Remember, all that time ago when we played Reading away. How I was grateful that it was in Reading and not their usual home ground. Guess who jinxed themselves and now had to try and get to High Wycombe?
West Ham had got the draw we had all wanted. Reading was never going to easy by any means but we had set the precedent of beating them before. On the other hand, the magic of the FA Cup could prevail.
An even earlier start for me and I was up and out the door by half 5. Quick pit stop for the traditional Maccys breakfast and I was ready to begin my day. The day was definitely going to be a case of planes, trains, and, automobiles to get to the home of Wycombe Wanderers.
First up a coach to Birmingham ( here’s hoping it’s more successful than last time). Then a quick sprint to Moor Street to make the connecting train.
Luckily as it was not St. Patrick’s day we actually made into Birmingham early which meant I could get an early train. This gave me time to catch up on the twitter drama of the morning.
Our game was the early kick off with the Manchester City v Chelsea game on at 3 pm. A careless BBC pundit had made the statement that whilst admiral that both Reading and West Ham have made a semi-final. The ‘Real’ final would be the match at 3 pm. This, as you can expect, did not go down very well with our lot. Especially Raff who had to go to Twitter to vent her frustrations.
This kind of thinking is something I am very passionate about. In fact, I have written a whole blog post about it. (insert link) But in summary, it’s becoming very clear that in media circles unless you are ‘top three’ nobody cares. Which was evident during the Lionesses half time show. A 3-minute feature on the Manchester City/ Chelsea semifinal match with Jill Scott and Keira Walsh. We got to learn all about what they thought of Jill scoring against them and what Steph Houghton’s ownership of the captaincy has spurred them on. Riveting stuff ?.
But Hammers and Royals fans do not fret, we were not forgotten. Thanks, Gabby Logan for 30 seconds of remembering there was another match the same day. You know the earlier one which had been shoved on the red button. Tell you what for viewing figures we will call the Manchester City/ Chelsea game a tie and they can just replay that one at Wembley. Since that’s the match everyone wants to see. Insert eye roll.
SIDENOTE: It was pointed out to me that this feature was done as there were only players from the second semi-final in the England squad. Pretty sure Jade Moore was playing and also even more sure she plays at Reading. ?♀️
One positive from Raff’s tweet is it seemed to unite fans of the four teams. All acknowledging it wasn’t fair, hopefully, the BBC and other media outlets take note.
Thanks to Megabus and Chilterns punctuality and eagerness, I arrived into High Wycombe with plenty of time to spare. Having only seen the ‘Spoons on my previous visit I took the time to explore as I had half an hour to kill till the next the bus. I always thought Wycombe was fancy. Turns out it’s a real student town with newsagents selling Glenn’s vodka for 6 quid and four pizza places within a 3-minute walk of each other.
It does, however, have a really nice Starbucks with overly friendly staff who were far too perky to someone who had been up since 4 am.
Now fully caffeinated and only slightly jittery I made my way to get my bus. There were a few Hammers waiting as well and we all piled on together. Conversation turned to what fans would do if we got to the final as it clashes with the final home game of the Men’s season.
I can’t believe this is actually a dilemma for some people. Gee let me think, watch us play for nothing against a relegation addled Southampton in a bog standard league match Or go to a Wembley final? Not Hard.
As we approach the ground we reach my first issue of the day. Spoiler Alert there would be many. I had pre-booked my ticket to make sure I could get in. West Ham dutifully sent me a ticket envelope, all nice and printed. However, inside there was an address ticket and nothing else. Typical West Ham ?. So I had to find a kindly steward to let me in.
This was easier said than done. Sure the stewards were very kind and very helpful. Expect none of them knew what I was supposed to do. I was sent from pillar to post, ticket office to reception. I just wanted in!!
Finally, a ticket office clerk took pity on this very put out and flustered West Ham fan and let me in with proof of purchase. I was however in the wrong end. I could see the Claret and Blue army and they were down the bottom. So off I trot to my people.
’ you can’t go down there, its for prepaid only’ a voice called after me. A less than friendly Reading steward.
