Monday, 30 December 2013

2013 and all that.

Some great memories from 2013
Hi guys, sorry i have been away for so long. I have really missed doing this blog and writing about a range of sports but i have been a tad busy with other exciting stuff that has really been a drain on my time since August when i got back from the States. My new years resolution however is to start writing on here again, covering the same old tripe that i use to and maybe some more stuff as well.

I normally hate the kind of article that i am about to write now, but after a fantastic 2013 for me in the world of sports media i really feel as if i have to, because this year has been a pretty crazy one for me and i would love to share my experiences with you all and mention some special people who I need to give a huge thank you. First up is Lindsey whose many hours of spell checking allows me to produce content in the first place, thanks for your help Linz.

As most of you know over the past two years or so i have been slowly but surely been getting more and more into women's football, and i have spend a huge amount of time writing about it and following Lincoln Ladies and creating the fans blog; which i thoroughly enjoyed.  I feel very privileged to have written it, and meet some truly great people along the way, and it was this that got me into writing and becoming a fan of the female game. I am very proud that the club posted them on their website and people really seemed to enjoy them. At the time it was the only fan club blog in the FAWSL and although now there are a few more (and much better and detailed ones it has to be said) Its always nice to be the first. It's is hard to pick out one blog that i enjoyed the most but i really did enjoy the trip this year to Bristol in the League when Bristol won 2-1. For me however, the real highlight of the year on the blog was getting former Lincoln keeper Nic Hobbs to do an interview for the site before the match with her current club Doncaster. This was the first interview with a player that i have ever done and Nic was a total star.
View from covering England v Wales at Millwall.

In April i received a message that really changed my writing focus and presented an exciting opportunity. I was offered the chance to cover and report on the England International v Canada in Rotherham for Sports International magazine from the pressbox. As you can imagine this was a pretty big deal for me and to say i was excited was an understatement. The whole day was fantastic, and as the year went on i covered the Women's FA cup final, 2 England friendlies, two women's World Cup qualifiers and the UEFA under 17 final between Germany and Spain, so in other words some pretty big games. I felt very humbled to be offered the chance to work for the magazine and it has been a very interesting journey, transferring my blogging style into one of a serious reporter. There is still a hell of alot that i can improve on but i like to think that we give a balanced and honest view on the matches. I can't really thank editor Myak Homberger for giving me the chance to work for the magazine. We have lots of exciting plans for 2014 in the magazine and i for one can't wait for the new year to come. It is a huge honour to work for a magazine like this and i am very proud to be a part of it.

Jill Scott and an overweight reporter.
The second major project that i have been involved with this year was helping to becoming the co-founder and joint host of the Women's World Football show podcast/Internet radio show. (Whichever name you prefer to use, the both mean the same thing) 

Now this kind of thing is something that i have been interested in and thinking about doing for over a year now. The reason? I have always felt that that there was a huge gap in the market for a radio show that covers women's football WORLDWIDE, with people running it located around the world so that they can give a feel of what's actually happening on the ground. I know from my experience of travelling to America that you can read about sports, culture, and politics etc in another country, but until you visit you never really understand different countries, so its far easier to let somebody who lives in that country cover their country's sports.

The chance to work on this came totally out of the blue. I like to share other people's written articles on twitter etc and it was through this process that i was approached by Patty LaBella over in California. Patty's vision for the show was very similar to what i had in mind so it was a pretty easy decision to say yes to this.
After deciding to work on this plenty of questions started to race through my head, the first thing we had to decide on was the name. In the end seeing how our main aim was to spread the game to people worldwide we decided on the Women's World Football show. For me the key word in the title is WORLD. We aim to look at the game from all angles, chat about it, and give people from all over the world the platform to share their experiences of the game. Quite a few shows just use the word world in their title as a kind of status symbol but for us it means we want to highlight different leagues and national teams and show how the game is growing. Obviously we can't do this in every show but if you look at shows in blocks then i think we stay true to our vision.

Another thing we had to decide is what the presenting style was going to be. Again we agreed that it had to be fun and relaxed and not fall into the trap so many other podcast/radio host fall into and try to be the next *insert ESPN/Sky Sports/whatever sports host you want* I believe the main reason people like reading the blogs i have been doing over the years is my fun, down to earth style. Sports should be fun, an escape away from the boredom of everyday life and that's what i try to make it.
Another thing we felt was important was to be open to people. I have over the past few years, tweeted several sports radio hosts, some answer questions and take time to chat to people, whether they agree with you or not. While others only seem to reply if your profile pic is rather attractive, if you are complimenting their work, or if you are saying something nice and easy to answer about their city or the sports teams they cover. Quite often it is the second lot of folks whose shows don't tend to stay the course, and while they last tend to "give it large" about themselves and their shows. If i ever end up like this then please, please slap me around the face with a wet fish.

