Sunday 17 November 2019

Liverpool Women vs. Everton [Women]

YNWA at Anfield - Liverpool Women
International break weekend (at least for us hipsters who support teams in the top two divisions), is a welcome respite from the constant worrying about your side and instead offers you the enjoyment of a different kind of football – not just the internationals, but the opportunity to go and see local games in the lower leagues too.

This one is slightly different, however. As it’s the (men’s) international break, the FA are using the opportunity to promote the Women’s Super League, as part of a ‘Women’s Football Weekend’, with a few of the games taking place at the homes of the men’s teams. Playing in these big stadiums allows clubs the opportunity to promote their women’s sides, with attractive ticket offers aimed at families. So I’m at one of world football’s most illustrious venues, to see one of England’s most premier derbies – I’m at Anfield to see Liverpool Women take on Everton.

I say the international break doesn’t provide worries but there’s usually a sense of trepidation whenever England are involved – thankfully, the men’s side comfortably qualified for Euro 2020 with a 7-0 win against Montenegro on Thursday, rendering the game later today in Kosovo, a dead rubber. Whilst the men’s team are, according to some people, ‘going through the motions’ at the moment (yes, apparently a 7-0 win can be ‘boring’!) there has been some criticism levelled at the women’s national team recently, more specifically, at head coach Phil Neville. Since the semi-final defeat in this year’s World Cup, England have won just 2 games in 7 – the latest win coming earlier this week against the Czech Republic.

In a funny way, I think this can be seen a positive for the women’s game in this country – their performances are being scrutinised, pitched against their previous form and that of their peers. No longer are they receiving patronising praise, as if poor form ‘doesn’t matter’ because ‘it’s only the women’s game’ – they’re top professionals and being treated as such. Neville has come out swinging, defending his players and his own position, as you might expect, but (and without getting into the details of what may or may not be going wrong), it is heartening to see the press take him to task.

So with the national team receiving pelters for tepid performances and domestic sides playing the odd game in a big stadium (England’s recent friendly against Germany attracted a crowd of over 77,000), Women’s football is in a good place at the moment. Today’s derby can be said to be a ‘homecoming’ for both sides as neither Liverpool or Everton actually play their usual home games in the city – Liverpool play at Tranmere Rovers' Prenton Park over the water on the Wirral, whereas Everton currently play in Southport (although they are due to move to a new purpose-built ground at Walton Hall Park, a mile from Goodison Park, any time soon – ‘early next year’ is the latest news).

WFA - Women's Football Association logoFormed in 1989 as Newton LFC, the club that would become Liverpool WFC would first change its name to Knowsley United in 1991, becoming founder members of the National Premier Division; a league organised by the WFA. The WFA, incidentally, was a football association, independent of the FA, which was formed in 1969 to offer women’s clubs more opportunities for organised football – women’s teams were still barred from playing on FA-associated pitches at this time. Knowsley went on to reach two Wembley cup finals in consecutive years – in the 1993 Premier League Cup against Arsenal (which they lost, 3-0) and in 1994’s FA Women’s Cup against Doncaster Belles (a 1-0 defeat).

The summer after their defeat in the FA Cup Final saw Knowlsey link up with Liverpool FC, adopting their name and colours. The club spent the early part of the 21st century playing in the second tier of the Women’s Premier League system, but they would find themselves becoming founder members of the Women’s Super League in 2011 – a new division designed to professionalise and grow the women’s game, with clubs having to apply for licences to join.  It didn’t start too well for Liverpool, as they ended up finishing bottom of the 8-team division in its first two seasons – thankfully for them, relegation to the second tier (now called The Championship) didn’t exist at this point.

After more-or-less signing up an entirely new team, they went on to achieve another double – WINNING the Women’s Super League in 2013 and 2014. Their first title win was relatively comfortable – with only 14 games to play, they won the league by 5 points from Bristol Academy. The second title win was a little bit closer – they ended up winning it on a goal difference of 2 from their nearest rivals, Chelsea.

Whilst Liverpool were in the midst of winning their second WSL title, Everton were struggling – winning zero games and drawing four; their season of defeats saw them relegated to the second tier in 2014. Despite their success, Liverpool nearly followed them the season after – they finished second-bottom, avoiding the drop by 5 points, again, from Bristol Academy. Since then, Everton won promotion back and Liverpool have been mostly mid-table in what is now a 12-team league – so I’ve now got even less of an idea of what to expect at today’s match.

