braving the train toilet, once again to get into my civvies after leaving work on a half day’s holiday. Clutching my trusty black backpack, I pass the train conductor as I head in. He looks at me and smirks.

Ooh bunking off are we’  I look at him confused.
No, my boss is very aware of where I am, Mate’  
It was his turn to look perplexed.

It wasn’t until I sat down that it hit me, he was hinting that I was a runaway school girl. Granted I was wearing, white shirt, black trousers. But my school days are long behind me. Sadly I wish it was the first time this assumption has been made.

Because we seriously had not learnt our lessons from our previous attempt. Ed and I decided to travel to Rush Green together again. We weren’t meeting on a train this time just the station, so what could possibly go wrong. Well, my dear readers do you know how many entrances King Cross has. So when Ed said he was near the entrance on the Euston road of which there are three. Yup even with Ed’s ever helpful directions we still ended up missing each other.

Then came the debate on how to get to the ground. Ed’s plan was a convoluted three change tube via Liverpool Street and a bus jobbie.

’Or you know we just get the Hammersmith and City line to Barking and pick up the number 5’

You can tell Ed is not a Londoner. ( if you are not a Londoner your self dear reader, take my word for it that Ed was very very wrong). Ed was not a fan of my master plan in the routing  as he had had some bad experiences in Barking. Highly offended due to this being my old stomping ground, I told him to not be such a softie. It might be a crumbling manor but it is still my crumbling manor. After someone tried to brick the bus, then the driver refused to move for 15 minutes as some kids skipped the fare. Ed may have had a point.

We arrive at the ground early and run into my staff member friend. ( I know him well now but he likes the ambiguous nature of ’Staff Member’). He was leading a group of small children to go get kitted out for their matchday duties.

’Now ladies over here we have a world famous blogger. Say hello to world famous blogger. ’  I got a smattering of quiet hellos.

No No, you can do better than that’  I was then deafened by many small and excitable children shouting their greeting. It was echoed around 15 minutes later when he got them to say goodbye. Nearly dropped my pint over myself. Thank you ambiguous staff member for that one 😒😊

It was now time to face the storm from the North West.

FIRST HALF

I am nothing but honest about my team, it was not the greatest game we had played. I partly blame to weather, well I blame the weather a lot.  Plays which have worked in the past that should have worked didn’t. Sloppy passing in the middle falling short. It’s hard to tell if it was the team or the wind carrying the ball away from the intended target. A lack of communication also seemed to be an issue. Everton packed the box, so we couldn’t run the ball through. However, instead of running around the sides to ping the crosses in, we seemed just run at them. What should have been a ball over the top to Kate Longhurst ended in Leanne Kiernan  being smashed by Gabby George and a very frustrated Kate. We had one solid chance this half,  a corner played into the box, after being pinged around a few head, falls to Gilly. She tries to smash it home but it is comfortably gathered by the Everton goalkeeper

The half ends 0-0

HALF TIME

The documentary crew are wandering around to get some reaction shots of the crowd. As they walk past the start naming us after the episodes we appear in, mouth almighty indeed is episode 3.

Talk amongst us turns to the quarter-final against Aston Villa on Sunday.  The FA Cup is our big shot at some silverware this year, to get  the semi’s would show some serious intent. Whilst Villa on paper we’re one of the easier ties, the FA cup is a completely different ball game.

We needed to pull it together this second half.

SECOND HALF

It just wasn’t meant to our night. Everything we tried just didn’t pan out. We as a whole are a little team, physically not in mentality. So any time a team puts us under the closh through brute strength, we crumble. We like to play clever; tricks and flicks, dummies and nutmegs. Gabby George barreling at you, going in for a very forceful tackle does not work for our game plan. Again it was a half of frustration and Everton were looking dangerous.

The inevitable happened at 88 mins, a slip in midfield meant Everton were one on one with our keeper. A looped ball went over Anna’s head in the centre of the box and the visitors were one goal up

Which is how the scoreline stayed not for want of trying. The most entertaining moments of the match were to do with disciplinary action than the run of play itself.

Our resident bruiser Kate went in for the tackle to get the ball from the Everton keeper. The ball went out, both claiming it was theirs. Kate was less than pleased when the decision did not go her way. She showed this displeasure firstly at the goalkeeper then the linesman then back to the goalkeeper. ‘Till she remembered that she was one yellow card away from a suspension, you could literally see the switch flip and abundance of apologies followed. I dunno if that made it worse to be honest.

The second incident was at the end of the game in the dying seconds. Due to a mistimed tackle by Gabby, we had 6 minutes of injury time. Boy did the Everton goalkeeper milk it. In a move worthy of Siobhan Chamberlin, she practically crawled to get the ball that had gone out for a goal kick. Everyone was getting frustrated, fans and players alike.

It took the crowd booing, yelling to the ref to sort it out. I am absolutely convinced that’s what woke the referee up and she got a late yellow. Now I don’t condone the booing of players but I also believe in good sportsmanship and that behaviour was not. Though as a wise friend once said, is it fair play no. Do you wish you had thought of it, Yes.

I stood waiting for our captain to come off the pitch, after all I had exciting news for her.

’ Hey Gill, I am gonna be breaking my East London mother’s heart next season. I am getting a Millwall fan on the back of my shirt. ’

It takes a minute but her eyes light up and she starts to laugh.

’ You better you f***ing better. I have seen your Twitter, you’ve got Raff, you’ve got Bri and who have you got on now’

I might have been wearing my Kate shirt 😂

’ If you get my name on the back of your shirt next season, I will give you something special
She later came back and promised me something really special.  I love you anyway Gill, but I do accept all bribery and compliments 😏.

Raff and Becks came over for a quick hug and noticed how cold I was. I got reprimanded quite severely for not having the right coat.

 

 

I head back into the clubhouse and catch up with Geoff and his wife. I managed to angle my second pint of the night thank you Geoff.
Whilst dissecting the game, I mention whilst I had been researching for this blog. I found a video of Kate scoring in the FA Cup. A very blonde Kate scoring passed a very young Becky Spencer . The Goal

Kate’s mum started to get very animated about what had happened after that goal. Some unfair sportsmanship from Birmingham City and the referee meant Chelsea conceded the FA Cup.
’ You’ve started something now’ Geoff laughed its still a sore spot’.

Now for those of you who have not been to Rush Green, the clubhouse has that feel about it. It has a makeshift bar and Fussball table and seating. Unfortunately, Bri had chosen to sit by the table.

Geoff turns to me and Kate and whispers
’ Oi, someone needs to tell Bri, she needs to get back on her pitch’. 

I just about manage to stifle a giggle but Kate decides that person should be her.

Oi Bri, Dad says you need to go back on your pitch’  Bri confused looks at our little group until Kate nods at the Fussball table. Bri clocks its a height joke and glares at us. For all of two seconds ( you are too forgiving Bri 😏) she comes over to show us a photo to prove her point.

It has been previously established that Kate whilst not short is no Jill Scott. However next to Bri.  Well, you can see for yourself.

Finally, it was kicking out time, Geoff had kindly volunteered to drop me off at the station.

Not before we ran back into my good friend ambiguous staff member.
’Hey, is there an age limit on ball girl, coz I can sit on a stool and run after a ball’.

He looks me up and down and laughs.
’ you want to be a ball girl, I can make you a ball girl’

I take back the joke, I do not doubt for a second he would make good on that promise /threat.

And that concludes that epic adventure boy it was a long one.

Next time it’s down to Aston Villa where we get waylaid by some fake Irish men, get confused by the other claret and blue and serenade Jack Sullivan.

COYI

 

Midweek madness this time as we head into our next match. Reading had proved to be an impenetrable force when we played them earlier in the season. Many teams discount them as a middling team, easy to beat, forgetting the players they have. With the likes of Fara Williams, Tash Harding and Gemma Davidson, this not a team to discredit quickly.