Pretty early on i decided i wasn't going to listen to any other football podcasts before doing our first 20 or so shows simply because i didn't want to be influenced by whatever other people were doing and start comparing us to them. I have since listened to quite a few American podcast/intertnet radio shows alas only a couple on soccer to get a view of how we are doing time and quality wise. Having done this i think we are in a pretty good place at this stage of our development. I still don't compare us to other shows in our market or worry about what other people are doing. I would rather concentrate my time on my work for Sports International and this show. And of course the odd trip to games and the pub.

One of the advantages of working as part of a team in two different time zones (there is an 8 hour time difference between the two "studios") Is that we can reply to tweets almost 24 hours a day. The way we both look at it is if somebody can take the time to tweet us then its only right we tweet them back. It may not be instant but we really do enjoy interacting with our growing group of listeners. The fact that so many people take the time to contact us is huge boost to both if us. I have always felt that people commenting on, sharing, and favoriting articles is far more rewarding that simple viewing figures and i hold the same view when it comes to the show, although  its great to see listening figures growing show after show.

Show mascot Barry the Beaver out and about.
I know everybody says this at this time of year but we have some really exciting stuff planed for early next year. We have a a few guests already lined up and we already have a good group of team experts happy to come on and chat about their respective sides in the FAWSL/NWSL before the two leagues kick off. The fact that people have asked us to come on (and we are very happy they did) is another sign that the show is on the right track. We also have a fantastic give away lined up that we feel very humbled to be asked to do.

Speaking of thanks i need to say thanks to Patty. Quite simply she is the brains behind the show. Its Patty who first had the idea for the show and ask me to come on board. Once the show is recorded its Patty who edits it so that you guys can listen to it and takes out all the goofs. It is also Patty who designed and runs the websites. I couldn't do the show without her where as i am sure she could get another Adam to do the show with. I would like to say i am the poster boy and eye candy on the show... But i know you guys all know that's maybe not quite the case.

Before i go and leave you all to your New Years celebrations i want to thank you all very very much for your support and for reading my articles, tweets, blogs, tuning in to the show etc. If it wasn't for people like you guys i wouldn't be producing any of this. I have met some fantastic people in 2013 and i couldn't have asked for anymore. I always get very nervous about looking forward to a new year and this time i little bit more so. I mean how can i top what happened it 2013? I have no idea what will happen over the next 12 months but i will give in 100% to make it as good as 2013.

So let us raise our glasses to more articles, radio shows, and some non-league blogs rating the food on offer. I hope you all have a fantastic 2014 and that our paths cross and a beer or 20 can be had.


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Well Done to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"Welcome to Pittsburgh; the City of Champions (oh yeah and the Pirates)

That was a familiar saying in Pittsburgh over the last years. In the last decade the Pittsburgh Steelers have had a pretty decent time of things; winning 2 Superbowls and losing one, the Pittsburgh Penguins ice hockey have also fared well with a Stanley cup win and a couple of deep playoff runs. The Pirates however had for the past 20 years been the odd one out and were for some the butt of the sporting jokes, not only in Pittsburgh but in whole North American sports scene. I am delighted to say that the year 2013 has changed all that.

For those that don't follow or know much about baseball i will explain the history of it a little. In America having a "500" season or better seems to be a big thing.  The 500 basically means winning 50% of the games that you play or in other words winning more games that you lose. "A winning season" is how lots of American sports broadcasters phrase it. The last time the Pirates had a winning season was 1992, meaning that the club had one of the longest losing sequences of the 4 main North American sports, in history. It would be fair to say that the club had become a bit of a joke. It is hard to imagine this happening to a sports side in the UK because the system is very different to that in the US. In America there is no relegation so if you finish bottom you just get the highest pick in the draft and have another go next year. This means that clubs can stagnate if they go though a period of losing seasons and struggle to progress as fans drift away meaning less income for the side to attract the better free agents. It then becomes a very hard circle to break and in Pittsburgh's case when you have other sports teams in the City that are winning and attracting more investment, it makes it even harder.

That's not to say however that the Pirates haven't been successful in the past because they most certainly have, they competed in the first ever world championship series in 1903, and have won a very respectable 5 world series titles, placing them joint 7th on the all time number of championship wins record. Their last win came in 1979 (the year i was born) so a lot of fans have never seen them challenging for championships and unless you were following them in 1992, you will not have seen the Buccos in playoff/post season action. In baseball you play quite alot of games in a season 162 to be exact which has meant an awful lot of losing for the Pirates.
In the 6 or 7 years i have been following Pittsburgh sports i must admit i have taken a keen interest in the Pirates, not quite as much as the Steelers, but i have tried to follow their results and news about the side as closely as i could. In 2010 the side won a paltry 57 games; in came new manager Clint Hurdle and the recovery began. By mid July the side were well above the 500 mark and leading the NL Central division, I knew that whenever i got my arse over to Pittsburgh i was going to take in a game and that is exactly what i did.

