Thursday, 20 June 2013

FAWSL Midseason review Part one.

As we are halfway through the season i thought it would be a good time to pause and reflect on the season to date and how each of the sides has got on so far. First up we shall take a look at the three main contenders for the championship.  


As we head into the mid season break its Liverpool who have set the pace, which is a massive change from the previous two seasons when the club finished rock bottom of the division. This prompted a huge clear out as manager Matt Beard; who received significant backing from the club's owners, remodelled virtually his whole first team squad. And so far it has paid huge dividends as the club reached the semi finals of the FA cup (where they lost 2-1 to Arsenal) and also the Continental cup to go along side their excellent progress in the league.
One of the main reasons for Liverpool's success so far this season has been their fantastic goal scoring record. The Reds have played 6 league games so far and in three of those they have managed to score 4 goals. Whats even more impressive is the fact that two of these scorelines came away from home; a crushing 4-1 win at Everton in the derby,  and the one that really made people sit up and take note; the 4-0 victory over champions Arsenal at the Emirates.  In their other league games they have completed the double over Lincoln (1-0 away and 3-2 at home) with their only league defeat of the season so far being a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea. They won their Continental cup group by grinding out a 1-1 draw at Everton, a tight 1-0 home win over Doncaster, and another 4-0 away win this time at Chelsea.
Liverpools great form has seen three of their players, Lucy Bronze, Gemma Bonner, and Fara Williams all called up for the England squad for this seasons European championships, although strangely enough there is no place for striker Natasha Dowie, a close season signing from Everton who has ten goals in 12 games in all competitions this season. American defender Whitney Engen has also spent time away with the USA national side, but faces tough competition to break into the top side in the world.
The big question on everybody's lips is can Liverpool keep it up? In my view we won't have to wait long after the break to find out, as the first three games back will define Liverpool's season. First up is a huge home game with Arsenal who sit eight points behind Liverpool but have two games in hand. A home win for Liverpool would be a huge blow for Arsenal's title challenge but a win for the Gunners would really put them back in the mix. Three days later Lincoln are back in town for the Continental cup semi final and although the Lady Imps are struggling in the league, they ran Liverpool very close in the league match at Liverpool which finished 3-2 in favor of the hosts. After that Liverpool face the long trip to Bristol who are level on points with them. Interestingly enough the two sides that share top spot are yet to play each other this season, the second meeting between the teams is the last game of the season. If Liverpool can avoid losing either of the Arsenal/Bristol games then they will have to be considered favorites for the title.

Bristol Academy 

Bristol are the league's suprise package and argueably the most entertaining side to watch this season. The club lost its star player from the 2012 season in the summer when Jess Fishlock left the club to join Seattle Reign in America, and while Jess and her new side are yet to win a game (at the time of writing) and are bottom of the league in the USA, Bristol are level on points with Liverpool at the top of the FAWSL and had a great run in the FA cup where they lost 3-0 in the final to Arsenal.
Like Liverpool, Bristol were aggressive in the close season and brought in an array of attacking options. Firstly dead ball specialist Lucy Staniforth arrived from Lincoln to provide the service to the forward players. The Vixens already had a good forward line with Natasha Harding and Spanish star Laura Del Rio but strengthened by signing a second Spaniard in Natalia Pablo Sanchen. A familiar face also rejoined the club when Gwen Harries rejoined the club from Everton.
Every one of manager Mark Sampson's side has played their part this season but keeper Siobhan Chamberlain has been a real star for the club as has Pablo Sanchen who has socred 7 goals in ten games in all competitions.
The club enjoyed vastly different fortunes in the two cup competitions. They reached the FA Cup final the hard way, as they were drawn against FAWSL sides in every round. Although they never really got going in the  final (a game covered live by Sports International magazine) The experience of the day will undoubtably help the young players in the long haul. The Continental cup however was a different kettle of fish as Bristol lost all three group games to Birmingham, Lincoln, and Arsenal thus finishing bottom of their group.
Bristol have also collected 15 points from 6 league games. There one loss being a 3-2 home defeat to Arsenal. Their fixture list has a rather lopsided look to it as they have only played one league game away from home (a 2-0 win at Birmingham) While they have defeated Lincoln, Doncaster, Chelsea, and Everton at home. The second half of the season will be a challenge for them with two matches against Liverpool, a trip to Arsenal, plus long  trips up to Lincoln, Everton, and Doncaster. It is also worth noting that their last three games are all away from home. They will also have to cope without Lucy Staniforth who suffered a bad knee injury in the FA cup final that has ruled her out for the season.