This time I was being slightly more sensible and got the train instead of my usual 6-hour coach journey.  Yay, no M6 for me, a change would do me good. The train, however, comes with its own challenges.  Have you ever tried to change your clothes in a Virgin train toilet?  The anxiety that the door will fly open and the world will see you half naked, the fear is real people.

On my train was an adorable little boy who had questions about everything and had answers to his own questions. Even if these were slightly skewed, however I did learn that a sheep can outrun a train and the reason two of the Beatles were dead is that they were old and fell down the stairs 😏.

More importantly, West Ham have a new stadium! One that is viewable from the West Coast mainline apparently. No matter how many times his grandpa told him that it was Wembley, not the London Stadium, he was still convinced that it was West Ham’s ground and it meant he was almost home. Well, Tottenham you heard the boy get out of our stadium.

As with football tea, I clearly had not learnt my lesson with trying to meet Ed on a train. Third times the charm right.  Almost successful until we came into the station at opposite ends, just about made it on to the train in the same carriage before the doors shut.
Finally in Reading town centre, we decided to go for a pint in a pub that Ed couldn’t find (ended up settling for a Lloyds) and then when it was time to go to the ground he couldn’t find the bus stop (which we had already passed). Why do I let him direct? Ah yes because if he’s bad at directions then I am worse. 😳

’Well at least it’s not in High Wycombe’ which is Reading Women’s normal locale. Its the one thing we were all grateful for was the location of the game. West Ham had been chosen to be one of the few games Reading played at their parent stadium, the Madejski as in actual Reading!  I have been to Adams park a few times with the Man City contingent. Never again!! If you don’t drive it is an absolute nightmare. In the middle of an industrial estate where the public transport is once in a blue moon and even then its a long walk up behind some foreboding warehouses.

Getting the ground it was encouraging to see a big crowd gathering outside, the atmosphere was electric with both clubs having a lot riding on this game. We win we go level on points with Bristol meaning the next game we can jump up the table. Reading win and they keep the pressure on Birmingham in 4th. Both clubs wanted it, both sets of fans ready to be the 12th man their club needed.

FIRST HALF

My seatmate for this half was  Brooke’s parents  so I was reunited with Pamela.  This meant at the very least I wasn’t cheering on my own.

The first 20 mins of the match was scrappy. Not in the sense that the play was bitty and all of the place. More like fisticuffs at dawn, very aggressive and attacking football from both sides. Though West Ham were the better side from the start, with the first opportunity came from Jane Ross after 5 minutes but was saved comfortably by the Reading goalkeeper.  A long range shot that didn’t seem to trouble, Grace Maloney at all.

Chances from Leanne Kiernan, Kate Longhurst and Alisha Lehman and a penalty claim that was not given we were decidedly on top. Ria Percival came thundering down the flank and ran into the box looking for a one on one with the keeper. A Reading defender went sliding in and Ria went to ground. From our angle it didn’t look like they had got the ball, just Ria’s ankle. The referee however disagreed and whistled for a fair tackle. Both Pamela and I were unimpressed.

20 mins in, a picture-perfect through ball from Cho our number 20, to Alisha  and slotted home past Grace Maloney in the Reading goal. A delicious run by Lehman from the middle of the pitch. Down the right flank and across goal straight down the middle.

0-1 to the claret and blues.

Reading countered immediately and Rachel Furness’s header led to Anna Moorhouse making a fingertip save at full stretch. Reading pressed again this time Fara Williams charging at our back line, the danger was snuffed out quickly by Anna.

We finished the first half with a narrow lead.

HALF TIME

Whilst Ed left me for reasons only known to him, I sat and chatted with Brooke’s parents. Learning more about Brooke’s previous playing career and a few embarrassing childhood stories. I promise Brooke I won’t use them for blackmail proposes ( unless I can get an interview out of you because of them).

After they left to go to the other side of the stadium to check out Brooke as we changed ends. ( Come on guys was it something I said). I messaged Crick the score as now the tradition. I still find it ironic that generally when I am down south she is up north. (she is a Man City fan living in the south) Yet she had become one of my closest friends. Ah, the power of football.

Ed is back in his seat so now it must be the second half.

SECOND HALF

Right off the bat, Reading were pushing for that equalizer, forcing our backline to make some rash clearances from our area. The run of play for the first 10 minutes was definitely in Reading’s favour.

What they didn’t count on was our midfield, in what was a carbon copy of the first goal we got our second. Cho with a clean dummy pass through the middle found Alesha yet again. Swift run down the flank she passed the Reading defence and got her brace.

0-2 to the visitors.  So far a good away trip, definitely worth taking the time off work to make the match.

A quarter of an hour later Reading pull one back. Both Anna and the Reading striker going for the ball. The ref decided it was a mishandled save and pointed the spot. Fara Williams stepped up and with her pinpoint accuracy was never going to miss, from 12 yards.

1-2 but we were still the stronger side.

A few more great chances which we couldn’t quite put away but eventually the tie was ours.  The highlight was the Irish youngest Leanne Kiernan, though she didn’t get on the scoresheet, had a blistering pace on her which caused the Reading defense all sorts of problems. Our number eight has a bright future and here’s hoping its with us.

After a quick catch up with some of the players, it was time to head back into London and on to the hotel. I was knackered by now, it had been a long day.

On our way back a couple of us began to discuss the referee. It’s been publicly noted by both managers this one missed key decisions which could have turned the game. The state of refereeing in the woman’s game, on the whole, is poor. I know that being a ref is hard and you can’t do right for doing wrong most of the time. There are some brilliant ones who actually want to be there and don’t see it as easy money.

On the other hand, I have been to matches where they have missed blatant calls, pulled back players for a free kick when advantage should be played, condescending to players when explaining their decisions. I heard one ref call Raff dear when he was trying to get her to come back for a throw in. I think the refs forget that the stadiums are small and we can hear them most of the time.

This is top-level football and it wouldn’t even stand in the non-league of the men’s never mind the premier league. We need top level refs as much as anything else in order to progress the league.  At the very least we need to get some non patronizing ones who aren’t on step way from a Michael Winner commercial.

Next time its another midweek clash, I try and become a ball girl and we try to not let Storm Gareth ruin our fun.

#COYI

So my mother and I got our wish and we drew Huddersfield in the cup. Well, half of it as it was another home leg. Great for all the local fans, not so great for this wanderer. Another trip on the M6 beckoned.

Due to the last minute tie, it was going have to be a coach both ways since I couldn’t face the soulless road twice in one day, my darling bestie for was in for another call. Hey as her mother says this football has done wonders for our friendship as she sees me more than twice a year now.

Huddersfield was an unknown entity for me. With most teams I have an inkling on how we might fare. They had been fairly consistent in the northern league but they hadn’t faced any WSL opposition yet so it was hard to tell how they would deal with a full-time team.
It would remain to be seen if they would go in hard like Manchester United had or if we could wear them down like we had done with Blackburn. We were also missing some key players as Raff had been injured at Blackburn and Adriana Leon had been playing with a minor hamstring tear since we signed her. Still, the faith was there that we could progress to the quarter finals.

On what was a balmy day February we were ready to take whatever they wanted to through at us.

FIRST HALF

Nervy start for both teams this match, with the quarter-final place at stake. It was the visitors who capitalized on the pressure first. A penalty was awarded against Anna Moorhouse for a foul save on edge of the box. Huddersfield’s captain tucked the ball low sending Anna the wrong way.

0-1 to the Terriers

’that was a soft pen if I ever saw one’ I look up at the old boy next to me. I couldn’t help but agree.

I think the penalty shook our girls slightly as to go behind so early was not part of the plan. Our defence got tighter, Anna had more control over her back line and the wingers were snuffing dangerous plays much quicker. But we knew we needed a goal to bring our confidence and quickly at that!!!

