Arsenal are the super team of English women's football and had beaten Leeds United 5-1 in their Womens F A Cup Final last season. Going into this season's FA Premier League Women's Final they were firm favourites. Leeds battled throughout in front of a record crowd of 3.800 for this competition, about half capacity, until a late goal in added time by Welsh midfielder Jane Ludlow gave Arsenal Ladies the trophy. They will also be the first English team to play in the UEFA Final when they play Umea of Sweden next month. The pitch, and weather were atrocious. Leeds suffered from a weak attack with many shots lacking pace, though Sue Smith was terrific. They defended gallantly and 17 year old Leeds player Sophie Bradley was player of the match. Coach Julie Chipchase has done a very good job and having watched them practice, I have been impressed with their skill, team work and fitness and organization.
Coach Vic Akers, who is an assistant to Arsene Wenger with the men's team, started the women's team 20 years ago and are strong all over, with a lightning quick attack with England stars Rachel Yankey and Kelly Smith prominant. Scunthorpe's Glanford Park might seem an unlikely venue for such a match. It's a desolute place and I was making my second visit in three months. The last time, an evening match, I had to leave early to get back to 'The Mainland'. The train station is unfriendly-you have to line up with ticket buyers to borrow the key for the toilets down the platform,(2005 station Loo of the Year!! believe me), and it must be the only train station on earth with no connecting buses. The stadium is about 2 miles away, next to the rail line, and you would have thought that Trans Pennine Rail, or others would have built a stadium train station even if only opened on match days, when hooligans from England could be better controlled. The pub/restaurant THE IRON BAR was closed and so was the club shop. There are nice warm McDonalds and other delights nearby but once in the stadium you couldn't go out for half time. Scunthorpe is sometime called SCUNNY, or SUNNY, but it's always wet and windy when I visit. Also, because of the 2nd to 5th letter, AOL 'filter' enquiries about the town. !!! I would expect more from the F.A., who have a superb web site promoting the women's game. There should have been a carnival atmosphere and lots of pre match entertainment and free give aways by sponsors to impressionable young and future fans. Players earn maybe $100-300.00 a week and both squads would earn less in 7 days than Thierry Henry alone earns in one day.
It was the very first of the 'new, people friendly' custom built stadiums opened in 1988 after the Hillsborough Disaster, and is like something IKEA would sell. The Old Showgrounds, their first stadium, is now a shopping centre. It had the very first cantilevered stand with no pillars and was often shown in F A NEWS advertisements as the way to go, but when I took a group in 1983 the toilets were broken, lights were missing and so was the toilet paper. My taxi was expensive, and I calculated that if I had booked it on a round the world trip, instead of just as far as Glanford Park, it would have cost about $300,000. Walking back, with no hope of a bus on a Sunday I tried hitch hiking, with no luck. North Lincolnshire, since the closing of the steel mills, grows plenty of potatotos. Remind me at the next potato famine not to contribute to the 'starving families' fund.
There were as many orange coated stewards as on regular match days, with each section gated off from others. No chance of fan problems with this young crowd. There was a huge line for refreshments and the women's toilet. I don't know how many would have wet their panties, or starved to death before getting a beef burger, until the Senior Steward, all in white, opened the gate to let the young and largely female crowd go into the next sections' facilities and refreshment kiosk-but that wasn't until the end of half time. He reminded me of P.C. George Scorey, on the White Horse at The FA Cup Final of 1923 at Wembley's opening. After the match, as I dashed for the long hike, he was directing cars out of the car park. His actions had helped the situation and I congratulated him on his deed. By the way, I only paid $5.00 and the top price was only $10.00. The F.A. at Soho Square, London charges very little for Women's Internationals and Cup Finals and at The FA Womens Final at City Ground Nottingham in May, prices start at $2.00. I stood on the standing terrace behind a goal. With very few people in that section I noticed the interesting pattern on the concrete terraces of years old ground-in chewing guy. Perhaps the club President Steve Wharton can spend a day with his board, hire a steam cleaner and clean the mess up, sooner rather than later.
At the presentation ceremony one of those cannons fired coloured streamers into the air, which the wind promptly blew over the Kop stand and into nearby high trees. Luckily there were only stewards and no police on duty, so I don't know if the F.A. was cited for littering, and I don't know who from Soho Square was going to climb the 40 foot high leafless branches.
Scunthorpe United men's team lead League One by 10 points with 10 matches remaining, and seem destined for The Championship, after years of being a yo-yo team. Kevin Keegan started his career playing for THE IRONS, and also Ray Clemence, former Spurs and England 'keeper. Brian Laws started the revolution, and he is now at Sheffield Wednesday. The board appointed the physio Nigel Atkins to succeed him and the team is in terrific form. 'Who needs Mourinho when we've got the Physio' is the fans new chant.
At Smokey Joe's pub, next to the station where I asked the sales clerk 'When is the next train back to England ?' from British West Scunthorpe, I met three members of the Arsenal Norwegian Fan club www.gunners.no including their President Ole. They had been to The Emirates the day before and had to pay $85.00 for a taxi from Doncaster Station to get to Glanford Park because of a lack of connecting trains. They had also walked back to the station.
Arriving at Doncaster station, back 'On the Mainland' we were greeted by 4 smartly dressed staff from GNER that operates trains to London, York, Leeds, Edinburgh. the Route of The Flying Scotsman. Doncaster also boasts a terrific Frenchgate shopping centre next door to the station, and has the newest stadium in England, Keepmoat Stadium shared by Doncaster Rovers, Doncaster Rovers Belles and the Doncaster Lakers Rugy League team.