Goodbye Salford, Hej Sverige!

I’ve been to Sweden once before, on my first ever tour with the Australian team in 1997 as a 15 year old.  We drew 1-1 with Sweden in Ostersund thanks to my footballing hero and great friend, Julie Murray.

I remember thinking just how beautiful the landscape was and knowing that I wanted to return one day for a better look.

Football has afforded me so many things and travel is one that I will never take for granted.

So off we go to Gothenburg to cover the Women’s Euro 2013 semi-final between the hosts, Sweden, and seven time winners (who have since made it eight), Germany.

Eesh at Sweden's semi-final with Germany

Eesh at Sweden’s semi-final with Germany

Cue delayed plane……..1 hour

Cue delayed plane………2 hours

Cue delayed plane………3 hours

What was it I was saying about not taking travel for granted? I hate airports. That is all.

My first impression of Gothenburg was exciting, I saw a moose just chillin’ on the side of the road on the way out of the airport. It’s no kangaroo bouncing through our training session or crazy ducks chasing us at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra but I get excited about seeing any wildlife (well except the wildlife that my very un-athletic dog has caught or I’ve accidentally run over in my car….I swear I’m an animal lover!).

The atmosphere at the Sweden v Germany semi-final was electric. It was a sea of yellow jerseys and was jam-packed full of parents with their kids. This is what I loved seeing the most at the Euros, the inclusive nature of the tournament and unwavering support of football by the country.

The question is how we get parents to take their children to WSL games in England.  Crowds (or lack thereof) are a constant topic of discussion and I believe they are the key to the overall development of the women’s game. Cue possible topic for next blog…..

Ready for the final

Ready for the final

Unfortunately the fairytale ending wasn’t to be for Sweden. In what was by far the most entertaining game of the tournament, Germany defeated the hosts 1-0.

Shout out time.

I’ve been living in London for 18 months now and people who know me understand how excited I get when I can hang out with familiar faces. So it was A-MAZ-ING to see Danielle Warby (social media genius from The Women’s Game), Lydia Williams (Aussie GK & all-round awesome chick) & Tommy Sermanni (crossword addict & Premier League Card President & reigning champion) and Priscilla Duncan (former NZ international & now working at FIFA ) in Sweden.

With Priscilla Duncan & Danielle Warby of @TheWomensGame

With Priscilla Duncan & Danielle Warby of @TheWomensGame

Dan was my official beer drinking partner, Lyds took two flights from Pitea to see us for one night, Tommy was just swanning around talking to a million people as usual (the man knows everyone, I’m convinced of that) & Priscilla had popped over from Zurich for a weekend in Stockholm (tough life for some).

Stockholm is a beautiful city made slightly less enjoyable by the astronomical prices of……everything. I guess that’s a sign of a healthy economy but meant I left Sweden with a very unhealthy bank balance.

So, on to the final. Germany (again) v Norway. Early predictions were for German domination but how wrong they were. Norway went against their usual game plan of sitting back, frustrating the opposition and looking to quickly counter attack to having a real go at the Germans.

Unfortunately for Norway they had two penalties saved and ended up losing 1-0.

Bothering guards...

Bothering guards…

I left Sweden thinking that women’s football is in a strong position for future growth and development. The overall standard is rapidly improving and the support of the Euros by the fans and media coverage was brilliant.

I was proud to be involved in the BBC coverage because all of our crew were enthusiastic, supportive and driven to make the production a success. Which I think we achieved.

Here’s a few highlights from the 3 weeks:

–  Trying to stop Leandra Little from stealing every bike she saw while we (Sue, Faye, Leandra & I) were walking around Stockholm. (Ok so Lea wasn’t technically trying to steal bikes, she just assumed every bike parked on the street was for hire).

–  Getting yelled at by the Guard at the Stockholm Royal Palace to get out of his FIFA Technical Area (see photo right).

Worshipping golden cows

Worshipping golden cows

–  Having a very productive “meeting” with Danielle Warby (The Women’s Game – Aus) & Jen O’Neill (She Kicks) over free beer in the media room in Norrkoping followed by a lovely stroll back to our hotels via an interesting sculpture that appeared to be worshipping a golden cow (see photo).

So all in all, a fun trip and I look forward to the next one.

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Emily Dulhanty’s 2013 NWSL Award Picks

The Women’s Football Podcast’s resident NWSL expert picks the players that have caught her eye this season.

Last weekend I spent quite a bit of time on my NWSL Award picks and I thought I’d share my train of thought here on the WFBlog.

With so many ways of approaching these votes, I tried to base my decisions on consistency – who delivered impact performances for their team week in and week out. Yes, big time saves and plays are important for each team as well, but I think those winning these awards had to be able to deliver each week and not disappear for a few games.