We didn’t have to wait too long, Kate Longhurst torn through the Huddersfield midfield and shot a powerball from long range. This was saved by the Huddersfield goalkeeper only to fall at Lehman’s feet, with a neat flick got the ball back to Longhurst who didn’t miss the second time.

1-1 back in the game.

We became hungry after that, like a wolf taking their first bite, blood lust was brewing.
It didn’t take too long for the second. Leanne Kiernan back from injury proved her worthy of a first-team place. A perfect cross from Alisha Lehman, led to an unstoppable shot in the top corner from the Irish youngster Kiernan.

2-1 to the Hammers.

When you wait for a goal then three come at once. This time Kiernan turns from scorer to provider, in a direct reversal from the last goal with Lehman managing to squeeze the ball past the keeper into the net.

3-1 and we were in cruise control but 3-1 is a dangerous score line. Many teams become complacent and slip up, we didn’t want an Aston Villa/ Sheffield United on our hands.  https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/47083170

Jane Ross put paid to that fear three minutes later with a screamer of a goal close range. There is a reason she is the fox in the box. Now we were truly flying. 4-1 to the cockney girls.

HALF TIME

Buoyed by the result half time was quite a joyous affair. The old boy who had stood next to me had gone to get a cup of tea ( more fool him) and I frantically been updating mother and Crick on our reversal of fortune.

’ Get to many of these games?’ I look up slightly blinkered from the natural light rather than the glow of the screen in my hand.  The old gent had come back with his tea.

oh yeah, season ticket holder. Home and away you will find me there.’ I smile.

’ this is my first one, but I am betting I have seen more woman’s football then you’ve had hot dinners.’

Now dear readers I have to admit I scoffed at this. As someone whose entire holiday allowance goes on travel for these games. Forgive me for being skeptical.  He must of seen the bemusement if not the cynicism on my face. As he felt the need to explain.

my wife used to play for Leyton Orient women back in the day. So I used to run the line for her games, so we could still spend time together’

Well, consider myself schooled!  We ended up having a great talk about the history of the women’s game and who were the big players in the league back then. Lots of love for Coventry City here.  Half time just flew by, I hope he comes back for another match. He seemed to have enjoyed himself.

SECOND HALF 

You would be forgiven to think West Ham would be resting on their laurels. Play the defensive game and try and hold Huddersfield back. You would be very wrong. We were hungry for blood and we would not be settling for a measly 4-1. ( Disclaimer we totally would settle for 4-1 in any game at any given time, I was using poetic licence).

19 minutes into the second half Rosie Kmita came on for Jane Ross. 20 minutes in, she had got our 5th of the day. Another case of bait and switch as the Huddersfield team focused on the threat on the left wing, Rosie sprung on the right. Top corner, it was in the back of the net before the keeper could blink.

5-1 West Ham

Credit to Huddersfield who continued to give us a game despite what was undoubtedly a demoralizing score line.
Their little spate of possession was quickly snuffed out by a brutal sliding tackle in our midfield. This led to the Huddersfield player being down for a while.

I didn’t see who made the tackle but the old boy next to me was fuming.
’ They are trying to put it on Number 12, nowhere near. She was nowhere near’

’Ah’ I smile ’ Yeah see with being Kate it could well have been. Not backwards in coming forwards is our midfielder’  

On an unrelated note, this is probably the best photo I have seen from a match day. Don’t mess with our number 12

Soon the ball was back at our feet and the little dynamo on the score sheet. Brianna performed what can only be described as an act of wizardry and shot from an impossible angle. Over the hills and far away we are one step closer to Wembley.
6-1

I was updating mum who decided to not make this trip Her response to Bri’s goal was

’Are they just taking turns to score, Next you will be telling me it was Moorhouse’s go.’ Hey Anna’s goal kick is pinpoint and her distribution is stellar, so you never know. Crazier things have happened in this game. Still 6 goals with six different names on the score sheet, looking strong.

We got our first repeat offender at 81 minutes when Leanne fired a rocket at the Huddersfield keeper. Despite a valiant attempt, it was 7-1.

3 minutes later she was back at it. This time the keeper got a hand to it, but couldn’t save the rebound as Leanne taps in.

It was at this score we finished the game. An emphatic 8-1 win. Commiserations Huddersfield but through to the quarter-finals we go.

Back in the clubhouse getting a well-deserved beer.  I was greeted warmly by a very vivacious American, decked head to foot in claret. I mean she put me to shame.  Pamela Hendrix was Brooke’s mother and come over for a couple of games. I learnt so much about our number four over the course of a swift pint, turns out she is a Georgia peach and comes from the same town as my favourite USWNT player Kelley O’Hara. She has also played in an insane amount of countries.

Pamela also has the knack to pull anyone into a conversation and I found myself talking to Jane Ross properly since her move over to our East London family.  I reminded her of my favourite moment in football ( See blog one). Brooke who had also joined us laughed as Rossy went bright red.

’ Did it end 1-1, that game. Yeah, I think I know the one your talking about’ She also told me I was mean for sending my City friend crazy pictures of her in her new claret and blue uniform. However, she says so with a twinkle in her eye, that makes me think she truly finds it funny. I later found at the end of the season Rossy has a wicked sense of humour and did indeed find it funny. More on that later.

Probably the most informative conversation I had was with Brianna. Talking about how the women’s game is portrayed and how the players feel about it is an eye-opener. How the women’s games are always shown as family friendly. Which for me was a positive as it allowed for the passion grew for young girls without the aggression. However, as Bri pointed out it made the game seem soft and not as physical as the men’s. Therefore not as important or skilful.

The most important factor I learnt is that Bri thinks we are all a bunch of thugs. 😏  well, only really but she did admit that all she knew about West Ham she gleaned from the film Green Street. Yes, the one with the terrible and very unrealistic football hooliganism  ( I mean in what world would Elijah Wood take on some tanked up footie fans. He’d get squished.)

Which beggars one vital question really. If that is all you know of the Hammers why do you agree to play for us?

Nah we are lovely really, very accepting we even allowed a ’Docker’ as a captain. ( Sorry Gilly couldn’t resist )

With those parting words, I left Rush Green once again to face the devil’s highway.

Next time it’s down to reading to cross another ground off my list. Me and Ed try the meet on a train thing again and I am grateful for

COYI

I hadn’t seen Crick since November. This season supporting opposing teams had really dented our quality time together. Normally when I was trekking down to the M6, she was trekking up it.

So when Manchester City moved their FA cup clash from the Sunday to the Saturday, it became the perfect time to catch up. Plus it meant I could catch up with my Sky Blue family without being on opposite sides of the field.

However, catching up with the Heroes generally involves copious amounts of beer and that game was no exception. Having only eaten a cheese sandwich and a flapjack, this was going to get messy. Having had a pint to catch up with Crick before the game, the Hero’s descended as did the offer of further rounds. Though I am pretty sure they got mine wrong as I am sure I asked for half a bitter and got a pint.

3 pints later we actually get to the match. It was a slow start with the Watford defence keeping Manchester City at bay for all of the first half. However, Manchester City showed their class and the goals came in the second half for them to progress.

After the match the Heroes and I stay for one more as how often do I actually get to see them. This is where I learnt several important lessons –

One:  I can not and should not try and keep pace with my football friends. For I am a wee 55 kilo weakling compared to the practiced drinkers of my dear city family. However pint for pint I tried to match them and by 7pm I was gone. Not like I had a 5 am start the next day or anything.

Two: Do not let Crick near my phone when I can’t control what she does. After sending a message to my best friend telling her she had been replaced and my ’mummy’ that I missed her. I had some apologising to do the next day.

Three: Most importantly, being hungover on a Megabus is grim. Pretending you’re not hungover to your mother grimmer. Trying to stop your head from spinning and your stomach from twisting whilst hurtling down the motorway. The grimmest!!  Don’t be like me kids.

Somehow, I managed to get up at 5am and meet my mother and make my connection all with an axe splitting my head. A brief pit stop and a triple shot coffee and I was feeling more human.