As the league takes its midseason break Arsenal sit in an unfamiliar 5th place in the division on 7 points. The key factor to take into account however is that the defending champions have only played 4 league matches, which is two less that the two sides at the top. Further more they still have the top two to play; Liverpool away and Bristol at home. Given these facts Arsenal are still undoubtably in the thick of the title race.
Arsenal have dominated the Women's game over the past decade and early on in the season it looked like they were once again the team to beat. A 6-0 thrashing of Birmingham City in the quarter final of the FA cup sent out a clear message of their intent.
There are a couple of reasons why Arsenal have up to three games in hand on other FAWSL sides, the main one being their Champions League run. Their progress in that competition was quite smooth until they came up against eventual champions Vfl Wolfsburg in the semi finals. The German champions eased to a 2-0 win in London in the the 1st leg. The Gunners did put up a fight in the 2nd leg but still lost 1-2 to bow out 4-1 on aggregate. This left the club a little punch drunk and things went from bad to worse as Liverpool thumped Arsenal 4-0 at the Emirates stadium to hand the champions their first league defeat since 2011. One defeat nearly turned into two in the next game at Lincoln, as after having the better of the game Arsenal fell behind to an 89th minute goal.  Arsenal however hit straight back thanks to a Steph Houghton 30 yard effort that could well win the goal of the season award. The Gunners then went on to score an impressive 3-2 win at Bristol and rounded off their league games before the break with a 2-1 win over Chelsea in the London derby.
Although they tasted defeat in the Champions league the club has enjoyed success in the two domestic cup competitions. They lifted their 12th FA Cup with a dominant 3-0 victory over Bristol in the final at Doncaster. In the Continental Cup Arsenal finished top of group A with a draw at Lincoln and victories over Birmingham and Bristol. Their reward for winning the group is a home semi final against Everton.
Arsenal do have a lot of games to play in the second half of the season but if any team can cope with a busy fixture list it's Arsenal. They have been unlucky with injuries this season but in later weeks they started to get their players back. One factor that could come into play is the Euros. Arsenal have 6 players away with England (more than any other FAWSL club) so they will hope they don't suffer any more injury setbacks. If all six come back fit and full of confidence after a good championship for England, then the club will be in a great position to once again challenge for the championship. Their first game back after the break at Liverpool could have a big say in where the title ends up this season. It's a game Arsenal can't afford to lose. One thing is certain; the battle for the title and the second Champions league spot will be both fascinating and closely contested.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

VFL Wolfsburg 1-0 Olympique Lyonnais

I have been looking forward to this game ever since it was announced that the
UEFA Women's Champions League final was to be at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge stadium. There were a few reasons for this. Firstly i was excited for the game itself' I love writing about the women's game so naturally i was very excited to see the biggest game in Women's club football live in the flesh. Secondly it was a chance to visit a stadium that i normally wouldn't get a chance to visit. As you can imagine tickets for Chelsea are a tad on the pricey side so getting the chance to see a game here for £10 was a bargain that wasn't going to be missed. Thirdly we had planned a day around London before the match which is something i always find pleasurable and finally all this meant a day off work.

Because we had a packed day planned it did mean an early start. We had planned to get the 6.05am train in the morning and get the last train back from London at 11.30pm. In other words it was a bloody long day. However i was all bright eyed and bushy tailed as i woke from my pit at 4.32am, and by 5.04am we were on our merry way to Newark to get the choo choo.

As this wasn't a normal thing for us to do we were all excited and we did seem to be the only people at the train station that seemed happy to be there, as the station and indeed the train seemed to be full of commuters on the daily "rat race" The journey down went fairly quickly as i read my copy of the Independent, Felice read footy magazine "Match", while Lee after a heated discussion with his good lady as to where he had left the washing, chilled out and watched the world go by. We hit the big smoke at just gone 7.30am, let all the Zombies head off the train to work (some were stood up and ready to go as we passed Felice's beloved Emirates Stadium) and swept into McDonald's for a spot of breakfast.