’ No I am prepaid, I just had ticket issues’
’ prepaid only, you can so sit in the neutral end over there with the day tickets.
Ok two problems with that.
One: I am pre-paid so I should be with the West Ham lot.
Two: this neutral end has A LOT of Reading fans in it. Yeah that weren’t happening.
When she was distracted by another fan, I bombed it passed her. This happened once more when Emma arrived late and couldn’t get down to our end. Again the old bait and switch, when the steward was distracted.
My mother who is an ex-football steward was not impressed with my antics when I relayed this story. Sorry, I understand respect the law of the stewards but mother needs must.
Finally in the right end I meet up with the West Ham gang including about 10 members of the Longhurst family. 800 strong in the Claret and Blue end. Ready to cheer our little hearts out. The nerves were definitely kicking in.
Reading were hungry for the game from the offset. Fara Williams shot a somewhat ambitious ball from outside the box within the first 15 mins. Thankfully this was comfortably saved by Anna. Another Reading push for goal thankfully snuffed out by a great challenge by Claire Rafferty.
This seemed to wake us up and we started to have the lions share of possession. A very ambitious overhead kick from Brooke Hendrix in the box didn’t quite pay off, almost Brooke you could have been our Pele. Then 5 minutes later Leanne cut back behind the Reading defence but her effort was blocked by the last remaining defender.
The last chance of the half was ours with Gilly hitting the crossbar with a thundering bullet at pace.
We end the half 0-0
The main topic of conversation was definitely the referee at half time. Firstly I would like to say I know who would be a referee. They can’t do right for doing wrong. However, this one was dire. Every little flinch a Reading player tried to sell he bought which ended up in a lot of free kicks for them. In very dangerous places. Keep the Ref issues in mind folks as they will resurface later in this post.
I wanted us to come out this half all guns blazing. Instead it was Reading who lept out the gates first. A cross came to Rachel Furness whose header smashed into the top right corner.
0-1 to the Royals.
Credit to West Ham fans though as we didn’t stop singing, chanting or cheering. But you hear the bite of nerves with it. 40 mins to turn it around.
Beardy had brought Brianna Visalli on, a move welcomed by most West Ham fans. Pacy in midfield she was turning most of the Reading players over, getting into pockets of space which seemed impossible to the mere mortal.
Come the 60 minute mark it proved the right decision. Failure to clear from the Reading defenders meant the ball fell to Bri’s feet. Unable to get the shot off her self, she managed a quick pass to Lehman who toe-poked the ball into the bottom right corner. To be honest the goalkeeper should of got to it, but Reading’s misfortune was our favour. Our stand erupted.
1-1 Game on. GAME ALL THE WAY ON.
The joyful feeling didn’t last very long. Gilly our fearless leader was deemed to have handled the ball in the area and Reading got a penalty. With Fara Williams stepping up this was not going to be pretty. Fara doesn’t miss penalties, Fara doesn’t miss… and its hit the left hand post. The rebound quickly cleared by our defence. Still 1-1! I think my heart stopped beating for a few moments.
Both sides tried to push for the winner but it proved a more challenging task then first anticipated.
It was scrappy but it was looking more and more like this game was going to extra time. Jane Ross’s header couldn’t quite connect with the ball properly and it went wide.
Just before the whistle, Kate Longhurst goes down with an abominable tackle by Jade Moore. Yellow for Moore and the sidelines for Kate for treatment. There is something painful in watching a player go down, something even more painful watching with said players family. According to Raff the first thing Kate said was she could not miss the final, of that she was determined. Luckily Kate dusted herself off and got back into it. I am sure Geoff would say she gets her resilience from him.
6 minutes of injury time and still no team could find the decisive winner. Fara gets the ball and its just her and Moorehouse. We are gonna concede here I feel it. Some call it pessimism, I call it being a West Ham fan. No Fara shoots wide! Extra time was beckoning. It’s a miracle I had any finger nails left.
FIRST HALF E.T
As throughout the game Reading had the most chances, so they take hold of the game. The players look furious with themselves mostly not putting it to bed earlier. Lauren Burton this time on the attack, in the box and dummy passes to, well no one and it goes out for West Ham throw.