Although the NFL is my favourite American sport, for me baseball really is "America's game". Tickets are reasonably priced and given the amount of games that teams play, (sometimes 5 or 6 a week) it means most people get a chance to see their team and with it being a summer sport i can think of few better ways to watch sport than an afternoon/evening at the ballpark. Its also the nearest thing Americans have to cricket so that's another reason why it's always appealed to me. And finally, having supported Lincoln City for the best part of 20 years with the majority of it being full of crushing disappointments and out and out failure, i had a natural bond and understanding with the long suffering Pirate's fans.

I spent the last couple of days of my American adventure in Pittsburgh and i have to say it is a fantastic city and one that i can't wait to return to. Its clean, stylish, and what's more its a huge drinking town. My kind of City really. We had tickets to see the Pirates take on the Colorado Rockies on the Friday evening. As i was flying back to the UK on the Saturday i didn't want to be drinking a huge amount on game day (hangovers, airports, and flying aren't great bedfellows in my experience). So to counter this on the Thursday night we ventured over to the Southside of Pittsburgh to met friends, knock back a few drinks and watch the Pirates on TV. We rocked up at Pipers Pub at just gone 7 to eat drink and make merry.

Piper's is the main "Soccer" pub in the Burgh that also does cracking British food. Now don't get me wrong i really loved all the American style food that i consumed while i was over there (and i ate alot i hasten to add) but it was nice to eat something that wasn't burger orientated. Now that i have been back in the UK for a few months i find myself missing the Stateside grub. The McDonalds over here aren't patch on the ones in America, over there you get double quarter pounders, larger portions, better big Macs, Root beer to drink etc. We are certainly the poor relatives on that score. Plus the staff in the States speak better English than 90% of the ones in the UK. Its a bit like spending two weeks having sex with Katy Perry.. then coming back to a lifetime of Jo Brand.

Anyway back to the point. The Pirates were taking on the Cardinals They had already won the three game series and were going for the sweep. However as we knocked back the pints the Cardinals piled on the runs. Oh well i told myself, the Pirates were saving themselves for the next night, nothing to worry about, another day another game and all that.

So the next day arrived as did a slight hangover. The morning was spent looking around Heinz field (the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers) followed by a tour of the City on the gateway clipper. Looking around the city you could tell that the city had caught "Buccs fever" Pretty much everywhere you looked there were people wearing Pirates shirts and hats etc. The best one i saw was a chap in a T-shirt that said "I followed the Pirates when it wasn't cool to". This seemed a feeling that a lot of long time Pirates fan had that i spoke to/overheard at the game. The Pirates have had quite a few sell outs this season as alot of fans have jumped on the bandwagon; its amazing what a few wins does isn't it? From what i can gather the same thing happened with the Penguins. When they were awful; "sucked" as they say in America, tickets were easy and quite cheap to get hold of. Now they are exactly  the opposite on both counts, thus pricing many long time hockey fans out of the market. I hope that the same thing doesn't  happen to the Pirates' fan base as the club continues to be successful, and hopefully due to the number of games there are in a MLB season, it wont.

Both the Steeler's Heinz field stadium, and the Pirates PNC park stadium, are on Pittsburgh's north shore. For those who don't know, Pittsburgh is built around three rivers and has more bridges than any other City in the world. I picked up that pearl of wisdom from our tour guide on the river tour. I wish i could remember more of what she said but i was too busy just taking in the sights. Both stadiums however looked fantastic. From looking at pictures and watching the NFL on TV, i have to say that most stadiums are unique and pretty spectacular. Its very strange to me, given that most of the MLS stadiums are very drab looking Lego brick style small stadiums built in the middle of nowhere. For those wondering, from what i saw "Soccer" is still miles behind the big four American sports. I bought a paper everyday of my stay in the US and the only mention soccer got in the press was the score form the All Stars game in USA Today. Not a match report, not a peep. Nor was it on TV, the large sports rolling news channels being far more interested in what NFL players had for breakfast in training camp than soccer. Before my trip i held the view that the MLS was to world football and the American public as a whole, what ice hockey and the EIHL is to the ice hockey world and the British sporting public. I am delighted to say that for once i was right. There a few folks watching the Inter v Chelsea game on the small screen in the pub while we watched the buccos but that was as far as it went. US fans are still very much far more interested in top level European football than the MLS and in all probability, always will be.