Throughout the day the plan was to visit a few football grounds so my friends could get a few pictures and buy some crap club merchandise. Its not really my thing and i wouldn't dream of "Ticking off" a ground without seeing a game but i suppose its always helpful for future reference if we ever do a game here. First up (after i had to refresh their memories on how to buy a underground ticket and indeed which ticket we needed) we were on our merry way to Crystal Palace FC.

To get Palace you need to get the tube down to London Bridge then an overground train that stops at Northwood Junction. One of London's little pleasures is the amount of free newspapers that get handed out and at London Bridge i bagged a copy of "City AM" to keep me up to date with all the business news, I don't have much of an interest in that kind of stuff, but its always good to read different papers with different styles.
Of the three grounds we were to visit, i thought that this would have been the easiest one to find because my two goons had seen a game here earlier in the season. They may have been intending to watch Charlton but "messed up" and ended up at Palace (that's a story for another day) but they had been here. On the approach to the ground we saw a sign say Selhurst park stadium straight ahead however my guides were convinced they knew a short cut and headed right. This turned out not to be a short cut and after a slight panic and much head scratching (not from myself) I managed to locate the ground for them and save their bacon. And as it transpired later, not for the first time in the day.
No Tools allowed. Lets hope Grimsby don't have a game here anytime soon.

I am not going to go into huge detail about the grounds, otherwise if i ever see a game here i will have nothing to write about. Palace is a real old school ground with a run down feel to it. Its not too bad it just needs a little bit of TLC and a lick of paint here and there. The club shop was rather poor though, with plenty of playoff final tat on sale and precious little else, apart from the rather smart away kit. As we waited for our train back into town an elderly Palace fan (we know this because he had a Palace scarf on) decided that Felice was taking up too much platform and barged past him as he was blowing his hooter (which was running quicker than Usain Bolt). The poor lamb didn't know what to do or say.

From here it was back into the centre of London. This bit of the day was my idea as i had heard about the Champions league festival that was taking place in Trafalgar Square. We had arrived at the wrong time for one of the film showings but it was great to see the UEFA stage. There was a stall selling official merchandise and stuff which impressed Lee and he was well chuffed that i had suggested coming here. It was disappointing to see that it was all focused on the Men's final and nothing about the Women's game that was being played that evening. Oh well. All this brought back memories of the great final of 2010 when Inter became champions of Europe; the last Italian side to lift "Old Big Ears" Inter have been champions of Europe THREE times, which is one more than Juventus who have managed to nick the thing twice. Grande Inter Grande!!!

From here we headed to former Premiership laughing stock QPR. Its a doddle to find from White City tube station. It was a shame that the Springbok pub near the ground wasn't open as i have heard reports that's its one of the best football pubs in the country, but it will wait for another day. The club shop unlike the team on the pitch is quite good and i didn't realise how smart QPR's away kit was until i saw it in the flesh. The best thing about this area wasn't the ground at all but this dentist near the stadium. Is there a better named dentist in England? I doubt it.

After QPR we travelled to the only ground that i was really interested in visiting; Wembley Stadium, the home of football.

I haven't seen a game at Wembley in either of its incarnations. When Lincoln City reached the playoff final in both 2003 and 2005, Wembley stadium was still under construction so we had to go to Cardiff to watch us lose. In my rather nostalgic view, Wembley is one of the big three iconic stadiums in the world where international football is played (The other two being the Maracana in Brazil and Mexico's Azteca stadium). There are plenty of chances to watch a game here. You can get tickets for most England home matches easy enough plus you have the likes of FA Vase and Trophy finals if you fancy, but i wanted to make my first match at Wembley special. Therefore i had decided not to watch a match at Wembley unless 1) Lincoln City made the playoff/FA Trophy/FA Cup final or 2) The Pittsburgh Steelers played here as part of the NFL international series.  Thankfully the Steelers are heading over here in September so it will be ticked off then. If it was down to the Imps it would have been a bloody long wait to visit this iconic stadium although by the time it happens i will probably be eligible for concession prices (or in the FA vase final). The approach down to the stadium from the tube stop isn't as long as it looks on TV but it certainly looks like a hell of a ground from the outside. Roll on September. They have some smart England stuff for sale in the shop as well as strangely enough stuff from England's leading clubs (and Liverpool) I was happy enough with an 150 years of the FA pin badge for £3. It had been a tiring morning and some of us needed a little snooze.

With all the "Sights" seen it was time to get some food then head out to West London and to Stamford Bridge. We decided on pizza for lunch (knives and forks used and no bibs required i hasten to add) and very nice it was too.