Blackburn Rovers our opponents for this FA cup tie were two leagues below us but were taking it by storm. They had a couple of ex FAWSL players including the ex-Man City player Natasha Flint who had been part of their Continental Cup winning squad. But I was quietly confident that we could smash this one.

What I wasn’t confident on was the coach getting us into London on time. Thankfully the ground staff needed an extra 15 minutes to thaw the pitch so we made kick off by the skin of our teeth. It gets cold in the UK in February.

FIRST HALF.

Once again we seemed to be taken by surprise by a more physical side. Blackburn was bigger in both statue and height compared to our girls. The first chance was ours with Ross running down the wing but was taken out by a bruising slide tackle from a Blackburn defender, the Blackburn team had come to play.

So the first golden moment was theirs. Blackburn winger slid past Erin Simon and found Flint in the box with a pinpoint cross, it was all too easy for Flint to tap in beyond the keeper.

0-1 to the Northern League side.

As our beloved Skipper Gilly Flaherty says that had to be an effing wake-up call. West Ham came alive after the goal and the lions share of possession was ours. We pushed them into playing tightly in their own third, not allowing the counter. Maybe we pushed them too tightly as we couldn’t quite manage to finish the shots.

Then just before half time our new Canadian superstar Adriana Leon breached the iron curtain and fired into the corner, bypassing the keepers reach.

1-1.

Getting the goal before the half time whistle was the turning point. Keeping it at a level playing field meant we could play hard second half control the game rather than playing catch up.

HALF TIME

It was mum who decided to be the masochist and have the Football Tea. I just stuck to my chips. Fool me once shame on me, fool me twice shame on you. Fool me five times the shames back on me.  You know what they say about a fool and their money.

SECOND HALF

This half we played like the premier league side we should be. We had figured out how they played, no longer intimidated by the physical presence Blackburn brought. I mean we have Kate Longhurst and Gilly in our squad, we are scared of no one. Well maybe Jill Scott but that’s because she really tall and controls her legs like a newborn giraffe. Sorry Jill 😉

The highlight of the half was the Blackburn coach debating a free kick we had been awarded. Frustrated at the decision she started to argue with the fourth official. The ref stopped the run of play and could heard clearly saying.

’She shoved her over its a free kick. You can’t argue that’  well that was that coach told, much to our coach Beardy’s glee.

25 minutes into the second half we got the break we deserved. Our little dynamo in the middle Brianna Visalli shot from distance, curling around the goalkeepers outstretched hand. Unstoppable shot in the top corner, thus giving us the lead.

2-1 to the Hammers.

Just before time, we put the game to bed. This time Visalli got the assist, Leon, with her second goal for her new club a low hard shot at close range.

3-1 to the hammers.

Not long after the full time whistle went and we to had progressed. Though we looked battered and brusied

 

On the way home, we were discussing who we wanted in the next round.

’Manchester City away would be good’ 

I glare at my mother, in horror at the suggestion

’They would not be good, I want a decent cup run’  

’I was thinking of ease of getting there’ 

We settled that we wanted Sheffield or Huddersfield for the next round in an away leg for selfish reasons.

Well, we got half of our wish.

Next time its back down the M6 to take on Huddersfield in the next round. Where the goals come thick and fast and I am quicker than BBC sport.

COYI

MANCHESTER CITY HOME

Last time we played them was the harrowing result of 7-1, however we have come a long way since then. We had become a much more cohesive team, found some form and had become a joy to watch. Well, most of the time anyway.

More importantly this game I was back with my Sky Blue Family.  My City guys had agreed to let an interloper into the group and was going to drive me down to Rush Green. Still, a 5 am start was required but at least I had some company to share my misery.

Lots of singing, joking and general banter over who was going to beat who. What football is all about. More importantly, though was the traditional Cannock breakfast.

Cannock services are not the modern faceless generic services you normally find on the motorway where you gt charged £3.50 for a panda pop and and the cashiers all look like Adam Ant *. Instead it’s a small independent old fashion services which serves a breakfast as big as your head and know what a mug of tea is. Vitally they serve all breakfasts with the traditional heart-stopping, artery clogging fried slice. Worth the trip alone for that, it’s not heroes away day unless we make a pit stop at Cannock. Dazzler wouldn’t allow it

It was here that the ribbing about my family really started.

Taking my coat off to tuck into my breakfast when Tony ( our taxi driver for the day ) looks at me and scoffs

’ What, What is that’ gesturing with his knife  at the dark blue shirt I was wearing.

’It’s a West Ham shirt Tone, what else would I be wearing?’  

He turns to Louisa another hero and his missus ’ she’s walking from here, not having that in my cab’  
The heroes laugh and I just glare. It’s going to be a long drive/ day.

It was a cracking day for football as we pull up to Rush Green. A definite buzz about playing the current leaders after the narrow defeat against the previous league leaders in Arsenal. This was a new development as Arsenal had suffered a surprising defeat to Chelsea earlier that afternoon. Chelsea even managed this win without any leg breaking. Miracles will never cease.  The sun was shining, surprisingly warm for a Sunday in January.

Manchester City had brought a good crowd with them so the atmosphere was going to be electric. One downside was that Crick had a match of her own, so would not be joining us  which was a shame however I promised to keep her updated. Whilst my gang went to get their tickets I spotted my staff member friend ( who shall remain nameless at his request, to keep you faithful readers guessing who he is at the matches). I stood chatting for while with my friend when Louisa came over.

’ They have sold out of the seating, not happy about having to stand the entire match’  I have to add here dear readers, the heroes I have traveled down with have splashed out for the hospitality season tickets. So they have a certain standard which standing in the elements in east London does not quite reach.

My mate looks at Louisa and looks at me
you vouch for these reprobates’ I nod laughing
He reaches into his pockets and peels off 7 tickets for West Ham’s one seated stand. Thank you, my friend, you legend. You made some City fans very happy and I had a legitimate excuse not to be with them for the match. I stand for all football unless I can’t, so guys thanks for the lift but I am out of here.

With the plans to meet at the car after the match I headed over to the claret and blue side.
Ed had made it over as had Rich so I wasn’t totally on my own.

FIRST HALF

Right off the bat, you saw the improvement from the last time these two met. Our defence led once again by Gilly Flaherty was giving Manchester City trouble. When Nikita Parris tried to slip behind, Gilly was there in the space. Our midfield had also improved drastically with the addition of Adrianna Leon our new signing in the January window, linking up with Raff on the left wing caused Gemma Bonner  a lot of trouble.

Against the run of play surprisingly, City went ahead after 15 minutes with Caroline Weir slipping behind our defensive line in a rare error and tucked it behind Moorhouse in the bottom right corner.

0-1 to the Sky Blue.

This seemed to be the wake-up call West Ham needed and for the next 15 minutes, we pushed and pressed Manchester City with Leon showing her quality causing massive problems for the sturdy backline of Steph Houghton, Jennifer Beattie, and Abbie McManus. However we couldn’t make anything come to fruition with the pressing from the Hammers leading to another problem, City starting to look dangerous on the counter.

Just before the half time, City and were on the attack once again.  Weir got her shot off from outside the box, Moorhouse in goal made a fine save unfortunately the rebound fell to  Hemp who chips it home for a few yards out while following in the shot.

0-2

City could have done us like a kipper shortly after, again Hemp on the break out pacing Moorhouse to a lose ball. If it wasn’t for our Skipper who managed to race back and dramatically clear the ball off our line. Seriously Gilly was on fire this game. Her class showing with every touch.

Whistle blows, considering in the reverse fixture we had been 4-0 down. I will take this current score line in a heartbeat.

HALF TIME

An uneventful half time of dissecting the game with Crick over WhatsApp. For the second time this season we wanted different things in the second half. Crick wanted another hammering so City could improve their goal difference, I wanted us to show our quality and keep the damage to an absolute minimum. It’s quite a weird feeling to be at odds with Crick.