Anyway i digress a little, back to the baseball. We rocked up at the stadium with about an hour till the first pitch. The subway system in Pittsburgh is clean, on time, and if you are in the central zone, totally free. Everything the London underground isn't. First thing we did when we arrived was simply to walk around the ground and just soak up the atmosphere which was fantastic. Fans were drinking beer, chilling with friends, and generally having a great time, you could tell that the feel good factor was most definitely back in the City. Although thanks to my friend, host and fantastic tour guide Danielle, i already have a decent range of Pirates jerseys but there was one piece of Pirates merchandise that i just had to get my mitts on, and that was a Pirate Parrot hat. What? I hear you ask? Well let me explain, the Pirates mascot is a parrot and to honour him the club have started selling parrot hats which is basically a hat with a Parrots head on, beak and all, and in my opinion it's quite cool. Not many of the locals seemed to be wearing them so i can only conclude that they normally appeal to kids and eccentric British tourists like me. So the first thing that i did once i got inside the stadium was to rush to one of the merchandise stalls inside and part with my $28 dollars and purchase the famous hat. Now i have taken a fair bit of flack on both sides of the Atlantic for this purchase but am i bothered? Not one bit, its what one does when one is being a tourist. And there are far worse things in America to spend ones hard earned cash on.

As i went into the stadium before my friends, i was on my own in finding our seats. Now i have been in 188 football stadiums and quite a few other sports stadiums and never really had a problem trying to find out where i was suppose to be heading, and although some of them are pretty basic that even a Grimsby Town  fan could find their way around, i have successful found our seats in much bigger stadiums when Felice, for example, has been totally lost and needed his bacon saving. However PNC Park well and truly beat me.

It started well however. As this was free shirt Friday, everybody who entered the stadium received a free T-Shirt, and after collecting a shirt i got my hands on the programme. Now the programme was a mixture. On the plus side it was free which is always good. However about 3/4 of it is adverts, it did however cover three series so you can read about three sides; if you persevere through all the food adverts.

Oh and speaking of food, as this was my last full day with Uncle Sam, i had decided to do something different at the game and convinced Danielle to book us in the all you can eat section. Which basically means you can stuff your face all game for free,well its not free as the tickets are more expensive, but you get my point. I figured that at $42 and all you can eat, it was a decent deal. To put it into context at the time the Pirates had the best record in the MLB so i was paying £28 to watch at the time the best baseball side in the USA/World with a free programme,T-shirt and all the food and soda i could eat/drink thrown in. Now try getting a deal like that at whichever club is top of the Premiership at the time you read this. (Arsenal at the moment whose tickets are about £60 i believe)  Good luck with that, and it puts Lincoln City's £18 to watch 5th division crap into perspective.

So with programme, t-shirt and parrot hat in hand, i set off on a quest to find our section. After a couple of complete laps and looking at countless maps i admitted defeat and asked a steward, I was then pointed to a lift which took me up to the area where our seats were. Phew. However with hindsight the walk around the stadium was good for me as i got to see all areas of it and the views from each section. I did however miss the first couple of pitches but at i was too excited to worry about that. I did miss seeing who sung the anthem with is a huge part of an American sporting experience. When star spangled banner is sung everybody stops, stands up, removes their hats, and belts it out with pride. I for one like to see this and its a stark contrast to how we act when God save the Queen is sung, when we all stand up and look embarrassed as we attempt to mime our way through the first two verses (we would struggle through the whole thing which is why i think we only blast out the first two verses). The Americans play their anthem before almost every sports game from highschool games, through to the pro leagues, and good for them.

Now i am no baseball expert. All the stats and numbers go completely over my head. My pre game know how of the rules was very simple. Hit the ball, run and don't get caught, or run out. Oh and you get three attempts to hit the ball after that you are out. Then if a side gets three players out the other side gets a go. Each side has 9 innings and if its all level then its sudden death. That's the very basics of it but there is much more to it that that.
For example there is a first base and third base coach who's job seems to be to tell the players when to run and not to run. It may sound an easy job but i bet there must be more to it than that. It does seem strange that there is no second base coach. It must get lonely and tough for a batter on second without guidance from the coach. The Rockies drew first blood however but thankfully the Pirates were soon level, this however was short lived as the Rockies raced into a 4-1 lead as the the Pirates' rookie pitcher struggled. Not that the hitters did much better. If it could go wrong it did do. Although it has to be said that the Rockies did do a couple of nice double plays that got two hitters out on the same play.
The Pirates may have been struggling a tad on the field but help was on hand off it in the form of the all you can eat offer. Basically as you enter the section you get a wrist band which you just flash at the food vending section and help yourself to as much food as you can stuff down you. To that end i managed to wolf my way through 3 hot dogs, 2 boxes of popcorn, 2 bags of peanuts, (the large ones that you have to de-shell), a tray of nachos with cheese sauce (i wasn't too keen on the sauce but i forced it down), oh and two large root beers. I probably could have eaten more but i didn't want to miss too much of the game and risk not seeing the Pirates late comeback, if indeed there was to be one.

Sadly there was to be no way back for the Pirates this evening. They did pull one back in the 9th and threatened to get another but alas they fell to defeat. Even though they had lost, the fans still stuck behind the team. Had this been football over here then the fans would have lost patience and shouted all manor of obscenities. The worst things i heard at the game were fans crying for the manager to "Get the Bull pen rolling man" which meant get another pitcher on as the one pitching was struggling a tad, and the old favourite " Man/Dude that sucks". A day at the ball game is a real family event and everybody goes out to have a real good time. Not to get trashed and pretend to try and start a fight, that realm seems to be reserved by the MLS as they try to copy some of the English "firms" and fail miserably.