We alighted at Fulham broadway tube stop at just after 4.30pm, and as none of us had a clue where we were going ambled along to the ground. We didn't have to walk far before we saw a few tat stalls selling fake half and half scarves and flags, and the normal kind of cheap shit you get. Even though there was still quite a while to go till kick off, there seemed to be plenty of fans milling about Stamford Bridge. The club shop was open so we took a look and a bagged the match day programme for £5. There was some pretty smart UEFA stuff in there but at pretty smart prices too it has to be said. After getting all this stuff out of the way it was time for some ale. We did intend to go down the Kings Road, but none of us had a clue how to get there so we just piled into the nearest pub with was a rather posh looking one called the Butchers hook. When we got there it wasn't too busy so we settled down. Being the gentleman that i am i got the first round in, with 2 cokes and a pint of peroni setting me back £10.70! It was quite a swanky place, not the kind if watering hole that you encounter in Retford. Still it was a decent place to chill out and let the guys charge up their phones as their batteries were running low due to them having to report to their other halves every hour or so. I hadn't switched mine on till about 4 so like me it was still full of life. That was until i went up to grab another beer.

Now before we started drinking i knew it was going to be a lot more expensive than a afternoon/night out in Retford. Further more seeing how the pub only served up market beers (No Fosters or Carling here mi ducks) i was braced for an expensive pint but even i wasn't expected to hear the price £5.10 quoted to me. My first reaction was "Your fucking joking" but as the pint was poured i had to pay for the sodding thing. I drunk it very slowly and wasted none of it. I am pretty sure this is the dearest pint i have every supped. I know it wasn't this expensive when i got drunk as a skunk at Arsenal Ladies v Lincoln last season. I don't think i could afford an all day session drinking in the borough of Chelsea and Kensington like i do in the shit tip of Retford. Fellow Lincoln Ladies fan (and godfather of the Lincoln Ladies supporters club mafia) Tom joined us and we spent a while righting the wrongs of the football world before we headed off to the stadium.

As i had bought the tickets on the first day of sale we had tickets for the West Stand Lower towards the end of the ground where the away fans are normally housed. The view was decent enough but the seats weren't the most spacious that i have ever encountered. After finding our seats i went to have a chat with friends while my two goons did their best Japanese tourist impressions and took pictures of the ground as it filled up.  As a stadium its quite enclosed with the huge three tiered stand dwarfing the rest of the ground. This was the only stand that was totally shut with the lower tier open all the way around the rest of the ground. As there was no segregation it was tricky to work out who had the most support. There were certainly more Lyon fans in colours, but with two German sides playing in the men's Champions League final at the weekend. there were also plenty of Germans in both Bayern and Dortmand shirts with Germany flags who were "On loan" Wolfsburg fans for the night. Who was i supporting? I really couldn't care less. However in my professional capacity as Sports International Magazine's football pundit i had tipped Lyon for a 3-0 win.

And why had i done that? Well to those who aren't quite up to speed on women's club football on the continent, Lyon are a cross between Manchester City, Lincoln City, Barcelona and PSG in men's football. They have won the Champions League for the past two seasons and were currently on an 118 match unbeaten run in all competitions. At home they had wrapped up the French league by winning 22 out of 22 matches played, scoring 132 goals and conceding a total of 5. They have the biggest wage bill in women's football in the world, and have several internationals from the USA, Japan, and France. It isn't uncommon to see them rack up scorelines such as 11-0 in the league. Although they are a fantastic side it must make the French league a little boring to watch.
This was Wolfsburg's first final, but they are no mugs having wrapped up the German league and cup. Enroute to the final they had beaten English champions Arsenal in the semi final stage with a 4-1 aggregate win. German side beats an English one in a semi final.. Think i have heard that story somewhere before...

Before the game started we had the pleasure of the opening ceremony which was every bit as naff as you would expect and then we were into the action.
As its a few weeks since the game i am not going to go into a detailed match report just give my quick overview on the game. In the first half Lyon did most of the attacking but in my view they tried to walk the ball into the net. When that didn't work they decided to shoot from distance which again failed. Against lesser sides in France they don't have to work too hard to get goals. Tonight was very very different, as the German's defence was very good, very strong, and very organised. All together very German really. It was 0-0 at halftime and the dreaded thought of extra time began to surface. To try and liven up the atmosphere we had started a couple of Lincoln City chants which confused a French lad in front of us but he gave us the thumbs up after the chants, i think he must have thought we were chanting for Lyon. It has to be said that Felice has a soft spot for Lyon and is saving up for a Lyon shirt as i type.