SECOND HALF

We start off a little brighter this half. Beardy must have had one hell of a team talk as we kept the attack at bay, we slowed the game down to our pace and frustrated the City side whose objectives must have mirrored that Cricks.

Our persistence paid off and 56 minutes in Jane Ross scores a screamer against her old team. Shot from outside the box high into the top corner flying over Ellie Roebuck in the City goal.

1-2.

Crick was not happy about this but conceded that it was a nice touch for Ross to score against her old club. A bit of vengeance for not being used to her full potential last season. ‘But she’s not allowed to get any more’

Manchester City were relentless in making sure the three points went to them. Which were clinched in the 86 minute when Parris latched on to a midfield error and scored from distance.

1-3

which is how the game ended. Although it was our third defeat on the bounce. The improvement was immense and I could hold my head high on the journey home.

Making my way to the car, I had to pass some Manchester City fans who were waiting for their own players. Raff came over and gave me my customary hug which I could hear some mutterings from the Sky Blue support about who I thought I was as Raff had approached me not the other way around. They also weren’t too impressed when Steph had a brief chat with me. The horror that she would talk to someone who wasn’t a true Blue. What can I say I am proud of the relationship of mutual respect I have managed to build with my team.

LIVERPOOL AWAY

Another midweek game, another mad dash from work on an unfamiliar transport system to a ground that was nowhere near the city that bears the clubs name. This time I had venture across the bridge to Birkenhead  as Liverpool play at Tranmere’s Prenton Park. This took much longer than anticipated due to an uncooperative taxi driver. All I asked for was a price mate, I need to budget. So I missed the first 10 mins. However thanks to my new found football connections, my ticket was already there waiting for me. A perk of having friends in high places. What I didn’t realize until I was being led to my seat by a smart man in a blazer then the connections had got me into hospitality.

Finally sat, amongst a lot of Liverpool fans. Mouth Almighty was ready to anger the scousers once more. ( for those reading from far flung places, Scouser is someone from Liverpool. Think London and Cockney)

FIRST HALF

As usual, we came out the blocks all guns blazing. Liverpool were our closest rival in the league standings  so it was a must win game. Kate Longhurst wanting to punish her old club took some crucial early shots, with the Liverpool keeper Preuss was on fire and made the key saves.

Liverpool was looking for their second win on bounce were equally fiery with Sweetman-Kirk looking to repeat her performance in the reserve fixture.

It was end to end for most the first half with no clear team in domination. Just before the half time whistle, Coombs shot hard which seemed to evade Moorhouse. A scrambled clearance but it looked like we had gone one down as the ball appeared to cross the in before being hacked away, except that the ref signalled for play to continue. A definite let off and if VAR was in the women’s game we definitely would have been one down.

Of course I was screaming my lungs out the entire game. I hadn’t made anyone move their seat yet, but I was getting some odd looks.
Behind me was a group who seemed to appreciate my chanting, I smile and apologise for being so loud. The lady nearest to me laughed and told they didn’t mind as I was shouting for the right team. Ah ha, fellow hammers.

Turns out they were Anna Moorhouse’s family. This was a local game for them as they are from Rochdale.

HALF TIME

With my new found good fortune in I headed into the hospitality for food and some decent tea. Slightly uncomfortable as I was the only clear Hammer and there were A LOT of Reds. In another case of randomly appearing players. Sue Smith ex England  and Tranmere Rovers legend rocked up. Not to bother her I did the acknowledgement nod. Meaning I know who you are but I will leave you be, I hope she appreciated that. (Tranmere Rovers once had a fine women’s team pre-WSL)

SECOND HALF

Full on chips and tea I went back out into the elements for the second half. (good tea out of a tea urn!)

Just as with the first half both teams were sparking and the game was getting fraught. Rash tackles on both side, showing the want from both teams. I was convinced Beardy was going to go burst a blood vessel, yelling at the girls to push.

However, as with United, a brief lapse in judgement from our midfield did allow Sweetman-Kirk to get her goal. A tap in from a few yards out after a lack tracking the run from deep in their half.

1-0 to the reds.

Most team’s facing their four defeat on the bounce would have caved, however West Ham continued to push and fight. Two very close calls from Lehman and Leanne but once again Liverpool’s goalie was quick off her line.

In the dying seconds of normal time, Kate Longhurst was on the receiving end of a hard tackle instead of administering it. A sharp kick to the head meant her game time had come to the end.

Final whistle and the points go to the Reds.

Meeting up with Geoff at the end of the game we commiserated together. Kate came hobbling over to reassure her dad, that she wasn’t badly hurt. Just a bad headache that was brewing. In her hand was a spare pair of boots.

’ I am just checking how you spell your name. It’s A L L I E right.’

I nod slightly confused as she signs the boots and hands them to me.

a thank you for your continued support’  I was definitely overwhelmed. My team might have lost but I definitely felt like I had won.

Now I had to plan to get back from Birkenhead to Liverpool city centre. I really didn’t want to face another Liverpool cabbie.  Geoff sensed that I looked slightly baffled.
’ I am getting a lift from one of Kate’s old teammate’s dad. If you don’t mind hanging around I can probably get you a lift’

So we went for a drink and my friend Mark who had been at the game joined us in the pub, whilst we waited for the team to warm down. I love talking to Geoff, as he has been around the women’s game so long, he had such insight I could only dream of.

Finally, our lift was ready to go and I found my self speeding through the Mersey tunnel with an opposition player. Ash Hodgson is actually a sweetheart and once again gave me an insight into Liverpool life since the mass exodus last season. I also was reminded of how different the women’s game is. I mean would you ride in the car of a player whose team had just walloped yours.

As I had another hour to kill until my train, Geoff offered another drink. Sat with him and Mark who had been offered the spare seat in the car. Our conversation turned to our run of form, particularly the Manchester United game.

Yeh my mum kind of went off Stoney after that game’  ’ was not a fan if her management style’

Geoff laughed.
’ No Stoney is alright,  her and Kate got well when they both were at Liverpool’

He pauses

’ Well, they ended up that way. Casey didn’t particularly like Kate in the beginning’  he looks me with a sly grin. ’See Kate might have accidentally broken Casey’s ankle in a training match her first season’

Ah, Kate’ bone breaker ’ Longhurst strikes again.

The hour flew by and I was on my way back to Manchester. Where I had another argument with another stroppy Cab driver.

Next time, we start our Fa cup run, I get lead astray by some bad Mancunians and pay for it the next day.

COYI

* Yes I made a bad joke about Daylight Robbery and used two very out of date references.

Next payday you need another shirt

January was not a good month to be a West Ham fan, both in the men’s and women’s teams the post-Christmas slump well and truly hit so these match’s reports won’t be as extensive as I don’t fancy depressing myself again.

AUTHOR’S EDIT:

ok apparently I prattle on a lot, so this will be probably another two-parter.

ARSENAL AT HOME

No Borehamwood for me this time, it was our turn to host the potential champions. Due to Arsenal’s lofty place in the league, we had the dubious honour of being the BBC match of the day. Well on the Red Button anyway. Still progress people, it’s all still progress equalling an early kick-off at half 12.

Wisely I again decided to go and stay with my sister from another mister in Rainham and had a football-free Saturday catching up. Well sort of. Mary Earps had announced she was doing a video chat that night and having been the attentive best friend all day, I had convinced Laura to let me watch.  I had asked Mary a cheeky question if she still thought I was insane for my travels.
She was very sweet and confirmed that I was indeed crazy but a lot of clubs would love mad fans like me. Insert super fangirling.

https://www.facebook.com/NextLevelGK/videos/939583216429532?sfns=copylinkios
(its around the 1h 04 minute mark)

SUNDAY

I decided to debut my Christmas present which was the away shirt with Visalli 15. Thank you, mum and dad. Walking in I took my usual spot by the lower right corner flag and I waited for the gang of claret and blue fans I had amassed. Ok, Ed and Emma, I was waiting for Ed and Emma.
As West Ham were warming up, Bri spotted me and waved, I waved back and pointed at the new shirt. She seemed quite made up and told me we were getting a photo afterwards.