During inning's breaks the entertainment doesn't stop. Between some innings Pirate Parrot loads up his air gun and shoots out hotdogs into the crowd (not that we needed them of course). In the next innings he would shoot out T-shirts into the crowd. All jolly good stuff in my humble opinion. Wish we would do something like that. Actually given that 95% of food served up in British sports stadiums is shite, people would be ducking to avoid the half cooked rancid tripe being fired at them. During the break between the 6th and 7th innings everybody gets up and sings the old baseball favourite song "Take me out to the Ball game" I have no idea if this is a thing that all clubs do but i am guessing that it is. Of course i didn't know the words, tune or anything, so i just stood there looking a tad embarrassed.

As i we trudged back to the subway station it dawned on me that these were my last few hours in America. I had had a fantastic time and the experience of a lifetime. Before i had left for Amercia i thought that Pittsburgh was my kind of town and now i am convinced of it. Its a fantastic city, great bars, and has a history of its sports teams getting out there and winning championships; not just talking about winning them. Walking back to the hotel a guy was coming the other way. Just as we approached he stopped, leant on the wall and threw his guts up, looked as us then said as cool as you like "Sorry brother", as we walked in opposite directions he again threw up. 

And what about the Pirates? Well as soon as i was on the plane for home they rediscovered their winning form. By the end of the season they had smashed the 500 mark by recording an impressive 94 wins. It wasn't quite enough to win the division but it did send them into the post season. They were to fall eventually to St Louis in the divisional series (effectively the 1/4 finals) but they took it all the way before losing the series 3-2. They may have lost, but they gained the respect of the American sporting public and more importantly, the City of Pittsburgh.

And as for America? No words that i could write here could sum up how great a time i had over there. In the weeks after I returned home people asked me what was the best thing about the States, now it may sound cheesy, but i have to say that the main thing i will take away from my time there was the openess and friendliness of the people there. I met some truly fantastic people over there and i can't thank everybody enough. There are too many folks to mention but i need to give a very special mention to Danielle for planning everything and her wonderful parents for looking after me. Oh and Artemis the cat for tolerating my presence in his kingdom. Until next time..

LET'S GO BUCCS!!!!!!!!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Exciting new announcement.

Over the past month or so this blog has been rather quiet. Firstly i would like to apologise for this and would like to thank you all for your patience. I do foresee this site getting back to normal very quickly. As many of you know i am watching more and more women's football and covering quite alot of it for SportsInternational magazine, so much of my writing time has been dedicated to that. It seems strange looking at the lack of activity on this blog but i am actually writing more now that i ever have done.

Another reason for my time away from this site is the development of being asked if i would be interested in becoming a founder and co-host of a brand new podcast/internet radio show about women's football. I found this a very exciting proposition and it really didn't take me long to decide that i wanted to get involved in this.
So what is this and who are we? Well i am sure that after 5 years writing on here you have a pretty good idea of who i am, but i would like to introduce my fellow founder and co-host Patty La Bella. Patty is a women's football writer who lives in California and holds media credentials with US soccer NWSL and the MLS. She has a wealth of experience writing and covering various sports, male and female, and has a huge passion for women's football/soccer. She also writes professionally for a number of outlets including one magazine about ferrets. You can check out her work covering the NWSL  here!!!!!!

The aim of the show is to cover women's football from both sides of the Atlantic and around the world. I wont go in to too much on here, but if you check out the website and head over to the "About the show" section you will get a pretty good idea of what we are going to try and do. The plan is for the first proper show to go out a couple of days before the England v Wales World cup qualifier on the 26th of October. At the moment we plan to do the show once a fortnight but who knows, as the FAWSL and NWSL start up next year and the road to the Women's World cup in Canada starts, it may be more often.

Along with the website, we have launched an official facebook page for you to like and a twitter feed for you to follow. We would greatly appreciate it if you would do both and give us feedback on the show when we go live, and also suggest anything else you want to hear us discuss on the show. We do plan on having a section on the show where we answer your questions and we really want to people to interact with the show. More news about the show, times, and guests who will be appearing will be announced on these two mediums so by following us you will be right up to date with our plans.

Well thats all from me, I hope this new project interests you and we look forward to hearing your feedback on the show.

Our Offical website Is here

Facebook page can be found here 

Our offical twitter account is  found here

The Womens Worldwide Football Show team.
(Patty and Adam)

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Western New York Flash 3-0 Washington Spirit.