The second half was pretty similar, then with about 20 mins to go Wolfsburg won a penalty for a handball on the edge of the box. Wolfsburg scored it and that was that. Lyon huffed and puffed but there was to be no third title in a row. And with a German side destined to win the Men's final, Germany's dominance of European football was complete. They have yet however to win the Lincolnshire County Cup.

After the game the thing that struck me was the fine line that exists at top level sport. While the Lyon players were flat out on the ground, the Wolfsburg ones were dancing singing the same song over and over again. As it was in German i had no idea what they were saying at the time, but i now know it was the following:

"Champions of Germany, Champions of Europe" (repeat for 20 odd minutes)

As the medals and trophy was being presented in our stand it was hard to get decent pictures of the side lifting the cup. But thankfully they took it on the pitch which made it a little easier.  Upon leaving the ground the tat sellers where busy shouting that flags that were £5 before kickoff were now a very reasonable £1. It still wasn't cheap enough to tempt me.
The crowd was a very respectable 19,300 which although decent, meant that the tube was a tad busy, but the train back didn't leave till 11.30pm so we had plenty of time. However Felice decided to take charge and alas all didn't go well until i stepped in, rescued his bacon again, and got us on the correct train to Kings Cross. He couldn't thank me enough bless him.

So all in all it was a great day, nice stadium, and it was fantastic to be at a Champions League final. Next year the event moves to Lisbon which should be great and i am very tempted to go to that. Anybody care to join me?

Monday, 10 June 2013

Bristol Academy 2-1 Lincoln Ladies

Today's game marked the halfway stage in the FAWSL. At the moment various sides have played a different number of games but this was to be Lincolns 7th, and therefore the Imps would be halfway through their league fixtures. Although Lincoln have performed well in the cup competitions the white elephant in the room was that after 6 league games played, the Imps had yet to record a league win. If Lincoln were going to break that streak then they would have to do it against a very good Bristol side that knew that if beat Lincoln they would go into the midway point of the season joint top of the table.
The sides have locked horns twice already this season. Bristol drew first blood with a deserved 2-0 win over Lincoln in the semi finals of the FA Cup at Ashton Gate, but the Imps gained a revenge of sorts a week later when they won a Continental cup ground game 1-0 at Bristol's regular home stadium (the venue for today's game) courtesy of a late Precious Hamilton close range effort. I attended the FA Cup game but missed out on our win in the second game. The story of my life really.

The main reason that i missed out on the Continental cup game was the kick off time being 6.00pm on a Sunday evening and my needed to get up at 5.00am the next day for work. With today's game kicking off on a Saturday it made it a little better, but from an away fans point of view it still isn't great as it meant getting into Lincoln at around midnight. With this is mind it wasn't surprising that our travelling numbers were a little down on what they normally are. I can understand how a 6.00pm kick off would suit Bristol when there is an overlap with the men's season, as it means you can watch either Rovers and City and then head out to the Ladies game. It has to be said that Bristol's official crowd numbers are pretty good so the kick off times must be working for them.

At least a late kick off means a bit of a lie in and a chance to sleep off the previous nights hangover which is always a welcome event. Our mini bus for the trip had a kind of reverse tardis feel to it. From the outside it looked quite spacious however when you got inside it was a tad snug but it did the job perfectly and at 12.00pm we were on our merry way down to the west country for the third time this season. The weather was pretty overcast when we left but it did get a lot warmer the further south we travelled. Although it was a long journey down the normal amount of banter and giving each other plenty of stick helped pass the time. It was all a great deal of fun, however my own high point was at the service centre when i tried a Krispy Kreme doughnut for the first time. It was of course delicious and left we wondering why i didn't get these things in my life sooner. However if i did i would be even more out of shape that i am now.

The only downside of scoffing doughnuts in the sunshine was that we had a to get back on the bus, which had by now got rather stuffy and warm; mainly due to the obvious sunny weather and the fact that none of the windows opened and air conditioning was a lacking commodity. Thankfully however we found a decent pub a stones throw away from the ground (The Fox Den) with a cracking beer garden that was an idea place to spend a good hour or so pre game. And after a long bus journey, three pints of lager and a rum and coke went down a treat. It was the kind of place that i could happily stay in all afternoon but alas we had a football game to attend so at about 5.20 we headed over to the Stoke Gifford Stadium.