’ aww Bri that’s so sweet, you don’t have to do that’
’ it’s not for you, I want one’

And who am I deny such a request?

Still no sign of the gang so, I go for my customary bad tea. ( why, dear readers, why am I such a masochistic.)  In the queue I spy  Mollie Kmita (ex-West Ham player and photographer extraordinaire) with a long order of her own.

She smiled at me with recognition.

’ Hey, how are you doing. What time did you have to get up this morning? ’ I laugh telling her I had actually been sensible this time.
She noticed my new shirt and laughed.
’ Don’t you already have the Raff one’

I nod and tell her about my Longhurst one as well.  She looked mockingly horrified.

’ Don’t tell me that, where’s your Kmita one.’ ’ you need a Kmita one. Next payday you need another shirt’

Sure Mollie, I have run out if shirts so unless it goes on the goalkeeper kits.’

I later told Rosie this story and she no sympathy, telling me I did indeed need a Kmita shirt. I promise Rosie that if you are still a Hammer next season, I will have a number 16 shirt.

Right the gangs finally all here on with the match.

FIRST HALF

Jane Ross had found fine goal scoring form and managed to surprise Arsenal on the counter. A long ball by Spencer back in the net found Lehman who worked her way around the very tight Arsenal defence. A pinpoint cross from Lehman finds Ross who found the bottom corner. A sweet strike on her left foot and we lead.

1-0 the Hammers after 11 minutes.

We were playing well, quick on the counter pressing Arsenal. We are playing like a team not be underestimated.
After another 7 mins and Arsenal beg for a penalty after Beth Mead comes up against our captain fantastic, Gilly with a fearsome sliding tackle. The ref doesn’t agree with Mead’s protestations and no pen is given.

Gilly was actually on fire this half and again a flying block stops an almost certain goal. West Ham are getting nervy now. Arsenal were ramping up the pressure, showing the true quality of there side.

After 26 minutes the inevitable happens. Leah Williamson knocks in the rebound after a Beth Mead power shot expertly saved by Spencer, not even the best defence could have cleared that.

1-1

5 mins later its deja vu as Mead takes another shot at goal, pushed away by Spencer only to found another Arsenal players head. There is the reason why Arsenal was on such league run. This time it was Jensen who took home the spoils.

1-2

We kept pushing, but we just couldn’t stop losing the ball in key areas. We just couldn’t finish as clinically as I would like. As the BBC reported we didn’t seem to have a midfield per se. Our players just ran up and down the pitch. Like all of them, at the same time.

Suddenly just before half time, Visalli heads the ball upfield. Allowing Ross to cut across the Arsenal defence and gets both the team’s and her second of the day. Again a low shot into the bottom left hand corner. This time from her right foot. It’s good to have such a versatile striker.

2-2

SECOND HALF

It was end to end at the beginning of this half but as painful as is to admit Arsenal had us on the ropes. Defensively Gilly and Brooke were tight with Becky, but Arsenal were relentless and it was only a matter of time before they broke our back line.
Danielle Van de Donk at the far post, Arsenal take the lead once more.

2-3

10 mins after that Van de Donk goal, she becomes the second player of the day to get a brace. A mix up between defender Brooke and goalkeeper ends with an open goal and what is essentially a tap in.

2-4.

And that’s how the game ends and Arsenal march their way back to the top of the table. We had patches of great play but I was definitely confused by one element of our style of play.

I am not a footballer, but our insistence to play from the back no matter what doesn’t make sense to me. If Kim Little is rushing at you lob it up the pitch and deal with the resulting throw in. But then again, what do I know.

After the match, I headed to the club to wait for Bri for the photo she so desperately wanted ( ok I desperately wanted) drinking good but slightly warm IPA. Our clubhouse has a little while to go before its at Birmingham City level.

When Bri came out I assumed she would want a photo like Raff did so she could show people I had her name and number. Well, we took that picture even though Bri looked rather confused.

’ No I wanted a proper picture’
So we took another ’proper picture’

I think it’s safe to say since our first picture me and Bri have got a little closer. 😏
With that, I was on my merry way back up the blessed M6.

MANCHESTER UNITED AWAY

Next game came quite quickly as it was Wednesday of the same week. I mean you wait for nearly a whole month for a footie match had three come all in the same week.

This was for a place in the Continental Cup semi-final. Manchester United were a new team that were just a major juxtaposition. They had gone into the largely amateur lower tier with the idea to work their way up to the top flight, they had been dominating this league with promotion now an almost dead cert.  They do have the advantage of being the only professional team in their league, and they nicked half of Liverpool’s squad. This was not going be a walk over.  For more information on that read this brilliant Suzanne Wrack article.

https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2018/jun/19/neil-redfern-liverpool-ladies-exodus-gemma-bonner

Midweek games are tricky to get to. I normally have to take an afternoon off to navigate some random transport system, to be taken the wilds of some small town which not even in the same county as the parent club.  Except having just started a new job, I didn’t have that luxury. Luckily Leigh isn’t too far from Manchester and I would only miss the first 5 minutes of the match.

The football gods were smiling on me for this match. Having a football-mad trainer ( he is a Liverpool fan but we will forgive him)  he allowed me to sneak out 15 minutes early to make kick off. Leigh Sports Village on the other hand  is another in the middle of nowhere ground. 20 min walk from the town centre, across a motorway down through a housing estate and  then you suddenly see floodlights.

Once again back with me was mum and dad so I wasn’t totally alone in a sea of red and black. There were pockets of us all over the stadium.

THE MATCH

Manchester United were unlike any team we had faced. Far more physical than any other team we had faced.
A quick goal conceded early shook us and we never really recovered. The goal is kind of contentious as I am sure our player was fouled before their run up. No dear reader not sour grapes, last time I checked you can’t pull a players shirt to nick the ball. Once again we tried to push our way back in the game and lovely long range shot from Kate Longhurst narrowly missed hitting the top bar.

Manchester United’s second goal is one of contention as well. A foul on Jess Sigsworth by Brooke Hendrix led to a free kick and the second goal. The contention comes from the fact Brooke was retroactively punished for three games. The foul was unintentional and in my unbiased opinion was not worth the match ban. Even if she might of accidentally stamped on Jess’s back 🤷‍♀️.

But we were outclassed and our Cup run had come to an end. It was quite heart-breaking. It is hard to write about this game without sounding sour.  But this game really brought out the inconsistency of the refereeing in the woman’s game. On both sides, if Brooke was penalised for her actions then why wasn’t Martha Harris punished for shoving Brianna to the floor. Why weren’t they punished for doing a Greenwood special of taking yardage with the throw-ins? It was a frustrating game.

I did, however, my usual of frustrating the young children winding up a young family in front of me. For 90 minutes I did not stop chanting for my team. I reached a new level of obnoxious that they moved at half time, my mother looked rather embarrassed.
After the match having a quick chat with Raff, she asked if it was me that had been shouting “Come on you Irons”.

’ Maybe’
’ We could hear you on the pitch’

Both Rosie and Bri confirmed they could definitely hear me which mum apologised for. But Rosie shook her head.
’ its what is all about. The passion ain’t it ’.

Some call it passion, some call it madness.

After the long game, it was a long walk back to Leigh and a cold wait in the bus station. Three buses later I was finally back home. At least I avoided the M6 this time.