The second match on my USA Soccer tour took me to Rochester in New York state to watch the playoff challenging Western New York Flash take on Washington Spirit, on paper it looked like a home banker and unfortunately for the neutrals and Washington that’s exactly how it turned out

New York have two of the best players in recent years from the United States squad. In Carli Lloyd they have the player who scored twice in the Olympic final in London 2012, but the jewel in the crown is striker Abby Wambach who recently broke the all time women’s international goal scoring record. To date she has bagged 160 goals for the United States national team. The Flash also have Spanish striker Adriana on the books, who gave England plenty of problems when the two sides recently met at Euro 2013.
The Western New York flash share the Salem stadium, which is also home to USL Pro side the Rochester Rhinos who play in the 3rd tier of US soccer. However the stadium is a far cry from being an average third tier stadium in the US.

As you approach the Salem stadium you can’t help but be impressed. The capacity is around the 15,000 mark and in my view (and that of many other sports writers in the US) could easily host MLS football. It certainly compares favorably to the MLS stadiums in Philadelphia and Columbus. To gain entrance to the stadium from the car parks you take a short walk down "Wambach Way" which is adorned with posters of Abby to the gates. The stadium may be decked out in Rhinos colours (green and yellow) but there are plenty of WNYF badges as well, and it really does feel like a proper football ground. As we got into the ground early I decided to have a good look around and I have to say I was very, very impressed with what I saw. 

The stadium is all seated with one stand having two tiers, of which the higher one was closed for tonight’s game. The ground is a bowl design with the only open end being the scoreboard end. The score board itself was very big and showed some great scenes in the build up with a few of the New York players saying the word 4 which I am told refers to the number of championships the club has won. I have learnt that the size of the scoreboard in US Sports is a kind of status symbol; the bigger the board the bigger (and richer) the club. The immediate vibe I got from this stadium is that this is a very well run club that has serious aims of challenging for championships, all in all it felt as if I had jumped up a couple of leagues in terms of stadium and club aims from Saturdays’ game in Washington. 

I always like to get into stadiums early so I can have a good walk around and see what’s going on, and at Western New York there is plenty going on. As you enter through the gate, turn left (you will be at the scoreboard end) and that’s where all the action is. The first thing that I noticed is that the pre game music is provided by a live band and not some dodgy tunes knocked out over the PA system. This is the first time I have ever seen something like this and I personally think it’s a great idea. Like in Washington there are plenty of activities for kids to do. At one end a throwing competition had been set up where you had to throw a golf ball through a hole, and behind one of the other stands a kind of penalty shoot out game was in progress where you had to kick the ball through various holes in the goal. Flash merchandise was up for grabs if you won at either of these games and although I didn’t embarrass myself by having a go (and undoubtedly failing) they were a big hit with the kids and some parents as well. As always with America there was a wide range of food stalls with everything from Papa John’s pizza to fresh BBQ being served up. To my delight there was also a nice beer stall near to where the band was playing, and better still you could take you beer to your seat to watch the game; which on a sunny evening like this was just perfect. For people reading this not used to UK football we are still in the dark ages here and you are not allowed to drink alcohol in sight of the game. 

The match ticket said to tonight’s game was between the Western New York Flash and the Washington Spirit. However as the game unfolded it became more like the Western New York Flash v Ashlyn Harris the Washington keeper. The Flash, backed by their supporters group the Flash Mob, were on the front foot right from the off as they went in search of another three points to help their playoff charge. They had already missed a hat full of chances but in the 35th minute they took the lead. 

Harris pulled of a fantastic save from Sam Kerr but the Washington defence failed to pick up the loose ball which was collected by Kerr and crossed over to Adriana who headed home from close range. It was a tough goal for Harris, who had made a fantastic save, but had been badly let down by her team mates’ failure to react and then to mark up the on-rushing Flash players. Despite plenty of chances it remained 1-0 going into the halftime break. American sports are big on stats and for a writer such as myself this is very helpful. Shots on target are counted and displayed on the scoreboard for all to see. The Flash had had 19 shots on goal in the first half, The Spirit... 0 

The game was effectively over in the 59th minute. After setting up the first goal it was Kerr’s turn to get on the score sheet; when she received a well-placed feed from Katherine Reynolds to make the score 2-0. Reynold’s waist-high cross took a bounce six yards away from the goal where Kerr was able strike it past Harris for her fifth goal of the season.
After this the game went a bit dull. The visitors did show a bit more fight but it was hard to ever see them really getting back into the game. The scoring was complete on 68 minutes when Carli Lloyd, after missing plenty of chances all game, finally got one on target. After Ingrid Wells saw her shot blocked by a Spirit defender, Lloyd collected the loose ball and rammed it home. Again there were plenty of Washington defenders in the box but nobody within 5 foot of Lloyd. It took Washington until the 83rd minute to get their first shot on goal, but by that time the Flash had already got 28 on the board. I may not know a huge amount about all the clubs and the league but I know a side in form when I see it and on this showing it will take a very good side to stop Western New York Flash from winning a 4th championship. 