Tickets for today's pulsating encounter were £5 with the programme costing £2. Bristol are going down the route that many other clubs in the men's game have been doing over the past ten years or so, in which you have to queue up to buy a ticket then join the queue to get into the stadium. The ticket selling point and the entry gate are pretty close together but it still makes getting into the ground more time consuming than it should be. Programmes are also on sale from the ticket sale hut and are a decent enough read.

The Stoke Gifford Stadium is an athletics stadium and a pretty decent one at that. Quite often this kind of stadium design is let down by the fact that you can't get close to the action behind the goals due to the arch of the running track. Bristol however have avoided this pitfall by erecting fences behind each goal so you can get up close to the action behind the goal if you so wish to. Down one side of the stadium the club have set up three small temporary seated stands which are about 6-7 rows deep, in very much the same mould as the seated areas at Retford United, Lincoln Moorlands, and Carlton Town etc. I am led to believe that the middle stand of the three is reserved for VIPs and not for the great unwashed. I say this because in our previous game down here some of our travelling fans were booted out of this lofty vantage point for not having VIP badges. In light of this it seemed security was beefed up in this area of the stadium today.

 There is also similar stand behind the far goal where i believe the feared "Smurf Army" hangout. One thing you can't help but notice is the large amount of Bristol City posters dotted around the place as a result of the club's link up with Bristol City. Bristol seemed to have changed their first choice colours to red this year, so i assume that this is part of the deal. Having said all that the hosts did wear blue today. The club seem to put quite a lot of effort into the match day experience; not only is there a decent snap waggon selling pretty good food that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, but they also had a stall selling sweets and pop and stuff that went down well with the kids, and for the adults an outside bar was put on which was fantastic with the weather being great. They also have a club shop stall where i managed to pick up a club pin badge, The first FAWSL club badge i have managed to get. Its a bit of a mystery  to me as to why the other clubs haven't sold club badges given how many badge collectors are out there.  I really liked this friendly set up and it has something for everybody. Sadly though as the FAWSL moves forward in a direction that favours bigger stadiums, set ups like this could be a thing of the past. We decided to stand on the far side of the stadium which was furthest from the toilets which meant i did a fair bit of walking in the first half.

Lincoln are still in the midst of an injury crisis, with Casey Stoney and Remi Allen still unavailable. On the plus side Sophie Bradley was fit enough to start the match after coming off during the Doncaster game on Tuesday night. However, to even out that good news, Precious Hamilton was unable to make the trip; "It never rains but it pours" i think the saying goes.

Bristol have one of the best forward lines in the league and are certainly one of the best attacking sides out there, and they were quickly into their stride forcing Karen Bardsley in the Lincoln goal into a couple of smart saves in the first five minutes. Lincoln's best attacking outlet this season has again been Jess Clarke, and she was at the heart of most of the good things that Lincoln did going forward. As you would expect Bristol did create more of the chances but struggled to break Lincoln down. The Imps may have had a young back four out on the field but they looked steady and coped with everything in front of them aided by great defensive work in front of them by Megan Harris who managed to send the ball into the VIP lounge behind the goal with a wayward shot. That will teach them for knocking us out of the FA Cup.
Have it!!!!!!!

And then just as it looked like Lincoln had settled into the game they conceded a poor goal that really was a kick in the teeth. A quick throw in down the left was collected by  Natalia Sanchen who scampered to the byline and sent in a low cross that was missed by everybody and found Laura Del Rio, who doesn't miss chances from a yard out and made no mistake in giving the Vixens the lead in the 34th minute. I didn't have the best view in the house of it as i was on my way back from purchasing a double cheeseburger (£3.50) which although very nice, didn't really make up for going a goal behind after so much good defensive work. Food always tastes so much nicer when you are winning. The Imps may have gone into the halftime interval 1-0 down but they were still very much in the game.

Just four minutes after halftime Lincoln had a great chance to get back in the game. Megan Harris made a great run through the centre and lost her marker when she managed to connect with a Jess Clarke cross. She beat Bristol keeper Siobhan Chamberlain to the ball and prodded it past her. Now had Lincoln been 1-0 up, flying high and top of the league and scoring goals for fun then the ball would have gently rolled, hit a divet, and gone in the net. However we are not any of these things, and the ball bobbled and rolled the wrong side of the post. It was one of those moment in a game that seem to go in slow motion. We just can't buy a break at the moment.

