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Tuesday, 19 June 2012

England Ladies v Holland Ladies

As most people with a pulse will know, we are currently halfway through the 2012 European football championship. As is the norm whenever there is a major football championship, English pride is at its peak.The pubs are packed, people who don't normally follow football are glued to matches such as the Czech Rep v Poland and debating who should be England's 3rd choice right back. Plus all the shops have stocked up with unofficial England "merchandise" (Or cheap England tat if you want my take on it) Face paint, red and white wigs; you get the drift.
Takeways and off licenses are also doing a roaring trade with my former Taekwondo sponsor the Retford Charcoal Grill in particular seeing an increase in business from all at Mind of an Imp HQ. Last night England recorded a fine 3-2 win over Sweden to give them a great chance of reaching the knock out phase of the competition. All of a sudden all the bitching about good old "Arry" not getting the England job seems to have disappeared.
The aftermath of England v Sweden at HQ

While the Mens side are away in Eastern Europe the Ladies side face a huge match in their quest to qualify for the 2013 Ladies European championship in Sweden. Group leaders the Netherlands were in town and before the game sat 5 points ahead of England having played one game more. Only one team qualifies automatically from the group, with the second placed side going into the playoffs. For England to have any real chance of winning the group they really needed to win this game. A draw here and a win for the Dutch in Serbia in their last group match, would see them win the group regardless of what England did in their remaining matches against Slovenia(A) and group whipping girls Croatia.(H)

The venue for today's encounter was the City of Salford stadium which is home to the Salford City Reds Rugby league side who currently sit 10th out of 14 teams in Superleague. The ground is a new stadium and was only opened for the start of the current season. I must admit that I was a tad surprised at the choice of venue. Not the area of the country that the game was being played in. I think it is great that the Ladies side play their matches around the country as it helps to promote and build the game and its about time that the North west got a piece of the action.
What I was surprised at was the FA's decision at choosing a rugby ground to host it when I am sure that the likes of Oldham, Stockport, Bury, and Rochdale would have jumped at the chance at hosting a match like this as it would have given one of them a shot in the arm when lower league football is really struggling. I like to see all levels of football helping each other out so in my view this was an opportunity lost. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the City of Salford stadium or that they didn't do a good job hosting the event, I just felt the FA missed a trick here in helping out lower league football. I wonder if the RFL will return the favour and play a Ladies rugby international match at Sincil Bank or Spotland in the future?
The big news to have come out of the England Ladies camp over the past couple of months has been the appointment of Lincoln Ladies captain Casey Stoney as full time England Captain after Faye White retired to start a family. In truth it wasn't a huge surprise as Casey was the Vice Captain before and has captained England in a number of occasions in the past during her 100 plus cap career. As a Lincoln fan its great to see one of our players given this honour and I am sure that she will be a fantastic Captain for England. For those reading this who haven't seen or heard her before i have dugout a fun interview she did at an England training camp when she was interviewed by fellow Lady Imp Jess Clarke and former Lady Imp Sue Smith.

It may not be the most serious interview the football world has ever seen but its a hell of alot more interesting than hearing the England Men's Captain good old  Stevie G droning on and on reeling out cliché after cliché in every press conference.
Casey wasn't the only Lady Imp on England duty today as fellow defender Sophie Bradley had also received a call up. I am pretty sure that Jess Clarke would have been in the squad (She has been in the last few and scored against Serbia last time out for England) but her injury sustained against Arsenal a few weeks ago put her out of contention for the squad for today's match and Tuesday's away game in Slovenia. I am sure England will want to get her back fit just as much as Lincoln do.

We had booked tickets for today's match a few weeks ago with the cost being a very reasonable £5.50. Today's game was also being screened live on BBC 2 which is another boost to the Ladies game. Although interest is nowhere near as big as it is in the Men's game, things like the BBC screening live games and the success of the WSL show to me that the Ladies game is moving in the right direction and interest is growing. Slowly but surely is the message.
Even with one or two hold ups and a 50 mile an hour stretch on the motorway we still managed to arrive about an hour and a half before kick off. One problem about these new stadiums is that they are often built in the middle of nowhere until other units, Pubs, and Fast food outlets etc. are built along side. Sadly this was the case here as there is very little around the stadium for adult fans to do (Go for a drink etc) The pubs i had been told about were a good 20 minute walk away which didn't seem very appealing.
It was a different story for younger fans and families as the FA and the WSL had really put on a great range of activities for kids to get involved with, ranging from a mini football game, face painting, and various football skill challenges. There were also a few stalls selling women's football magazines and other bits and bobs. The WSL League winners trophy was on display so it would have been rude not have had my picture taken with it wouldn't it?
 Lets hope its on its way to Lincoln in the not too distant future dressed in red, white, and black ribbons. All of this was a huge improvement on the last qualifier at Doncaster which had precisely nothing for the fans to do pre game. Its great to see stuff like this and although as a slightly overweight 33 year old male with no kids it wasn't really my scene, but its great to see the FA doing stuff like this to get kids into sport and make it a real day out for them. The weather was pretty good so it really was crying out for a fan's beer tent to be set up. Perhaps theme the beer to whoever was the opposition? The Dutch have a fine range of lagers that are perfect for afternoons like this. There you go FA, another idea for you to help market the game to fans.

