Ten Years of the Blues – Part One
On 14th April 2011 I went to my first Women’s Football game to see Birmingham City Women (or Ladies as they were then – the name-change at least is a great improvement!) play Bristol City at Stratford Town FC; I was instantly hooked and in the succeeding decade have been a loyal supporter and fan. I have travelled many hundreds of miles, sponsored an ever-increasing number of players and even supported the youth team (or Academy) whenever possible (a definition of insane support is driving from Birmingham to Peterborough for an Academy match which you discover on arrival has been called off!!).
The 14th of April 2011 was also the launch day of the Women’s Super League (WSL) which represented a major FA (Football Association) initiative to promote Women’s Football.
I thought that it would be worth reflecting on these 10 years both as a (very) personal recap of some highs and lows and also a consideration of the massive changes which have occurred within Women’s Football during that period. You could categorise these approaches as the personal and the political, and while these can never be divorced, I have split this blog into 3 parts. Those primarily interested in the general and political issues would be advised to skip to Parts 2 and 3 (and Separate Notes!). Conversely, those only interested in the personal story of a BCW fan during the past decade can stop at the end of the reminiscences, which I will now plunge into…..
- The European Cup (Note 3) Quarter Final 2nd leg on 30th March 2014. We were away against Arsenal the reigning superpower of the Women’s Game for whom arguably the greatest English Women’s Footballer Kelly Smith was playing. The game was away at Barnet and we had a minimal 1-0 lead from the 1st leg. The weather was glorious but I am not sure many fans were optimistic – I wasn’t! In the event we won 2-0 with what I regard as the most complete performance I ever saw from Birmingham City Women (BCW) – I take into account the occasion, the quality of the opposition and our total dominance after we had scored. A fabulous day. (Note 2)
- European Journeys. We qualified for the European Cup in 2012 and 2013; I followed the team to Verona, Helsinki and Stockholm (I bottled going to Moscow which only the wonderful Warrens braved). Each of these trips was brilliant even though in 2 of them (Verona and Stockholm) the actual games ended in defeat. These were all wonderful cities to explore. The match in Helsinki – a night game – stands out not only because we won, but also meeting up with Blues fans living in Helsinki and singing ‘Keep Right On’ (the Birmingham City anthem) – this probably left the Finnish fans somewhat bemused.
- The 3-2s.(Bristol and Chelsea). There is a very odd synchronicity about the 2 WSL matches which stand out in my memory. Both were away games. In both, the scoring went 1-0, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2,3-2 (BCW scores first). In both, our second goals were ‘worldie’ long-range strikes (Chelsea Weston and Lucy Quinn). In both, our winners were wonderful counter-attacking goals. I think it is the drama of that scoring sequence that makes these games so memorable; happiness, despair and finally unqualified joy (see notes 4 and 5)
Oddly I only have 2 matches that stand out here and of these, the first is incomparably worse.
- At home to Notts County on the last day of the 2014 Season. We only (only!) needed to win to claim the League Title. Our failure to do so and other results cost us not only the Title but another European Qualification. And this was a very winnable match. The gut-wrenching, heart-sinking disappointment which followed this game lasted a long, long time.
- Away to Sunderland in the 2015 Season. Sunderland always seemed to be a very cold ground and so perhaps my discontent was magnified. It was however the only occasion on which I can recall the Team (or elements within it) giving less than 100%. In retrospect I understood those player’s reasons but at the time it did not make things any better. This was compounded by seeing a young player who had given everything in tears having picked up another injury. A miserable day.
The Weird and Quirky
Demonstrating my somewhat individual approach!
- Chelsea Away in 2012. Another Chelsea away midweek game, but this time from when they played at Staines. There were few BCW supporters travelling to this match – Staines was always somewhat of a trek. It was as I recall a 7.30 Kick-Off. Near that time an announcement came that KO was delayed because BCW had not arrived. The story which went round (I never did find out if this was true) was that the team coach had got stuck on a bridge near the ground! Finally the team arrived and after a very truncated warm-up went on to win the game (see note 9).
- Yeovil Away in 2014 in the League Cup. A classic example of football bathos. The game was (or at least was in my memory) just days after the Stockholm European Cup Semi-Final. Yeovil were playing that season at Sherborne Town which although in very picturesque countryside really is the back-of-beyond. The contrast was unbelievable. And what was amazing was that it took longer to get back from that game (partly due to roadworks on the M5) than it did from Stockholm.
- A 0-6 loss to Arsenal in appalling weather at Bishops Stortford in 2013 (and this was an FA Cup Quarter Final!). No doubt this would be in many people’s sorrows but I decided I would stand out in the rain for the second-half and rant at the referee (fortunately male). When there was a throw-in he came over and said he wanted to see who had been abusing him! (he was very friendly about it). Anyway, I had vented my wrath – unlike one player’s mum who was incandescent with rage about our performance (I apologise if she ever reads this but it was so magnificent and buoyed me up during a very tedious journey home).