Now, dear readers, this is the one. No, I mean the ONE. The epic journey across the country, that everyone said I was mad to do. Frodo and Sam have nothing on this epic quest. Even some of the players told me it was ok to miss this one. Not likely. If Rush Green is out in the sticks, Dorchester on a Sunday is like the wild wild west. Even a 5 am start wouldn’t get me there on time. I was going to have to set off the earliest I ever had for a match. A whole 31 hours before kick-off complete with an overnighter somewhere. Two coaches, four trains, one taxi and a camel across the South West. Well, maybe not the camel but I certainly felt like Lawrence of Arabia on this mission. I started my journey which had been planned with military-like precision.

SATURDAY

Up at the respectable time of 8 am, I visited McDonalds for my usual pre-footie breakfast of a Hash Brown bagel. Seriously, between the beer and the carbs, supporting this team is going to give me such a gut.

I had planned an hour and half between arriving in Victoria and leaving again for the next leg, which is more than enough time. What I hadn’t planned for was London traffic and the fact no one bothered to tell the driver that the road was closed. I spent a good half hour wondering why we were going past Madam Tussauds. And all the marauding Sherlock fans trying to get a piece of 22 Baker street was not my idea of fun. So, what started as a nice hour and hour cushion turned into a half an hour dash to Greggs and back. Definitely going to get fat following this team.

It was brief stretch of the legs and then back to it for another two and half hours to Bournemouth, my break point for the evening. This journey was much less fun. The combination of nights drawing in earlier and some highway employee’s brilliant cost-cutting idea to not have street lights on the motorway meant that it was inky black outside. So, I spent two hours on the magical mystery tour somehow getting to Bournemouth. Friends got the brunt of my boredom and confusion and cabin fever via text message.  One such conversation went as such.

‘I want off this bus.’

‘Where are you now?’

‘No idea but more importantly I am done with this bus.’

‘What can you see? Surely you are near now?’

‘I can see sweet f all and I am well and truly done with this bus.’

‘Road signs? Anything to give you an indication of where you are?’

‘Ooh just saw an airport’

‘Right that’s Southampton, so you’re close then.’ …. ‘Means you can get off the bus soon’ 

Only 11 and a half hours after I started, I was at my rest stop for the evening. However, I further proved my point. When you tell people you’re spending the weekend in Bournemouth, they think sea, sand and stick of Rock. Whereas my experience of Bournemouth was its station, the local chippy and some drowsy looking seagulls. This is what I mean by all I see is motorways and non-league football grounds. That was not hyperbole.

My BnB ended up more like an AirBnb, which was much more fun. I spent my evening with a lovely lady who made me copious amounts of tea, let me watch match of the day and had two mad dogs I could fuss over. All for fifteen quid. Bargain!! Although my host was very confused about why I was there. ‘Where are you going that Bournemouth is your halfway point?!’ ’Yeovil’ The confusion didn’t lift. Football is definitely a specific type of passion project. Wearily I headed to bed for my second leg

SUNDAY

After a massive breakfast and my own bodyweight in tea. (Seriously, I think I cost the poor lady fifteen quid in tea alone. I doubt she broke even with me.) Because I apparently hadn’t learnt my lesson from the last time, I was meeting Ed on a train. After the gentle persuasion from the last match. Ed was up and ready with only the slightest hint of a grumble.

Once again, Ed’s wonderful directions meant it took an age to find him on a rather busy train to the South West. Dorchester Town is the most quintessential example of a non-league club ground. It’s hidden behind a Tesco in the middle of an industrial park. This time heading toward the delivery yard was actually spot on. Going into it reminded me of the clubs I used to watch the Daggers play. Like Purfleet, where my overwhelming memory is thinking I was going to die when they served me out of date Pepsi. Hopefully, I wouldn’t have any near death experiences this time.

We were delayed entry into the ground as the junior league match hadn’t finished. Ed looked appalled at that. Can you imagine the state of of the pitch after a bunch of ten year old have made their mark on it? Yet another thing that would never happen in a men’s game. A group of Green and Yellow fans had gathered around us, as we waited for the Harry Kanes of tomorrow to finish up. ‘We don’t expect many of you guys to turn up today’. The leader of the Green men told me. ‘It’s a bit of shlep from East London.’ I laughed. ‘Mate, I have come from the North, the fair-weather fans have no excuses!’

As with most people when they realise how far I travel, he looked perplexed. ‘Why would you do that?!’ Before I could answer, our team coach turned up and off jumped Raff. ‘There’s my favourite fan’ she called as she pulled me into a bear hug. The Yeovil fan laughed. ‘I can see now why you travel.’ After a rather formal introduction last time, Julia Simic decided that a bone crusher of a hug should now be her standard greeting to me. I must have made an impression. Many of the players said I was insane being there. Gilly reminded me I could have just followed the twitter feed. Oh, Gil, less fun to yell at your phone instead of in person.

With the team in and the juniors leaving the building, we went in for a well-earned pint. I caught up on the Manchester City vs Birmingham City whilst downing some West Country IPA. Geoff came and joined us for a swift half and I told him proudly of my early Christmas present to myself. I had decided to add to my Raff shirt by getting the third Kit with Longhurst 12 on the back. Geoff seemed very proud but told me I needn’t have spent my money.

‘We have Kate’s old Chelsea and Liverpool shirts you could have had.’ ‘Funnily enough, Geoff, not a tempting offer.’ With that, we headed to the stands.

FIRST HALF

West Ham were buoyed by the return of Ria Percival from international duty. A fearsome New Zealander, who is a terror on the wing, Ria made her presence known from the offset, crossing in for a shot knocked just wide by Simic. However, we didn’t have to wait long, Lehman got behind Megan Walsh and slotted home. Then again 12 minutes later, a loose ball expertly picked up by Ria was pinged over for Lehman to grab her second of the match.

Once again Yeovil, ever the physical team, took the deficit as inspiration to push harder, dig deeper and tackle more recklessly. It didn’t matter though, as 4 minutes later Percival made another cross to Simic. This time our German livewire didn’t miss and rocketed home our third. West Ham were looking comfortable at the break.

HALF TIME

I had another pint in the Dorchester club house, which is on par with Solihull’s clubhouse, which takes some doing and is the reason I am always happy to do Birmingham away . Birmingham has the most amazing clubhouse where you can get a pint and a pie. I spent many a match when following Manchester in there at half time. Occasionally half the match too. This time Geoff kindly got in the round, joking ‘When was the last time a player’s dad bought you a drink?!’ Can honestly say I highly doubt that Mark Noble’s dad would. A perk of the women’s game, just not for my liver.

SECOND HALF

Back out to the blistering cold for the second half. An unusual substitution was made at half-time with our goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse coming off for Becky Spencer. I hoped it was about game time and not an injury. Though at West Ham we are lucky to have two insanely talented goalkeepers. It didn’t take long for us to push for our fourth. The little dynamo Visalli smashed home a header. She had been left unmarked for that cross, which made me think Yeovil discounted the possibility she would get it. More fool them. At the hour mark, we grabbed what was to be our last goal. The German spitfire, Julia Simic, broke on the counter, smashing the ball home.

I had to dash off before the final whistle to make my train. Dorchester is served by just one train an hour on a Sunday, and the timings meant that if I didn’t get the one before 5, I would miss my last train home. The more annoying thing was I would have missed it by ten minutes. So instead I now have just under an hour to kill in Bournemouth.

So, I went back through the car park by Tesco and up the long road to the station. I made it with 3 minutes to spare. Now, dear readers, you may be wondering if I saw more of Bournemouth with this gift of time. Did I finally go to the pier and see the sea? Did I finally see more of the great country than motorways and a football ground? No, is the simple answer. I went back to the same chippy as the night before and had a chip roll in the station waiting room.

Here I met a fellow hammer, who had been walking the coastline at Poole. We chatted a bit about our chances with the summer signings and then he asked me what had brought me to this part of the world. ‘Oh, I came down for the women’s match, they just beat Yeovil.’ ‘Ooh you came all this way just for the women? That’s commitment!’ Now, I am not a violent person, dear friends, but he is lucky he had to run to get his train. I settled for a Paddington Bear level of hard stare. That’s what frustrates me as a fan, that it is perfectly acceptable for me to travel the length and breadth of the country for West Ham Men, but to do it for the Women’s team, well, it’s just the Women’s so I must be barking. Well, I am, but that’s not the point.

