Up with the larks once again, heading to the west of the country this time for the away game at Bristol City. Despite the ever looming final approaching this week was still quite important. Bristol were directly ahead of us in the table but this was their final game of the season. The official final game in May would be Bristol’s buy week due to the league being odd. If we beat Bristol today we could overtake them if we won our final game against Brighton.
I was staying with a friend who had gallantly offered to get up to see me off when I left on Sunday. This was quickly retracted when I announced that I would be getting up at 5 to be on my coach at half 6. Instead she left me with the makings a good breakfast and cup of tea to set me up on my way. Greatly appreciated as it meant I did not have to grace Maccy’s with my presence and I could be slightly more healthy then my usual double Hash brown bagel.
I had never been to Bristol before and this trip was going to be slightly different than the others for two reasons. One the Stoke Gifford stadium was actually pretty easy to get to unlike the myriad of other women’s stadium. No dodgy transport systems I had to try and navigate, less chance of me getting lost. Then again this is me, with my sense of direction I could have huge neon signs lighting my path and I would still end up turning down a dark alley convinced I was going the right way.
Secondly I actually had built in some breathing space between arriving in Bristol and having to make my way to the ground so I had some time to kill to explore this new city. Guys and gals and all in between, I was actually going to see more than motorways and a non-league football ground. :O
The coach to Bristol was quite uneventful, however I still couldn’t escape the dreaded M6 but this time when we went past the Walsall FC Bescot stadium halfway point, we were going to take a different turning which sad me was quite excited by. The route to Bristol is slightly odd in the fact once you leave Birmingham instead of jumping back on a motorway, you end up going through a lot of suburbia culminating into go through a very well to do housing estate which I am sure its wealthy residents truly appreciate. The common people traipsing through their nice neighbourhood on a bright blue bus, clutching of pearls at dawn.
Arriving in ‘Brizzle’ (seriously Bristol just no) I set about finding something to do. As I wondered around the city I came to a conclusion, in that Bristol is slightly bizarre. Not the people but the layout, there is no direct centre in Bristol like in the other cities I had been to. Birmingham has the Bullring, Reading has the shopping district. Granted all centre points were based on commerce but at least it gives you some sense of navigation. Bristol looks like a town planner got bored and decided to just randomly plot points on a map and/or the city was too polite to ask what were they thinking. A complete emperor’s new clothes scenario. Due to poor planning on my part, this meant I had to trek twice to Bristol station which is rather out of town. I am sure if you live in this great city, you learn to love it. Nonetheless dear friends it confused my poor sleep deprived brain and I just ended up wanting a sit down. Maybe this why I usually only ever see motorways and the grounds I travel to, it is all that my brain can piece together in it jumbled state. I therefore found refuge in the local greasy spoon and spent my sightseeing time nursing a veggie fry up and a good cup of builders tea. Yes I had two breakfasts don’t judge ;).
Heading back up the hill to Bristol Temple Meads, this intrepid adventurer was ready to go shout on her team in the ferocious heat. But first I had to get there. I had been informed by those who had been here before that it was impossible to get lost. That you went Bristol Parkway station turn left and just keep going. Ten minute walk at that and you would be there. Now dear readers why does my brain see that as a challenge. I managed the first two parts successfully, but I ended up walking far too far and ended up in popular supermarkets car park. For those keeping tally that is the third time this season. One intentional (Yeovil) and one was not (Everton). So two for three in me being an idiot. In my defence the ground was hidden behind a very modern school with an even more modern sports hall. That and I got distracted by the West Ham team bus which I was sure would lead me to where I needed to be. My error was I was following the bus AFTER they had dropped the team off, I am more than a little special.
Bristol City’s ground is another little bizarre ground just like Aston Villa’s. Because they wanted it to be a an all-purpose ground for the local universities and schools it’s a hodge podge of everything. So I found myself walking on to a running track, around the temporary players tunnel trying to find some fellow Hammers. My usual gang would not be around due to various prior commitments. Most noble so I could forgive them, Ed had gone to see Millwall which I could not. Whilst on my search, I heard a shout of Hello and then a oof some little arms squeezing the life out of me. I looked down at the small blonde person in a West Ham shirt who was staring up at me. No its wasn’t Bri our number 15 (sorry Bri) but one of the twins I had met at the Birmingham game. Their dad had been kind enough to take my Ellen White photo for me and his daughters clearly remembered me from then. Hello to you too random human. Having now found my new tribe I stood with them.