After the game "Autograph alley" was again set up and was again very popular. Another different thing that happened that I have never seen before in football/soccer was that the post game interviews happened on the pitch, and were broadcast to everybody in the stadium. The same thing happened at half time as well when the players were leaving the field one of them stayed behind to say a few words to the announcer before dashing off to the dressing room.
Since I returned from the States many fellow writers and people in the women’s game have asked me what the main differences are between our two fledgling leagues. In one way it’s pretty hard and unfair to compare the two. Tickets are more expensive in the NWSL; the New York game was $25 which is about £16.50, where as FAWSL games are around the £5 mark. When you couple this with the fact that attendances are much larger in the NWSL; there was over 3,000 for the New York game where as the top of the table clash in the FAWSL between Bristol and Liverpool only drew 1,200, you can quickly assume that the American clubs have more money to spend attracting fans than the English clubs do. The national team players in the NWSL are paid by their national associations in the same way they are over here, so it leaves more cash for the clubs to pay the other players better and so attract better players from around the world. Something we are still struggling to do in England. 

However some of the things that the clubs in America do don’t cost a huge amount of cash to set up and do seem to be very popular. Clubs over here really do a great job of marketing themselves on Twitter and Facebook, however they with the exception of Bristol, they fail to offer the fans much in the way of pre and post game activities on game day itself. The only time clubs do this is when the FAWSL road show is in town, but that tends only to happen when the game is on TV. I would like to see more clubs in England take a leaf out of the NWSL’s book and set up things like penalty shootout competitions before the games for kids to have a go at etc.
The FAWSL does have the edge in other areas though. The fact that most games are afternoon kick offs does help the league and the fact you get several games kicking off at the same time is a plus in my view. The match day programs are better in England and this is an area that I think the clubs in the NWSL are missing out on and maybe an area they will look to improve as the game and league grows.  How they market it will be interesting, I get the impression that at the moment they are still very much aiming it at the "Soccer mom" and young girls market. This is ok for now, but at some point they are going to have to try and get in older fans on board and try to get the game to appeal to males for it to really grow. Plenty of men attend national team games so I am told, but the NWSL is proving to be a hard sell to men who don’t have daughters. I get the feeling also that they are very heavily reliant on the US national players to carry the league and it sometimes felt that the fans were more interested in seeing the national team players than they were in seeing the actual team. It’s a hard thing to put in writing, but in a way I think some people at the games are more fans of the national team players than either club playing. I have no idea if the fans mindset over this will or can change; it’s a really tough one. 

Just to finish on I would like to say how welcoming and friendly everybody at the two games were to me, and thank them all for answering my questions on all things football. It was a total pleasure and I now have a far more balanced view of the game in the States; much of which I liked with only the odd downside here and there, but hey that’s life.
Have a nice day!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Washington Spirit 2-5 Boston Breakers

Nowhere in the world is Women's football as strong or more keenly followed than in the United States of America. The game is big news in colleges and high schools all over the country, with scholarships at the top universities still a huge draw for players all over the globe. The US National team; holders of the Olympic title, have consistently been at the top of the world rankings and only lost out on another World Cup win back in 2011, when they lost on penalties to Japan. Given how strong the national team is and how popular the game is at grassroots and college level, it is perhaps strange that the US has struggled to run and develop a full time professional league. The NWSL is the third attempt after the WPS disappeared in 2012. The NWSL was quickly thrown together featuring eight clubs with backing from the national associations of the United States, Canada, and Mexico with the national players split between the clubs. As the season enters its final third Sports International went stateside to take in a couple of games and see how the new league is fairing in its inaugural season, how the clubs are run off the pitch, and how well the league has been received by the fans in America.

First up was the bottom side in the league the Washington Spirit versus the playoff chasing Boston Breakers at Washington's Soccerplex stadium. The season has been a real battle for the home side. Following a dreadful 4-0 defeat at Western New York Flash, Mike Jordan was relieved of his coaching duties and was replaced by former Chelsea ladies assistant manager Mark Parsons. The change in coach however hasn't really affected the results, as going into this match the club had only taken one point from Parson’s 5 matches in charge (going into the Boston game) and that point came in his first game in a 2-2 draw at home to FC Kansas City. Since then they have lost 4 games on the spin. Despite all this however, the manager organized a small Q&A session the day before with a group of fans and I was lucky enough to be invited along. It is easy to organize things like this when a team is doing well but it’s much harder when things aren’t going your way. Parsons begin by thanking the fans for their support this season and stressed just how important the fans support had been since he took the job. He mentioned that things hadn't quite clicked for the team this season, and pointed out the club’s goal that was wrongly disallowed in the last minute away at Chicago that would have gained them a valuable point. 

After the manager had finished his talk he invited questions from the crowd who were a little shy at first with their questions, but once they got going they relaxed. Coach Parsons finished up by praising the squad’s mental strength in adversity saying that this is the mentally the strongest group he has worked with in his coaching career. Although the questions were more fun based instead of the hard hitting type, the event was a great success and the players were more than happy to mingle with fans, sign autographs, and pose for photos. The openness of the players, staff, and club media representative was a pleasure to see and set the tone for what I was to witness over the course of my trip watching women's football over the two games. 