Speaking of the Dutch, a small but very vocal group of their fans had made the trip to support their side and were milling around outside the ground before kick off. A few of their number were dressed in the traditional Dutch national team fans uniform. That being and all orange suit, fluffy clogs, and crazy head wear. In this case big fluffy lion's manes (Because of the lion on the Dutch FA's badge i assume) The outfit is completed with a Dutch national team scarf. They seemed very friendly and were happily posing for photos for people and chatting to fans in between chanting "Holland (Clap clap clap) Holland" and banging on various instruments. This was quite funny at first but quickly got a tad irritating. This is the first time i have ever seen anything like this at a football game. Its certainly not the kind of thing you see at Barrow away on a September evening. I didn't get a picture of them outside the ground but did take one of them with the England mascots inside the ground.
One thing that was proving to be quite elusive was the matchday programme, but after making a few enquiries we found that they were on sale from a small window next to where people were collecting their matchday tickets. It cost the standard £3 and was a decent read, as is the norm with England programmes.
Once inside the ground you find a tidy new style stadium. We were sat opposite the main stand which was larger than the stand we were sat in. At either end of the ground there are terraces although only the central bits of the terraces were open as the sides were covered with huge England banners. With it being a UFEA match no beer was on sale inside the ground. On the plus side this gave us chance to watch the sides warm up and it was noticeable that the Dutch were first out by a good ten minutes or so. Another noticeable feature was that we seemed to have ended up in the block of seats that the majority of Dutch fans had bought tickets for. Cue more chanting and instrument playing. They did add a bit of colour and atmosphere to the day but we decided to move once the game kicked off to save our ear drums slightly. Its good though to see that rival football fans can sit together and have a bit of banter without kicking seven bells out of each other.
England started the match with a defence made in Lincoln as Sophie Bradley lined up alongside skipper Casey Stoney. Given that England had to win tonight i was surprised to see that it was the Dutch who settled first and looked a bit sharper than England on the ball. Given what was at stake its perhaps not a surprise that neither side dominated or carved out many clear cut chances. England were looking dangerous on the counter attack and saw a great chance go begging when Eniola Aluko ran clear with the ball but elected to shoot when a better option (in my view) would have been to have passed to the unmarked Jill Scott to her left. Scott was playing a bit further forward than she did in the last game v Serbia and was causing plenty of trouble with her height
At the other end the Dutch fans thought their side had taken the lead but thankfully from a England fans
perspective Manon Milis' shot hit the side netting. Chances-wise that was pretty much for the first half.
 The Dutch would have been happy with the way that they went about their work. England had been disappointing and i am sure Hope Powell; the England boss, would be eager for her side to up their work rate. About 10 minutes or so before halftime i snuck off to sample the food on offer. For £2.80 i bagged a hotdog that was different in the respect that it had two smaller sausages in it instead of one long one. It was pretty average stuff and not a patch on the splendid tucker served up by the Lady Imp caterers.
England looked like they had a wake up call in the dressing room at halftime as they looked a much better side in the second half and put the Dutch on the back foot right from the off. England had let the Dutch settle in the first half but they didn't repeat this mistake again. England won a free kick in a decent position but Rachel Yankee only managed to fire the freekick into the wall. Moments later England had their best chance of the game when Steph Houghton broke free but the Keeper was smartly off her line to smother the ball and just beat the England player to the ball.
Shortly after England were awarded another freekick in a similar position to the last one. As Yankee again lined it up i commented to my travelling companion that she couldn't do any worse than she did with the last one. Just as i said that she went and unleashed a fantastic shot right into the top corner which gave the Dutch keeper no chance.
1-0 England with 67 minutes gone.
Now it was the Dutch who needed the result and they had a great chance to draw level when one of their wingers sent in a curling cross that struck the inside post but thankfully the ball bounced back into the arms of  England keeper Rachel Brown before the on rushing Dutch players could pounce. That was pretty much the Dutch's only real effort as England's backline stayed pretty strong and it wasn't until injury time that Brown had a save of note to make when she had to hold on to a 20 yard thunderbolt.
It had been a game of few chances but the win for England was huge. Qualification for Euro 2013 is now in their own hands as two wins against Slovenia away (Live on the FA website) and Croatia at home in September will be enough to send them to Sweden as group winners.
As for the Dutch. Well its the playoffs for them but they could console themselves with the fact that they did actually gain some points in this group. Unlike their male counterparts over at Euro 2012. As of yet no venue has been decided for the last home match of the group against Croatia but i am hoping that its a London venue so i can take a couple of days off for it and be able to sink a few beers pre match. :)

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