West Ham’s squad was a bit depleted, Anna Moorhouse’s suspension meant we didn’t have a spare goalie. Kate our fiery number 12 had picked up another yellow card in the Brum (Birmingham for none UK readers) game. Meaning she was now suspended for one game. To be fair that actually worked out in her favour as it meant she could join her family in cheering sister on the London marathon. ( For those interested Lauren ran it in 3 hrs and 4 mins which both phenomenal and insane.) Plus a couple of players had picked up a couple niggling injuries which Matt was keen to not aggravate. One glaring admission on the squad list was that Gilly our captain, who had so far played every minute was on the bench. My new friend turned to me with a little concern
‘She’s not injured is she, last thing we need before the final’
I shake my head and whisper above prying ears
‘Nah Gill is on too many yellow cards, one more and she will be suspended and that game will be the final. He is making sure she doesn’t do something daft and go after one of the Bristol forwards whilst trying to clear the ball.’
He nods and starts talking to his girls, who are really excited about maybe meeting Anna this week, who was understandably too upset last week. Anna had travelled up to help with Becky’s warm up and gladly came over to talk to the excited eight year olds next to me. As she was signing their stuff I took the opportunity to ask the question we had all been wondering.
‘Here Anna, any word on the ban’ She looks up and smiles ‘ Just the one’ The silent end of that sentence for us both was thank god. The little ones seemed excited too as they told her that meant she would definitely be in the final. Anna laughed and said only if she was picked by Matt but the small humans were convinced there was no other choice.
The twins were also excited to see Raff and squealed when she waved back. She then sees me and waves at me too, I manage to hold back the squeal. Raff looked up at me again and asked if I knew the Chelsea score. The former champions were playing Lyon in the champions league. Once a blue eh Raff. She asked me to keep her updated at half time. I indicated I would and she ran off down the tunnel to get ready. I suddenly felt very hot, like I was being watched. I look down and see two sets very intent eyes staring back at me. Mouths agape.
What do you want small humans? ( Comment from the proof reader, Small humans – and you stand how tall?. A lofty 163 cm which is 5ft 4 in old money I will have you know.)
Their dad laughed and told me they were in awe at the normalcy of my conversation with Raff. Well kids players are people too, speaking of said players were coming out the tunnel/ gate thing and away we go.
We have a small squad size, see above about the depletion, so when we have one commanding person missing you feel it. When we have a few missing, it’s like we are different squad. Having both Gilly and Kate out, and Anna not controlling the back line we felt a little rudderless, toothless even . Jane Ross had been designated captain for this game in Gilly’s absence but even though she is a passionate player she is very quiet. The same goes for Becky, who whilst an excellent goalkeeper isn’t as vocal at where she needs her players which can lead to miscommunication and preventable errors. One breath of fresh air to hear was Ria Percival, our number two on the wing take charge. Another player who can silent but deadly, really showed why she is one of New Zealand’s national team stalwarts in this game.
One benefit if you will of how Bristol City have their pitch set up is you are VERY close the pitch and you can hear every conversation the players are having. Bristol’s number 10 was getting very aggravated with the defensive game we seemed to have found ourselves in. After another ball went out for a throw in she vented this frustration vocally by uttering the F word quite loudly.
The two little girls next to me seemed rather scandalised and turned to their dad with pure shock on their faces.
‘ Dad she said the F word’
Their dad laughed ‘ Yeah she said football, that’s all loves. She said football.’
The blonde one of the two looked at her dad incredulously ‘She did not’
We did seem to run the game this half, despite who and what we were lacking. Both Ria and Dri Leon, our Canadian hero made fine work of ruling the wing. We also had the fire power of Raff and Brooke our number four to help Becky out in our defensive half. Up front we did have some chances but Sophie Baggley, Bristol’s goal keeper was very quick to snuff them out. Sophie has had a blinder of a season for Bristol and has managed to keep clean sheets against some of the big boys including holding Manchester City to two draws which some argue cost them the title. Kiernan and Visalli both were trying a few tricks and flicks in the midfield but Bristol had a slight height advantage and they couldn’t quite play Rossy through. Overall it was a rather frustrating half. You can see that Gilly was itching to get in there but you could also see that Matt had no intention of risking it.