The focus above has been mainly geographical but more important have been the people – supporters, players, player’s parents and staff – whom I have met in the past 10 years. The ‘regulars’ among BCW supporters (although I think there are few people who have been there for this whole journey still around for various reasons) whom I feel privileged to count as friends are kind, humorous, generous people.
I would particularly pick out (with no disrespect to anyone else) from the early years Mark Farnell and his daughter Lucy. Mark had been a supporter for many years before the WSL formed and as I quite often gave them a lift in the early years he was able to educate me in the Women’s game. He had both enormous knowledge and foresight. As to the former, I particularly recall his comment when we were en route to my first England game that I should not expect it to be like BCW. Was he right! Boring negative football. That cured me of my illusion that Women’s football was intrinsically more entertaining than mens’.
As far as foresight is concerned – and I can actually remember where we were, passing the power station towers on the way into Nottingham, when he said this – he explained that the FA were going to parachute Manchester City into the WSL and this meant the beginning of the end of the good times for women’s football fans like me and him. This was a long time before I heard anyone else explain or analyse this.
From later years I have been privileged to have been to a lot of games with the wonderful Warrens, Sharon and Lindsay, who did go to Moscow and every game, including the Academy matches. They are the most delightful company one could imagine.
Every player I have been fortunate enough to meet (I disregard the one who never wanted to mingle with fans) has been a pleasure to know. I have been especially fortunate in my choice of sponsees and the first and second players I sponsored, Chelsea and Becky, both great players and great people. They exemplify the best of Women’s Football. Over the years the turnover of sponsees has increased vastly because the turnover of players at the club has likewise increased, but whenever I have been lucky enough to meet them I have always been hugely impressed.
Halcyon Days at Stratford
The eagle-eyed (or enormously patient!) reader will have noticed a couple of large omissions in the list of Joys with which I started. First, a specific one of the FA Cup Final of 2012 when we won our only major trophy. I’m afraid that’s just me. Yes, it was a great day out but just not in the same category personally as those I list.
But the more glaring omission is of any Home matches at all. Now, this is partly because I love road trips. But it is also because my happy memories of home games merge together. They are at Stratford Town, it is warm and sunny, the view over the verdant fields is wondrous, the jumbo sausage and chips are delicious, the ice-cream van is there for half-time refreshment, friends and fellow-fans are around for a chat, we are playing exciting attacking football and mostly winning.
I know I am affected by golden days nostalgia here but there is a hard-core of truth. The very description gives away the time period – the first 3 years 2011-13 inclusive. In 2014 we moved to Solihull and Manchester City were parachuted into the league. It will never be possible for me to recapture that ‘first fine carefree rapture’ (note 6) but at least I do have my golden memories and I am immensely grateful to have them and to all who contributed to make them possible in any way.
Which is a fitting place to end Part One…….
- I had no idea until I sought this programme out for use here that the cover star was Kerys Harrop. This is amazingly appropriate (it is almost uncanny in fact!) as of the players who were in the BCW squad that day Kerys lasted much the longest, only leaving in 2020; she had been a Blues player for years before the WSL formed too so her connection to the club is far, far deeper than mine. For many BCW fans, Kez was Blues Women and no departure has so hurt (while absolutely no blame attaches and every fan wishes her all good fortune). An absolute star.
- Highlights of this match may be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yj0w045ALk4
- I know these names – European Cup/League Cup – are very outdated but I greatly prefer them for both clarity and sonorousness.
- The highlights of the Bristol game can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miwN16a8Fhc&t=13s – it is actually a post-match review but no less fascinating for that.
- Highlights of the Chelsea game are at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGaz4zI7nsU&t=127s (the great irony of this game was that it was Marta Tejedor’s first match as Manager – this did not launch a happy or successful period for the club!).
- Robert Browning ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’.
- The (in-)famous Shakespeare video is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXcYNaRU5Fo The ‘cast’ comprise Laura Bassett, Izzy Christianson, Kerys Harrop and the BCW legend Karen Carney. Apart from the entertainment value, I do think this gives a kind of feeling of the spirit which was around in 2013.
- It was a memorable Birthday and we beat Liverpool 2-1. I have just been looking at the card again and smile a little ruefully at the players message ‘See you next week at the final for another win’ – this was the infamous 2016 League Cup Final against Manchester City, played at……Manchester City!!! We still took them to extra-time and only lost 0-1.
- Many thanks to Mike Maybury for a full explanation – ‘Nick the reason we were late for Chelsea was that the coach Sat Nav tried to take us under a bridge we could not get under. We then had to try and turn the coach around and find a way to avoid the bridge. This caused further delay as we got lost again‘. It is an even better story than I thought!