The game didn't quite flow as freely as it did in the first half but Jess Clarke and Carla Cantrell did give the Bristol defence quite alot to think about but the final ball was just lacking. Alas after being very competitive Lincoln again shot themselves in the foot on 80 minutes Karen, who had had a great game in the Imps goal, failed to hold on to a shot from Sanchen and the rebound was bundled home by Watts, and it looked like Bristol had bagged the points. However Lincoln weren't quite finished yet.
With four minutes to go Jess Clarke picked up the ball 25 yards out and blasted a fantastic effort past Chamberlain and into the far corner. All of a sudden Bristol looked a tad rattled and had to survive a late flurry of Lincoln pressure at the end, but they held out and sent Lincoln to their fourth defeat of the campaign.

It was a dejected looking set of Lincoln players and coaching staff that trudged off the pitch and i get the feeling that the international break can't come soon enough for the club. Although it may not be much of a conciliation I felt Lincoln put in a real shift today. They were missing two key players in Remi and Casey, and took a very good Bristol side all the way. We have struggled for goals all season and with only having two recognised strikers in today's squad it was always going to be a very tough ask. The back four did well for the most part and in my view Megan Harris had her best game of the season to date and if her effort just after halftime had bobbled in then who knows what may have been. As it stands Lincoln have seven games still to play this season, 21 points still on the table and a nice seven weeks to recharge the batteries. I am not saying its all rosy in the garden by any means. There is alot of hard work ahead when the season starts up again so lets not get too downhearted and try to enjoy the Euros.

As a final thought i was quite impressed with Bristol's post match arrangements. Before the game two players and nominated to sign autographs and it seemed a very popular thing with plenty of autograph hunters young and not so young about. The Lincoln players were also happy to sign things as they left the field as well so its a big pat on the back to the ones that signed stuff. I can imagine that its much harder to do this kind of thing when you have lost instead of winning so fair play. Lets hope we have something to smile about in August. 


Saturday, 1 June 2013

Nic Hobbs interview.

 Next up for Lincoln Ladies is a local derby against Doncaster Rovers Belles. Currently both sides are at the wrong end of the table so its a game that both need to win. As you would expect with both sides quite close together geographically, a few players have represented both clubs. Lincoln have former Belles striker Precious Hamilton, while Belles have former Imps Sue Smith and Leandra Little. 
We will also see a very familiar face lining up in goal. Nic Hobbs was ever present for the Imps in the 2012 season and has had two spells at Lincoln during her career. With that in mind i thought it would be great to catch up with her before the big game and chat about how things were going at Doncaster for her, her time at Lincoln, and her view on the state of the women's game in general. I was very humbled when she agreed to do this interview and i hope everybody enjoys reading her thoughts.

Nic in action for Lincoln last season (pic courtesy of Rob Waite)

Adam Barlow  Hi Nic, could i first start of by thanking you for taking time out to give us this interview.  You are currently in your second spell with Doncaster. Has the club changed much since you have been away and was it easy to settle back in?

Nic Hobbs  Hi Adam. It’s a pleasure. I am really enjoying my time at Donny and there are many players here that were here previously, such as Kasia, Millie and Tory. It aslo helps when Sue and Leandra are here as I was playing at Lincoln with them. It was so easy to settle in knowing the girls and everyone is so friendly and approachable. The team as a whole are really close and there are no cliques and no people thinking they are better than anyone else.

AB: How do you feel the season has gone so far for Doncaster and for you personally?

NH: The season started bad for us losing 4 -0 to Chelsea and then to get relegated from top flight football after playing this one game and for it to be over money. You couldn’t think of a worse start! Although this really affected us we knew we had to prove the FA wrong and try and embarrass them by getting results. Since then (ignoring the performance at Bristol) we have worked hard at making it difficult for teams, and we managed a 1-1 draw with Chelsea the following week, and although we lost against Liverpool we put in a good performance and worked hard.
On my performances the season started bad obviously losing 4-0 but I don’t think I had a bad game and since then I have been happy with my game. But there is always something I can work on and put right and I have a long way to go regarding consistency but I am only just 26 and have a long playing career yet.

