Monday, 4 May 2009

It’s a man’s game…or is it?

Having heard that a ticket to this years’ women’s FA Cup Final between the highly acclaimed Arsenal and final virgins Sunderland would cost a mere £5, I cleared my diary and decided to make the 72 mile journey south to Derby.

This years final was held at Pride Park, the home of Nigel Clough’s Derby County. The 33,000 capacity stadium would be the host this year after neighbours Nottingham held the competition last year.

Knowing before hand that the stadium was modern and could hold a reasonable amount of people, my initial thoughts were that everyone would be sat in just one side, due to lack of spectators, but how wrong could I be?

As I made my way up onto the lower tier of the North Stand minutes before kick off I wasn’t prepared for the view I received. The ground had fans on every side, with myself wondering ‘where am I going to sit?’. Only the South Stand lacked a full stand, maybe due to the fact that Sunderland are not in the top flight of the sport.

The pairing of teams was always going to be a David and Goliath contest in the sense that the Gunners had won the competition four times in the past five years, the exception was down to Arsenal’s absence from the 2005 final. Sunderland were making club history by reaching the final of the FA Cup for the first time, with the Black Cats previous best being part of the last eight in 2005.

Two years ago I had witnessed the final between the Gunners (shock) and Charlton Athletic on television and remembered it was one of the most one sided matches I had ever seen, with the likes of Kelly Smith being a dominant force.

This year I was expecting no different and I’d be right in one sense despite the Black Cats best efforts and a goal for it. From the kick off Arsenal showed a different type of class, with goalkeeper Emma Byrne becoming a spectator for most of the game.

As time went on and the match progressed, I began to notice my opinion of the sport changing. I have always supported women’s football but being naive led me to believe that it was a million miles away from the men’s game, maybe not after all.

29 year old Rachel Yankey has one of the best first touches I’ve ever seen and the speed, skill and creativity of a top class Premiership star. Sunderland’s performance was what I had expected of women’s football, I don’t mean that offensive, with speed and strength being the difference, but the Gunners didn’t seem to lack any.

Manager Vic Akers has played a massive role at Arsenal and will step down at the end of the season after he single handily formed the club 22 years ago, this type of personality is what the sport needs more of.

But at the end of the day, despite the 23,291 that turned out to show their support, it will be back to the day jobs come tomorrow. Although Akers’s Arsenal have proven their worth out of 306 teams that entered, reality is clear to see by all as the Gunners will only receive £5,000 for their triumph.

A small percentage compared to what either Chelsea or Everton will walk away with on 30th May. It might not be morally right but it is what it is and it’s going to take something special to change the face of women’s football and take it into the limelight it deserves.

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