Brianna takes hold of the ball and shoots but it amounts to nothing. Both teams are desperate to avoid penalties. It’s getting heated and short tempered. If I am honest Reading had the better chances. They also had the better penalty shout with Raff clattering into Jo Potter with a kick to the face, totally accidental but Jo is now out for the rest season with a facial fracture. Later tweeting she has had to have a metal plate implanted in her orbital bone.
Sidenote: When I told this story to one of my Man City friends Pete , he looked shocked it hadn’t been Kate. See Ms Longhurst your reputation precedes you. I blame your father ;).
Gemma Davidson has been subbed on for Reading and West Ham fans groan.
’Gemma Davidson is not a player you want coming on with fresh legs at this stage’ Emma sighed and we all nodded in agreement.
Case and point said player smashes the ball at Anna who makes a heart-stopping save. The resulting corner gets swung in. Looks like a Reading head got a touch to it but it’s CLEARED OFF THE LINE. Thank God Raff was in the right place at the right time.
E.T HALF TIME
The tension at Adams Park is palpable. We have 15 mins to avoid the dreaded penalty shootout. We all can’t really talk we just look at each other. It shouldn’t matter this much, its just a game of football but it really really does.
E.T SECOND HALF
If the game was hot-headed before this half was positively volcanic. Both sides did not want to go to penalties. Every decision was contested every minor infraction blew up. Players were tired and tempers were fraying. Leon wins a free kick in a pivotal area but tiredness wins out and she skies it.
The main fight seems to be in the midfield with players flying in all directions.
Three minutes from time, Reading make a break for it. Sprinting down the wing they aim one on one with the keeper. Out of nowhere Gilly flies into the box and slides into the Reading player. It’s not a good tackle, its a one leg out trip them up tackle. The ball trickles out of play. It’s a penalty, we all know its a penalty the look of horror on Gilly’s face says she knows its a penalty. Anna steels herself knowing it’s a penalty. You know who doesn’t know its a penalty. The referee who signals for a goal kick having deemed Gilly to have not touched it. The relief clearly runs across Gilly’s face. An expression that says, got away with that one. Remember when I said about bad reffing decisions. I will take that one.
Brianna gets the last touch of the game and it does straight to the Reading keeper Grace Maloney.
The whistle blows and the ground goes eerie. Penalties it is. Our stomachs drop, this not the way to go out.
Some of our group had to go, with transport connections to make. Technically I did too but I couldn’t leave now.
Reading are first up. Having subbed off Fara in the extra time it will be interesting who is in their line.
Gemma Davidson steps up, no hesitation bottom left corner.
Next up is Jane Ross for West Ham. Again no hesitation bang top right-hand corner.
West Ham ✅
Second pen Honnudottir misses, skying the ball into the row z of the stand. West Ham should capitalise on this.
West Ham ✅
Visalli up next and she miss kicked and it was an easy save for Moloney
West Ham ✅❌
Lauren Bruton steps up to take her pen and slips over in her run-up. Her effort trickles to Moorhouse who gathers with ease.
West Ham ✅❌
Adriana Leon hits low and the ball skips past Moloney. West Ham LEAD.
West Ham ✅❌✅
Fourth penalty. The pressure is on Reading to score. Rachel Furness strolls up and shoots low and right. Just out of Anna’s reach and we are back level.
West Ham ✅❌✅
Kate steps and we all take a deep breath. She looks like she is about to bury right but changes her mind and goes central. Moloney senses the shift and its an easy save. West Ham lose the advantage. If you think it’s hard watching your team taking penalties, again try watching it with one of the player’s families and they miss.
’that’s it I am never going to one of her games again’ Lauren Kate’s sister declares. Me and Geoff share a look and I feel sick again.
West Ham ✅❌✅❌
Fifth penalty: after this its sudden death.
Up comes Remy Allen, a fearsome player who once told my mate to eff off when disagreed with a foul call.
Good run up and bangs it home in the left hand corner of the net. Reading lead again.
