After the success of The Three Lionesses in Canada with a 3rd place win over No.1 Germany, how would it be on their return to Blighty? Quite successful thank you. Manchester City Women v Birmingham City Ladies as the 8 team League Division 1, www.fawsl.com, resumed after the FIFA World Cup break.
Getting off the Metrolink tram at The Academy Stadium, part of the £50 million training site for Manchester City, across a busy intersection from The Etihad, it was a pleasant surprise. Lines of fans, some starting high up on the new skybridge, trying frustratingly to purchase tickets from only two ticket machines and ONE manned kiosk.
We had to wait 25 minutes to purchase tickets but NO SEATS LEFT !..only STANDING ROOM ONLY ! That's a first ! However a very impressive and informative FREE 32 page official programme was included. A couple of months ago I watched one of the very first matches played there: NYCFC v St.Mirren FC when both main stands were open..but only a team sheet available. Lots of City fans in sky blue in the warm sunshine with family groups, young pre-teen boys and girls and babes in arms and on dad's shoulders. Also nice to see a few royal and white Birmingham flags and scarves.
Strangely though the four officials were called Aaron. Stuart, Lewis and Benjamin. Big cheers as the teams were presented, many of them now household names. For the Sky Blues, England players such as California born gk Karen Bardsley, England captain Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze, Jill Scott, Toni Duggan, and new signing 22 year old Daphne Corboz from Mobile AL who has postponed medical school at Georgetown University to pursue her dream.
The visitors also boasted three England players in Karen Carney, Jade Moore and Jo Potter. It was a skillful, entertaining and evenly matched contest and was decided by one goal in the 55th minute for the hosts..AND WHAT A GOAL IT WAS. One of my favourite Lionesses is tall Jill Scott. She took the ball down the right, cut in and evaded three tackles and sent the perfect cross to Toni Duggan just inside the box to strike hard past the goalkeeper. Final 1-0.
Along with the other three matches, Arsenal v Liverpool, Chelsea v Bristol Academy and Sunderland v Notts County, attendances were up 237% from the same fixtures last season. The FA have heavily promoted the league including the 10 team Division 2, and are hoping for a bumper crowd on August 01 for the F A Women's Cup Final, played at Wembley Stadium for the first time between Chelsea and Notts County. When The Three Lionesses hosted Germany there, 50,000 fans showed up. The players at The Academy Stadium were also available after the match for autographs, selfies and hugs.
Chelsea top the table with 17 points from 7 matches, 5 ahead of second place Arsenal. Heading FA WSL 2 are Reading and Doncaster Rovers Belles, level with 25 points from 10 matches. The FA's WE CAN PLAY promotion is also aimed at youth participation. Across the skybridge The Etihad's South Stand extension is almost complete to take the stadium capacity to 55,000, third largest in the EPL after Old Trafford and The Emirates.