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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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’
’ No Stoney is alright, her and Kate got well when they both were at Liverpool’
’ 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.
* Yes I made a bad joke about Daylight Robbery and used two very out of date references.