West Ham ✅❌✅❌
It’s all down to captain fantastic Gilly to keep us in the game. Deep breath and places the ball on the spot. Bang bottom right-hand corner, no messing about. Sudden Death it is.
West Ham ✅❌✅❌✅
Sixth penalty and Reading choose their captain Jade Moore. Pretty consistent player who has just been recalled to England. She goes left but so does Anna and with a diving save pushes the ball out. It’s not a great penalty but also what a great save. We could actually do this.
West Ham ✅❌✅❌✅
Cho, the South Korean captain is up. The smile on her face shows she knows what to do. We all hold our breath. I can’t look my face buried into Emma’s shoulder. Ball down and BANG top left corner past the keeper. We have done it. We have only gone and bloody done it.
West Ham ✅❌✅❌✅✅
The roar from both the players and the fans is deafening. I look at Geoff again and we both are crying. Not for long as Emma grabs me into a bear hug.
’ we are going to Wembley we are actually going to Wembley’
The players all run to Cho expect for Kate who runs towards us. Clearly feeling the same emotion as her dad. Us fans haven’t stopped singing, cheering and chanting. I think the shock hasn’t sunk in yet. The Reading players look devastated as this was closest they had come in a long time.
West Ham make their way over to us all. To celebrate with us. We reward them with a deafening rendition of blowing bubbles and Que Sera Sera. Anna celebrates by picking up Bri and practically throwing her in the air. Poor Bri they do pick on her due to her size. She did, however, prove she knew the words to bubbles. See interview
Making my way down to the hoardings, I was treated to warm welcome by Pauline aka Mrs. Raff. Both of us in a state of disbelief at what had happened. Raff soon joined us to celebrate, her sister Charlotte was winding her up about not taking a penalty.
’hey I volunteered to go sixth’ Raff said indignantly then grinned ’ but I also said who wants to go before I am willing to step back.
Side note: when relaying this story to Gilly, she burst out laughing.
’Mate, Raff put herself like 11th. I think even Anna was before her in the lineup. ’ oh Raff those are some demons you need to exorcise .
Mrs. Raff was more concerned about the fact I did not have a way to go home since I had no chance of getting my coach. Meh, I will figure something when I get Brum. I managed to grab Kate and Bri both so excited and hugged me as soon as they saw me. Both lamented on the missed penalties but you couldn’t shake the pride beaming from them. Though Bri was slightly concerned at again I had no way of getting home.
’ you need to learn to drive, save you all sorts of bother.’ I would but trust me Bri I would be a menace on the road.
As I was making my way to see Gill, I felt myself get pulled into the biggest hug. Alarmed I looked up and did not recognise the woman hugging me. Ah well, this is awkward. That was until she spoke.
’ we did it, we actually did it, they are going to final’ she said hugging me tighter, with the thickest Irish accent. Oh she was Leanne, our number 8’s, mother. I don’t know if she thought I was her daughter’s teammate, had seen me about around the ground or was just overcome with emotion. But I will take it, I needed the hug.
Bear hugging our skipper as words would not come out. Standing with Gilly’s dad, you could feel the pride radiate out. He was also was very concerned with getting into hospitality.
’Just go to reception and tell them you’re West Ham and they will let you in. A life long Millwall fan he looked horrified at the thought.
’ I will not’ and he skulked off to find a different way in.
Finally, we took pity on the stewards and left with the lofty dreams of Wembley. My mother who had been watching from home texted me asking of she could come to the final. Mum was actually going forgo a West Ham men’s match in order to come to our final. Progress I feel has been made.
Still the question begged how was I going to get home. Thankfully, Cross Country have had the wonderful marketing ploy of making their advance tickets available up until 20 mins before the train was due to leave. So I just had to wait at Birmingham new street until a cheap one emerged. With a beer and pasta, I was living life.
Finally, I was on my way to the land of nod with the dreams of Wembley filling my head.
Also, for those who might be interested, the ’final’ semi-final ended in a 1-0 win for Manchester City after an last minute own goal from Chelsea. So we clearly had the more interesting game. Ah well.
Next time its heart vs well heart as I need to decide how much I actually like Ellen White and I have a very pricey selfie.