Without further ado, here they are:

MVP: Lauren Holiday. Holiday was undoubtedly the league’s best player. She led the league with 12 goals and nine assists, and stepped up on FC Kansas City, a team whose strikers have struggled.

Holiday

Lauren Holiday is Emily’s MVP pick

Goalkeeper of the Year: Adrianna Franch. This one was a toss up between Western New York’s Franch and Portland’s Karina Leblanc.

Here’s the thing: Leblanc has the league’s fourth best goals against average (GAA) on a team with a struggling defense, and her efforts kept the Thorns in many games (including her save on an Abby Wambach PK to preserve a draw on July 14th). But she had a couple of games (two against FC KC that I can specifically think of) where her goalkeeping wasn’t great.

Franch on the other hand, has the league’s best GAA and was very solid the entire season. In the same game that Leblanc saved Wambach’s PK, Franch made an incredible nine saves to help preserve the draw for WNY. So, I’m okay with Franch as my pick for keeper of the year (with Leblanc a close second!).

Defender of the Year: Christie Rampone. Oldest player and best defender in the league. Guided the team’s two young starting defenders, Kendall Johnson and Caitlyn Foord (pre-injury that is), for much of the season like the veteran she is.

Rookie of the Year: Erika Tymrak. Of those eligible, Erika Tymrak, Sydney Leroux, Adriana Franch and Mana Shim stand out for me (don’t make me choose!). Ok, I chose Tymrak.

Here’s why: Fresh out of the University of Florida, Tymrak was able to work herself from a second half substitute on Kansas City to a starter, and one of the team’s most influential players. She is exciting and combined extremely well with Lauren Holiday. Tallying four assists and six goals herself, I think she’s deserving. (And yes, I realize I chose Franch for GK of the year and not rookie of the year, but Tymrak brought a whole lot of excitement and technical ability to the league, so just go with it!)

Coach of the Year: Vlatko Andonovski (FC KC). Although I think Andonovski got lucky with the balanced national team allocations he got, he complimented those players with a superb supporting cast. When Chicago and Washington both passed on Kristie Mewis in the college draft, he picked her and throughout the season helped convert her into a left back.

Andonovski also signed Erika Tymrak, Courtney Jones and Leigh-Ann Robinson, to name a few, who proved to be essential to the team’s success. Not including the two late game collapses FCKC had at the end of the season, they also played the most attractive style of possession soccer in the NWSL.

Honourable mentions: Laura Harvey, for finding a solid lineup after a slow start and converting Kaylyn Kyle into an effective centre back. Jim Gabarra for getting Sky Blue FC to the Play-Offs despite the mounting list of injuries his players incurred. And Aaron Lines for putting together a winning team for the fourth year (and fourth different league) in a row.

Adrianna Franch's consistency earned her Emily's vote as Keeper of the Year

Adrianna Franch’s consistency earned her Emily’s vote as Keeper of the Year

Best XI:

Goalkeeper: Adrianna Franch: As I explained above, her consistency earns her the number one jersey in this team.

Defenders (4): Becky Sauerbrunn, Christie Rampone, Brittany Taylor, Leigh Ann Robinson. Consistency. Sauerbrunn, Rampone and Taylor were anchors at CB, and Robinson’s 1-v-1 defending and ability to get forward at left back, and later at right back is deserving of Best XI honours. 

Midfielders/ Forwards (6): Lauren Holiday, Abby Wambach, Desiree Scott, Lori Chalupny, Jessica Fishlock, Diana Matheson 

The fact that I had about a dozen players on this list at first shows just how great the league’s quality of play and competitiveness has been. On any other day I could have interchanged any one of the above six (besides maybe Holiday and Wambach) with Lianne Sanderson, Carli Lloyd or Megan Rapinoe (among others).

So my picks: Holiday and Wambach were locks. Chalupny was one of the league’s best players hands down, and despite past successive concussions ruling her out from getting another look by the USWNT, she is world class. When Chalupny got injured in Portland, Chicago’s Play-Off hopes died.

What Matheson and Fishlock were able to do on their massively struggling teams is Best XI worthy. And last but not least Desiree Scott (yes holding/defensive midfielder is still in the midfield!). We can’t overlook how crucial Scott was to Kansas City’s defensive stability all season. She’ll win the ball from you in the middle of the park, and do it cleanly the majority of the time.

That’s it. It was fun but super difficult, because so many others could have been included. As objective as you try to be, these kinds of things are all about personal perception. Let me know what you think, yell at me if you disagree (please don’t), and let us at the WFBlog know who your choices are!