AB: Has the news from the FA about placing Doncaster in FAWSL 2 in 2014 brought the squad even closer together and made everybody more determined to succeed this season?

NH:  Yes the decision has given us a boost in a way to prove ourselves as fighters and money shouldn’t talk.
We have local, young developing talent and this team is exactly what the league is for. Develop English players to make the national side stronger and give more opportunities.
We have nothing to lose now, bring it on!

AB: You also had two spells with Lincoln. What are your favourite memories of your early days at the club?

NH: My first spell at Lincoln was amazing, great girls and made some good friends and the club helped me develop into the England set up. The coaching staff and backroom staff really made Lincoln a great club to be at. They put so much of their own money and time into the club to take it onwards and upwards. I feel bad for them now as it has been taken away from Lincoln so it will have to start from scratch again. All their efforts have been took over and taken away to Nottingham.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Rod Wilson and Glen Harris for all their hard work and efforts throughout my time at Lincoln.
My memories at Lincoln range from nights out to getting close to promotion. It was a great balance.

AB: Looking back on those early days, what do you think has been the biggest change in the women's game compared to what it is today?

NH: Biggest change – Money, money is the main one. It’s amazing that clubs can now afford to pay players and make it into a salary for them. This should make the game better although it doesn’t create talent, it just helps clubs get that talent.  This will be good for players to get the opportunity to train daily and spread the word on women’s football. 
Though I do hope money is going into the development side of things and creating English talent and not go down the road of men's football and just buy ready-made talent.

AB: I believe you rejoined Lincoln in 2011, which was the first season of Super League and you were ever present in the side in 2012. What was your high point during that time? Do any games stand out

NH: There are 2 games that really stand out to me and that was the time we drew with Arsenal twice in 2 weeks at home. It was the fact I as a player had never gained points from Arsenal. The game was fantastic and there was lots of goals and lots of saves it was so tense and I actually enjoyed the game. It was one game for the crowd as well and to give them a game like that was great.

AB:Any real low points from the same time?

NHLow points……obviously losing games are low points but there isn’t really anytime that sticks out. Obviously that’s a good thing and I have nothing but good memories at Lincoln.

AB: Are there any funny stories that you can tell us about your time at Lincoln?

NH; There have been lots of funny stories at Lincoln. One time (although you probably had to be there at the time) 5 of us were heading to training, singing our hearts out to people in the traffic, all I remember was Casey sinking into her seat. She was so embarrassed!
There were also a lot of house parties which were hilarious and great nights out.

AB:Looking back on your career as a whole, what has been the high point?

NH; There have been so many high points but I would start with playing for various England age groups. Also reaching the league cup final with Doncaster and although I didn’t play in the final but played into every game running upto it; reaching the FA cup final with Everton and winning.

AB:Who is the best coach/manager that you have worked with, and why?

NH: Goal Keeping coach wise there are a few. Steve Harris at Lincoln helped me back upto a better standard when leaving Everton and joining Lincoln.
But I will always remember at England Tony Parks. I only had one camp with him but he was all for keepers getting their own time with training and not just stood serving balls to the outfield. He stood up for keepers which I respected.
I do love a controversial person. haha

AB: How do you view the FAWSL this season; it looks a lot closer this year but have any sides really impressed you so far?

NH: The obvious is Liverpool they have had a lot of money pumped into the club. But also Bristol, although they didn’t stand out when we played against them they know when to take their chances and they finish them outstandingly.
This season will stand out, teams have got stronger and I think the league may look a bit different this season but I do think it will be very close from top to bottom.

AB: You have a very demanding full time job away from football. Just how hard is it mentally and physically to juggle both?

NH I do have the best job in the world (Nic is a firefighter) and enjoy it so much and I do feel really lucky doing a job I love to do. Im also lucky that I can play football around it to although it is hard. Most of the time I do an 11 hour shift then go straight to training or even train before I go to work. The hardest is when I have to work sat night finsh Sunday morning then go back to work Sunday night. That’s a killer.
I do believe having a job as a woman playing football is very important, and getting a good education is too, as all it takes at this level is a nasty injury and it could stop you playing. I know if that happened to me I would still have a job to fall back on and can still pay my mortgage and bills with no hassle. Also there still isn’t enough money in it yet to make you comfortable for your future.

AB Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us and for giving us a players insight into your career and the women's game. Good luck for the rest of the season.