Raff came running over to check the Chelsea score and gave me a hug as thanks. I spent this half talking to my new friend about his love for West Ham and how he was trying to instill this into his kids. It reminded me so much of mum trying to do this with me and I felt a small pang of nostalgia. I also pitied the youngsters who didn’t realise the years of suffering they were about to endure. Being a West Ham fan is not for the faint hearted.
I didn’t need to tell Raff the end result as the look on her face told me she had seen that Chelsea had been narrowly beaten by Lyon and were not making the final. We slowly took to the field and prepared to do battle once again. We fought hard right off the bat but we were still being sloppy. Thank god for for Bri who managed to fend off the advancing Bristol forwards. As with most West Ham games it is always the chances we couldn’t quite put away that punish us the most. To quote the comedy legend Jaspar Carrott ‘ if it had gone in the back of the net it would have been a goal.
Around the 55 minute mark Bristol brought on Heather Payne who made an almost instantaneous impact. Moving forward at pace she managed to slip around Becky and shoot home. Conflicting reports about who the goal should be attributed to. Whether it was all on Payne or if it was nudged in accidentally by Raff. Either way we were on the back foot.
1-0 to the Vixens.
The wind was taken out of our sails for the next ten minutes with our midfield doing damage control, from a revived Bristol squad. Thankfully we managed to pull ourselves together and five minutes later we had our equaliser. Brianna punted a ball up field and found Alisha Lehman. The Swiss international tried to turn a shot off but was blocked by Baggley, she then found Leanne with the rebound whose first shot was blocked but second times the charm and slipped through with a close range shot from the centre of the box.
1-1 and we were back in the game.
We fought hard then seemingly buoyed by the this sudden turn of fortune and we kept pushing for the win. With Jane Ross hitting a shot just wide over the top cross bar we were getting close.
Just before the end of the normal time, Brianna pinged a cross in from the left flank. Captain for the day Jane Ross leapt high and headed the ball into the top right corner. Bristol looked devastated but we had just clinched the double over them.
1-2 to the girls in claret and blue.
That’s how it ended a victory which will fill us with hope for the cup final.
After the match me and my new found friends waited to clap our players off. Raff came over and gave the girls a high five which I think probably made their year. Raff did not seem impressed with the quality West Ham had shown in game, being very critical of their performance. However not all victories are beautiful, some are hard fought, ground out and ugly. A victory is a victory is a victory.
Brooke and Bri came and spoke to us and I had a quick chat with them both. Brooke bee-lining for me and giving me a bear hug telling me she knew who I was as I was there week in and week out. I nod, yup that’s me.
‘ Are your parents coming over for the final’. Brooke nodded ‘ I think they booked flights as soon as Cho’s penalty went in. I smile remembering how infectious their enthusiasm.
‘ I sat with them at Reading, they are very proud of you’. Brooke looked slightly horrified, ‘ I am so sorry you had to go through that.
After her substitutes warm down Gilly came over and chatted about the upcoming final. Suddenly one of the little girls tugged on Gilly’s sleeve.
‘Gilly can I ask you a question’
Gilly looks down and smiles ‘ Of course you can mate.‘
‘ Why do you keep getting Yellow cards’
Me and their dad shared a look, turns out little ears were listening to our conversation.
Bless Gilly she took it in her stride.‘ You know why because Refs are silly that’s why‘. Cheers for that Gil
Our final conversation was with Jane Ross who seemed engrossed in conversation with her Scottish team mate. A few failed attempts to get her attention needed when the two twins screamed for her to come over. Note to self if you want to talk to more players have two cute kids with you, works like a charm.
Just as I was leaving I ran back into Leanne’s mum and had a wonderful catch up. I loved hearing how much Leanne was enjoying her time with us and that was considering herself a Hammer now, also her friendship with Kate which was making her mother beam with pride.
With that I bid everyone adieu as I tried to not get lost again back to the station to make my way home. I just about managed it ;).
Next time it Final time, we had to Wembley we have an interloper in our midst and our captain renders Crick speechless.