Gilly’s Knockout Nine Days

Hi everyone,

I am writing this blog after an absolutely manic nine days. During this time I have had a boxing fight and played three full matches for Arsenal Ladies. My body has been pushed to its limits, but hand on heart, if I could relive the last nine days, I’d do it all over again with a click of my fingers.

First up let’s talk about my fight! My first ever boxing fight…which sadly ended half way through the second round. Why? I still don’t know the answer to this! The ref thought he knew best and called it. To be fair, it was more like a street fight on a night out, so this may have been the reason!

However, the fight and the night in general was an experience I will never be able to forget. I am now building a great friendship with the girl I faced and I managed to raise £1,300 for Millwall Girls CoE. I had over 50 people there supporting me and they were absolutely blinding. Fantastic. Most of them didn’t like seeing me in the ring getting punched, but I know I made them proud and that’s the main thing! I have been asked to fight on the next show in December, however I’ve not made a decision on this yet – so we will see what happens there 😉

After the boxing fight it was straight home to bed and up early for a trip to Liverpool for our game against the Reds! My body was literally screaming when I woke up, the aches and pains I felt I can’t even begin to try and explain. I was in agony but I knew the show had to go on. The journey up to Liverpool was a long one to say the least!

photo-1

The M1 was closed so after a 5 1/2 hour trek we finally reached the stadium. We knew in our heads what we had to do and we did just that. We played great football and banged in three goals, plus we kept a clean sheet – happy days! I couldn’t wait for the final whistle to go as I genuinely felt my body was crying for me to stop exercising. The trip home was just as eventful as the trip up there. Our coach got a flat tyre, so after getting it changed my time of arrival at home was 4am. Ouch!

If I’m being honest it took me a couple of days to recover from the fight. However, that was just in time for our Continental Cup semi-final against Everton. What another fantastic result – a 4-0 win and another clean sheet.

Our performances are growing with each game we play and I was really excited for our Sunday league game again against Everton. The nine days were topped off with a 5-0 win and ANOTHER clean sheet! Things are looking up right now so we need to make sure we continue with what we are doing.

I just want to say a massive thank you to every single person who has supported me throughout my whole boxing ordeal. At times I have been a pain to be around, and even though I struggle to admit it, I am proud of what I did. There is one word to sum you lot up.. LEDGE!

Till next time… 😉

Women’s football – should it be played in huge stadiums?

Hi all. I’m Steve Edwards, coach at Watford Ladies FC, and welcome to my blog.

It has long been a general complaint within the circles of women’s football and even from those outside it, that women’s football loses some of it’s appeal due to the fact that it is generally played at non-league grounds that lack the buzz and allure of some of the country’s showcase stadia, such as the Emirates and Anfield.

Liverpool played Arsenal at Anfield in FA Cup semi-final

Liverpool played Arsenal at Anfield in FA Cup semi-final

With the growth of the game going at top speed, it is clear that should the female version of the beautiful game ever start to attract attendances of thousands, then top level arenas will be the natural choice. But for now, whilst crowd figures dwell around the 1,000 mark – and that’s a bumper crowd by WSL standards – does the non-league ground actually offer itself as a better option?

We have seen an upturn recently in opportunities for a football club’s ladies team to be able to play competitive fixtures at their main stadium on an adhoc basis. Liverpool, Arsenal, Leeds United and Aston Villa are just four clubs allowing the use of their stadium to their female team for a league fixture.

Whilst this is a fantastic opportunity for the players and a chance that clubs should take with both hands, you have to wonder whether it actually gives the home team any playing advantage. If you play your regular home matches at another ground, presumably the team will have spent time getting used to the environment there and that time will have allowed the venue to feel like home. Familiarity is known to be a key mental component in allowing a player or athlete to compete with a sense of wellbeing and comfort.

Staines Town FC, home of Chelsea Ladies, is the type of stadium you're more likely to see in England

Staines Town FC, home of Chelsea Ladies, is the type of stadium you’re more likely to see in England

Each player will be used to undergoing their own pre match rituals, most likely sitting in the same part of the dressing room, and walking down that same tunnel and crossing the touchline onto the pitch will fire up the same motivational thoughts that playing at home can give. Needless to say, the same feelings will not be felt by the away side, particularly where some of these non-league grounds will have uncomfortable away dressing rooms and an atmosphere that may act as quite non-motivational.