The stadiums used in the NWSL are quite different to the ones we are used to in the FAWSL. Crowds are much bigger than we get in the UK. The Spirit for example regularly get over 2,000 fans and have had over 4,000 on a couple of occasions this season. Like many stadiums in America, the SoccerPlex is uncovered with seating areas along both sides with nothing behind each goal. The ground is set in a natural bowl which really gives the stadium character. Before the game some of the more vocal fans of the Spirit (The Spirit squadron) had set up that great American pre game pastime; a tailgate. Unfortunately due to the weather being rather poor, it was a bit of a damp squib but the effort was there.
Tickets are available on line but you can also purchase tickets on game day from the ticket booth near the entrance. Match day programs aren't really part of the American game day experience, but you do get a free colour team sheet upon entry which has the two squads on one side, and news about the club and upcoming match on the back. Upon entry to the stadium the first thing that hit me was the sheer amount of stuff there was to do pre-game. There were plenty of stalls set up selling different types of food, and not all of it junk food. There was a stall selling smoothies and another one with various fruits for sale. Behind one end the club has set up a fenced off beer garden where many fans watch the game beer in hand in a very relaxed atmosphere. Beer is served up till the 75th minute and you need photo ID to get into the area.

One interesting feature of the stadium for me was the V.I.P area. In Europe V.I.P areas tend to be indoor seated high up in the stand but here it was very different. The V.I.P area consisted of benches that are a couple of metres back from the sidelines on pitch level; fairly close to the pitch indeed, after the players and officials, they are the closest people to the action. The benches were pretty full and seemed very popular with the people that sat there.
As is the norm at American sports events, the national anthem is played before the game and everybody gets up and sings along. The game started fantastically well for the hosts as Canadian international Diana Matheson gave the Spirit the lead in the second minute of the game. It was the side’s first goal from open play since May and it sent the fans in the Spirit Squadron section into hysteria. Unfortunately the lead didn't last too long as the Breakers equalised after four minutes. Washington conceded a corner and at the same time defender Candace Chapman went down with an injury and had to leave the field. Unfortunately for the hosts they switched off from the resulting corner after the break in play. The Spirit keeper Ashley Harris came a long way to try and get the ball, but didn't get it, thus allowing the ball to get headed back across the goal and into an empty net.
After the goal Boston took the initiative; helped by the fact that Washington had to make changes to their defence after one of their defenders went off after the injury. The Breakers were getting get joy down the flanks with Sydney Leroux and Heather O'Reilly being real stars for the visitors. They took the lead a couple of minutes before halftime thanks to Lianne Sanderson, and from then on they never really looked back. 

The Breakers pretty much killed the game off just a couple of minutes after halftime, when Harris in the Washington goal made a real mess of a low weak shot from Rhian Wilkinson; letting the ball squirm under and trickle into the goal. On 56 minutes it got even worse for the hosts as they conceded a soft penalty which was dispatched by the impressive Heather O’Reilly. Washington didn't let their heads drop and managed to grab a second goal thanks to a well placed header from Conny Pohlers who is currently on loan from UEFA Champions league winners Wolfsburgh. Given the remarkable season that Wolfsburgh have had in Germany, it must be hard for her playing in such a struggling side. By this time I had moved round to the banking behind the goal. From here you could see one of the disadvantages to this layout of stadium; with it being open it’s hard for the fans to make an atmosphere. You could see the supporters group cheering the goal but you couldn't really hear them or the chants that followed.  

There was still time for another goal and it was Boston that got it in the 78th minute courtesy of a shot from Cat Whitehill. It was a cool finish but Washington will be disappointed with the way that they failed to clear the ball from the corner that lead to the goal.
Full time Washington Spirit 2-5 Boston Breakers.
Att 2,607
After the game the players acknowledged the fans and following that, players of both sides were more than happy to sign autographs. Well I should say some of them did, and quite a few scurried off. It was great to see the players that did stay out however more than happy to pose for pictures and chat with fans after the game. As I said earlier it’s easy to do stuff like this when you are winning, but much harder when you have lost your 5th game on the spin and conceded 5 goals at home so I really do tip my hat to the Washington Players for coming out. Even though they were soundly beaten the fans stuck with them all game and were quick to look and point out the positives of the performance. With there being no relegation in the league (like pretty much all American sports) The fans seem more patient with their team and are willing to give them time to develop, which is another difference to the game in Europe when fans would be calling for the manager’s head.
Chatting to a few fans they also told me that this was an improved performance from what the side has produced over the past few weeks. Would the improvement continue? Next up was a very tough looking trip to the in form Western New York Flash, and that was to be the second match for the Sports International NWSL Tour.
Canadian international Diana Matheson and some guy from England.