Finally, I clambered into my seat for the last 5 hours of my journey home. When the conductor made his rounds, I wearily handed him my ticket. When he saw my destination, he laughed. ’Stockport?! You’re going all the way to Stockport? Even I’m getting off at Birmingham! ’ He went on his way, chuckling to himself and I napped the rest of the way home. But not before working out that I had travelled the same length of time for one football match as I had to South Africa. And that is why Mary Earps calls me crazy. Next time, four matches in one post as I summarise what was not a great January. I question my shirt choice and I meet up with some old friends. COYI


International Break. 

Well, not an official one, but my personal one to South Africa. I know, such a hard life!

To make up for my lack of insight into the Birmingham game, (Ellen White wasn’t playing so how insightful could I truly be?!) and the Bristol game (cracking goal by Rossy, who was gifted the ball accidentally) have a picture of a snarky penguin.

CA2F5777-F820-47C9-A66E-2AC3D8F4857B
However, in South Africa, I had a brilliant Hammers moment. 

I was sat in a bar in a cape town, casually stealing their WiFi and waiting for my best mate to return with my best. Out of habit, I flicked on to Instagram and mindlessly started scrolling.

Raff had posted something, I wagered another pic of one of the dog. Now the WiFi in South Africa is not great, so it took an age to load and I could only make out a claret and blue blob. So not the dog then. 
The blob started to look increasingly familiar. Wait a minute. That blob is ME! 

Raff had used to the photo that we took at City for a new post. 

9E3836F3-5A53-44DE-9FC3-444E42BDA8EB

Remember when Crick said that Raff looked done with me in that other photo? Haha, who’s laughing now.

(Note from Crick, she really doesn’t care). 

After two weeks of sunning myself in the Cape, it was time to get back to it. This time it was to a different south coast, to go to watch us Hammer some Seagulls. See what I did there?!

(Note to RSPB no actual seagulls were harmed in this match, though I think Laura Rafferty did take a few harsh knocks).  

Ah, I had oddly missed the M6.

Fun fact: there is an M6 in Cape Town. It takes you towards Table Mountain and has warnings you might hit a Springbok. Our M6 takes you to Walsall and the most exciting thing you might hit is a pigeon. 

Having had the fun of Emma’s company for the last match, I had convinced Ed to come on the away day jaunt with me.

Ed is a Chelsea fan (he takes good photos so I deal with that fact, but doesn’t mean I like it). He came over to the dark side when we got three of their key players and we have kept him ever since.

 I like Ed, well most of the time.  We started talking over Instagram, met face to face at a bus stop (not as sordid as it sounds) and he’s a good laugh on the terraces. What Ed is not good at is giving directions about where he is.

We had decided the connection at Three Bridges was the best place to meet. 

Whereabouts on the train are you?I panted as I was sprinting over the bridge to make said train

’I dunno, near a door in the middle somewhere. 
I think he must have picked up on the eye roll in my silence as he added rather helpfully ‘Near the train sign thing.’

Sorry, did I say, helpfully dear readers? I meant uselessly.
By some miracle I found him and we finally were Crawley bound. 

Brighton is another club that seems to suffer from attendance issues, due to being far away from its male counterparts. A constant problem cropping up within the women game.

Clubs want to have a team but become quite clueless about what to do with them when they get them. 

The move to Crawley seems to have hindered not helped this season, with many fans not coming over with the transition. On the one hand, I get it. On a miserable day, if it’s not easy to get to, then why bother?!

On the other hand, I travel around 220 miles for a home gameso my sympathy does not run very far.


We arrived to a smattering of claret and blue shirts and some familiar faces. The away support, though tiny, was starting to become consistent.

I also finally met another internet friend in person. 
Fairerplay, or Rich as his parents actually christened him, was another recent WHU convert. I don’t actually know where his allegiances previously lay, I just know that he came over thanks to Raff

FIRST HALF



Straight out of the gate, we started strong. A quick Raff corner led to a powerful header from Gilly. It was only the quick reactions from the Brighton keeper that kept that rocket out. Buoyed by the Bristol win, West Ham were on the attack and were battering the Brighton defence. Chances from Ross and De Graaf quickly followed but we couldn’t quite finish them
Brighton, however, were finding their pace and were intent on testing Moorhouse, who after a brilliant performance against Bristol, was keeping her place in the starting line-up. A scrambled save from Moorehouse after a power Brighton shot kept us on the even keel before the break. 

HALF TIME


Gully, the Brighton mascot, was wondering around at half time, waving at the children, taking photos with the officials, generally trying to get the atmosphere going. He looked generally quite affable until he walked past the small bank of West Ham fans.

All I did was give him the crossed hammers, but I swear if a mascot could scowl, that bird did.

It’s not my fault, I just hadn’t found any children to wind up, my usual source of amusement.


Ed was also a target due to his apparent defection to West Ham. 
So you’re a Hammer now since you’re coming to away games?’  

’No. I still support Chelsea, Im only here because you made me come.

’Nah you’re definitely a hammer. We’ll have you in a Claret shirt before the seasons out.’ 

No you won’t. I support Chelsea.’ 

’Mate, if you support Chelsea so much, then why are you here?
Chelsea are playing Reading at Kingsmeadow today. Surely that’s easier than coming here!’  

Rich laughed. Ed flashed me a non-familyfriendly hand gesture. 

SECOND HALF



Again we came out quick and hard against a battering opposition. We were let off when Kayleigh Green decided to shoot instead of pass a loose ball. The shot was wide but would have been just above Moorhouse’s fingertip reach. In general though, possession was ours and you could feel a goal was coming. 

A long ball by Kate Longhurst was caught by Simic, who ran up with the wing at blistering pace. She whipped in a clever cross for the fox in the box to latch on to. Jane Ross’s second goal in as many games, finally finding her form. 

1-0 West Ham. 

That goal kept us pushing, seeking a more decisive win. Close calls again from De Graaf and Lehman would have cemented it but 1-0 was to be the final score. 

Afterwards, we hung around to say goodbye to the players. 

Glenn, my goalkeeping coach friend, came over to say goodbye. Except this one was permanent. Having been snapped up by Dagenham and Redbridge, this was his last game. 

‘Here, I have something for you as a thank you for supporting the girls.’ He handed me his West Ham training shirt and hat. ‘Go on, you can have those.I think my smile was brighter than the Blackpool Illuminations. 

F3CFD5A9-386C-4317-AD1B-EFA1ACA969EF

Bri, Rosie and Julia came out to chat briefly. Bri gave me a hug and was asking about my recent travels. Julia, looked curiously at Bri and me all chummy, seemed to be wondering if I was safe. 

Hi, I am Julia! She thrusted out her hand for me to shake. 

Bri laughed ’Rather formal, isn’t she? Julia Simic, Official West Ham Ambassador!’ We learned that Julia’s English word of the day was Euphoric. This was after some general charades between the three players trying to work out what Julia has meant. 

Bri kindly updated  the others on my travels. Thanks, Bri saved me a job. I lamented that it was next week that was going to kill me. 
Rosie looked horrified that I was even considering Yeovil away. 
Yeah, I am trying to convince this one to come with me.I pointed to Ed. 

This led to a lot of Ed-badgering from the three players and another filthy look to me from Ed. 

Mate, I am going to be travelling for 31 hours over two days for this. You have no excuse. 

He couldn’t argue with that 


With that, we bid them farewell and headed to the station. And, as wonderful as South Africa had been, I had missed my football team much more

Next time, I am on a pilgrimage to the southwest, I make my longest journey to date and Mary Earps confirms that I am insane. 

Coyi