Surely, by then allowing one or two home matches each season to be played at such great venues such as Elland Road and Villa Park, you are actually turning the match into a Cup Final on a neutral ground? Granted, it will be a huge lift to the home side, getting to play at such a venue, but it is clear that you would remove all “home advantage” from the equation as playing there will be equally as much of a privilege for the away side. This once became known as the “Wembley effect” as many international sides visited to compete against England, and used the occasion of playing at such an amazing venue as a catalyst to play above their standard. Of course, a 90,000 home crowd will go some way to nullify this particular point, but the same obviously cannot be said for women’s football.

There are also a number of positive factors that actually help the argument for non-league grounds to be used. For attendances of 750 people, if you put that number into the middle of the Kop at Anfield, it can act as a strange experience for the players to see 95% of the vast stands empty and a small amount of noise coming from just one area of the ground. For stadiums that have a small capacity, the same amount of people can make a much more deafening noise that gives the effect of a much bigger crowd. This has been evident on a number of occasions at Boreham Wood FC, the hosts of Arsenal Ladies matches. Also, for the football romantics, non-league grounds tend to have character about them, whether it’s a reminder of days gone by or a small, attractiveness about them with a neighbourly feel. Indeed, many supporters prefer to stand when watching football and this is viewed as a distinct advantage for non-league grounds.

So if all this is true, and the pros of playing at a non-league ground do outweigh the pros of playing at a bigger stadium, then how is the game supposed to grow into the attractive money-making product and long term plan that the FA and everyone involved in women’s football clearly want it to become?

Well, clubs such as Bristol Academy Ladies and Barnet Ladies (soon to become the London Bees) might have the right idea by having their own purpose-built stadiums that they don’t need to share with their male counterparts. Their venues at Stoke Gifford and The Hive, will serve a greater purpose than your traditional non-league grounds, they’re newer and more modern, and will accommodate a substantial growth in attendances, should that happen rapidly. Doncaster Rovers Belles also play all their matches at the Keepmoat Stadium, therefore despite the crowd noise disadvantage, they are at least very familiar with playing there and it can be considered a true home match in every sense of the word.

Will we ever see a club game in England played at Wembley like the Olympic final was?

Will we ever see a club game in England played at Wembley like the Olympic final was?

For most football fans, it is clear that the prospect of going out for the afternoon with a trip to the Stadium Of Light would be much more mouth-watering than a visit to the Hetton Centre, and the comfort and family friendly surroundings will suit the vast majority. But maybe for now, part of the charm of women’s football is that non-league grounds are used and more than fulfil their needs.

One thing is for sure however. When the day comes that international match attendances filter down to league football and we can comfortably house 90,000 fans who want to witness the Women’s FA Cup Final, like we saw for the 2012 Olympic Final, then we can wave goodbye to non-league grounds forever, and look forward to the day when women’s football will be played on the stage it truly deserves.

It might take a while to get to that day, but we’re certainly on the right road.

Sal Shipard’s Chasing Leather Challenge

Hello there 🙂

Welcome to the Chasing Leather challenge.

This is only a simple request. From me to you. Pick up a ball and begin juggling. Whether or not you want to be an elite footballer or involved with the game purely for the opportunity to have fun with your friends, perhaps even both. Boy or girl, man or woman…this challenge can be for anybody.

As obvious as it may seem, improvement comes with practice. Let me provide you a teeny background…

My passion for football was instilled from a very young age. My three brothers and I had a very active childhood and I inevitably chose whichever sports my brothers played. As a young girl growing up in Wagga Wagga, sport was everywhere. Eventually at the age of 12, I narrowed it down to one, the most beautiful game for me, football.

The most pivotal training for me in my early teenage years was with the Academy Football Program on a Monday night. There was one footballer I looked up to in particular, Bernie Madden. Her dedication at the time influenced my desire to really commit to football I wanted to play like Bernie, her touch was exquisite. For me to replicate that I had to touch the ball, it was simple. Every day from then on I recall juggling in the front yard and creating an ever increasing bare patch of grass.

I remember not being able to juggle above 10… Again and again I would be bending down to pick up the ball,  and over time I began to improve. As did my game. I was more confident. For me, confidence plays a big role. Juggling aids that!

I would like you to juggle with me every day for at least 20 minutes. Tomorrow try and beat your best today. Here were my targets as a young girl…

Alternate juggles consist of right and left foot – my target was 200.

Ordinary juggles consist of anything & everything- my target was 1000.

Headers is obviously just the head 😉 – My target was 100.

What is your target?!? Do not be afraid to be ambitious!

You decide your target. And when you reach it aim higher again. Be sure to like my Facebook Page http://www.facebook.com/chasingleather This is where we can interact. Let me know your totals as you improve. Each day even!

My role is simple – encouraging you to begin.

I look forward to hearing from you!!

Sal ❤

sally@chasingleather.com

Chasing leather image