The pleasant part about watching womens football is that there is no hooliganism, you don't have police on time and a half or more moaning all the time about their pensions, the referees are respected, and they often play in idyllic settings.
I was at the tree lined home stadium, The Park, of Leeds United Ladies besides the River Wharfe at Tadcaster,which they share with Tadcaster Albion men's team in a charming little market town with 3 breweries, Coors, John Smiths and Samuel Smiths, whose dray horses can be seen around town making deliveries. The local limestone wells have provided the necessary water for brewing for over 600 years, and well before than the town was called Calcaria by the Romans (Place of the Limestone).
The Womens' Premier League has been held up for a couple of months by the World Cup in China, but after beating Doncaster Rovers Belles 3-1 in their first league match,(which I missed because I got the date wrong), I turned up to watch United host Blackburn Rovers from across the Pennines. Leeds took the mighty Arsenal, European Champions, to the 88th minute in the F A Womens League Cup Final early this year before losing on a late goal. They are stacked with internationals and took a 3-1 lead into the start of the second half. Unfortunately the game was held up for 40 minutes while an ambulance arrived from goodness knows where, maybe York, for a possible broken leg of a Rovers player. After play was resumed all was going to form as Leeds United added a fourth. Definately not over!! The Rovers fought back to make it 4-4 by full time.
Leeds City Vixens, 3 tiers below the Premier League, in The Northern Combination were hosting Rochdale Ladies AFC in the first round of the FA Women's Cup on Sunday afternoon. They play at Adel Memorial Sports ground behind the 12th Century Norman Parish Church of St. John The Baptist. Again a very tranquil site with lots of trees, and on this autumn day half the field, which is surrounded by a white fence, was covered with leaves in various shades of golds and yellows. According to founder Martin Cockerill, who was busy selling raffle tickets, they only get £300 a year from the F.A. which covers some petrol money, and each player on the club of about a dozen teams pays £100 a season only if they can afford it, and so sponsors come in handy. The winner of this the First Round Proper would receive £250 from the Football Association, and the prize increases until the finalists get £2,500 and £5,000. Arsenal are the holders and beat Charlton in front of 25,000 at Nottingham Forest's City Ground where the 2008 Final will return to.
The Vixens opened the scoring in the 60th minute from the penalty spot but the Lancastrians equalized 10 minutes later. With the light fading Rochdale scored the winner with 2 minutes remaining in extra time. The standard was remarkably good, and very well officiated.
The spa town of Harrogate is noted for beautiful gardens, trade shows, up market designer shopping and eating, including famous Bettys Tea Rooms, and The Stray, 200 acres of parkland on the edge of the town centre, created centuries ago by an Act of Parliament. I strode past The Stray down to the wooded setting of the Wetherby Road Ground, the picturesque home of Harrogate Town F.C. high-flying leaders of the Blue Square North men's league, who had lost 2-1 in the Final Preliminary Round of the men's F.A. Cup to local rivals Harrogate Railway, 5 minutes away, 3 days earlier. Tonight it was proudly hosting a U19 womens friendly between England and France. Mo Marley the legendary coach of Everton FC Ladies coaches the U 19' squad, and they have already qualified for the FIFA U20s World Cup in Chile next year. The full England Ladies team, back from China, had beaten Belarus 4-0 in a sold out Banks Stadium in Walsall at the weekend, hopefully on the way to the UEFA Finals in Finland next year, and senior coach Hope Powell was also in attendance.
It's great to see the football authorities spreading youth and ladies matches around the country and a 1,500 plus crowd showed up. There were youngsters displaying their track suits with Beckwithshaw Saints, St. Marys Menston, Scotton Scorchers, Killinghall Nomads, York City Ladies, Leeds United, Knaresborough Celtics and more chanted for ENG-UL-AND and waving flags of St George. The Kickers Bar,behind one goal was serving Fosters and John Smiths., with Guinness on special sale,'until supplies run out'!! did lots of business with the many mums and dads, and the Wetherby Silver Band and the Harrogate Hornets cheerleaders offered entertainment. At half time The Knaresborough Celtic Juniors were presented with a check for ground improvements after specacular growth in their 10 year history, by the F.A. blazers.
In the first quarter of an hour Les Bleus looked like the team that couldn't shoot straight as they kept missing Rebecca Spencer's goal. After 18 minutes Remi Allen of Leicester City put England ahead, but within 60 seconds it was 1-1 as Eugenie Le Sommer of Stade Briochin equalized. 2 goals in the last 20 minutes of the match from Aurelie Kaci of Olympique Lyonnais and Laura Agard of Montpellier gave France victory. Still its great to see resources poring in to women's and youth football. France train their squads at the splendid Clairfontaine national centre which I visited after the 1998 FIFA World Cup, while Mo Marley and Hope Powell and lots more coaches, trainers and back up teams use Loughborough College in Leicestershire with its superb resources.
As expected, Germany won the right to host the next FIFA Women's World Cup in 2011, beating out the bid from Canada at the FIFA Executive meeting in Zurich.