Bill Shankley statue at Anfield

I think it can go without saying what a great ground Anfield is – it was Everton’s move from here in 1892 that led to the formation of Liverpool Football Club and since then, it has grown to become one of sport’s most iconic venues. I’m sat in the Kenny Dalglish Stand (formally known as the Centenary Stand) and I have to say that it’s tighter than what old Scrooge would usually be next month. All tickets for the game have been sold or allocated, but the ground is (by design) half-full, leaving plenty of room to move around in the concourse – though I can imagine it being somewhat difficult to navigate through when it’s full. There isn’t much room between the rows too – at 5ft 10’, I’m no Peter Crouch, but I felt like him, having to manoeuvre my legs into an unnatural position to find comfort (luckily, there was nobody sat at the side of me).

In recent years, I’ve noticed a number of female teams changing their suffixes from ‘Ladies’ to ‘Women’ (apparently ‘Ladies’ is outdated) – Everton have taken this to a new level by dropping the suffix altogether. Simply known as ‘Everton’, the move is designed to create a ‘one club’ with the men’s team – which makes absolute sense, as they are part of the same club! Formally, they will still be referred to as ‘Everton Women’ to avoid confusion with the men’s side – I’m predicting now that the formal suffix ‘Men’ will be used for male teams soon, as more clubs from around the country form female sides and the women’s game grows. It’s only fair after the women’s game was hindered for so long, I guess.

The two teams enter the field to the atmospheric ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (they play it twice, in fact – just before they entered and as they entered) – even in a half-full ground, the lyrics still make the hairs on the back of your arse stand up; ‘Walk on, walk on. With hope in your heart. And you'll never walk alone. A couple of scarves are held aloft, pleasantries in the middle of the pitch are performed and the game begins.

Anfield Road End - Liverpool Women vs. Everton

Liverpool are the better side for the vast majority of the first half; they dominate the ball without creating much in the way of clear-cut chances. The best oppotunity fell to Kirsty Linnet, who headed a penalty area-pinball towards goal – Everton custodian, Tinja-Riikka Korpela, doing well to get across and claw the ball wide for a corner. Linnet had another sight of goal not long later, but her long-range shot went comfortably wide.

The supporters, though encouraging to the team, have been largely quiet in terms of generating a collective atmosphere – which is understandable, with this being the first opportunity that many inside Anfield today have seen the women’s team play. I do find it bizarre that (both) clubs cannot find a suitable ground in Liverpool or at least somewhere a little closer than the Wirral and Southport – I get that both clubs may have strong support in these places, but being away from the city they represent has to inhibit opportunities for them to grow a regular supporter base for the women's team in some way.

There’s a couple of Everton fans here in the ‘home’ ends (one is sat directly in front of me, with his Everton bob-cap), but the majority are seated in the away section of the Anfield Road End, behind the goal – they’ve made most of the noise (with chants of ‘Everton, Everton’), but there’s none of the ‘poison’ of the men’s derby. On one hand, this is fantastic as you can relax and just enjoy the game in front of you, on the other though, it makes writing about my experience of the crowd difficult! Here’s hoping for a bit of ‘banter’ between the two sets of supporters in the second half.

Lucy Graham scores for Everton against Liverpool

Just as I was using the 1 minute of injury time to take a picture for the blog, Everton score! The Blues are passing the ball about nicely in midfield, but after a defender cuts out a forward pass, the ball falls to Lucy Graham around 25 yards out; she takes a touch, shoots and Anke Preuss in the Liverpool goal makes a hash of the catch, virtually dropping the ball into her net (the photo above is the moment she attempts to field the ball!) It’s a disastrous end to the half for Liverpool, who were looking good in possession – but as the old adage goes, it’s what you do with the possession that matters.

The Reds, as you might expect, came out for the second half with more urgency, typified by the introduction of pacey winger, Rinsola Babajide from the subs’ bench. She’s quick and tricky, immediately causing problems for the Everton full-backs, switching wings to get at both of them. A few of her crosses into the area had to be cleared in last-ditch efforts; Liverpool lacking a real striking presence in the forward positions.

A few more clearances lead to corners and it’s during these that I notice an interesting occurrence; with (how can I say this politely) women corner/free-kick takers not being able to match the kicking power of men (I failed), the ball hangs in the air for longer from a delivery. This delay creates time for a roar of expectation to air from The Kop; encouraging shouts from (mostly children) behind the goal, directed towards the ball, commanding it to find its way onto a Liverpool head. Sadly for them, it doesn’t.

Liverpool free-kick vs. Everton

In fact, it’s Everton and their counter-attacking football that nearly produces a goal; Molly Pike putting a late chance wide after a breakaway led by Graham. It didn’t matter in the end, as her team hung on for the win – an Everton win at Anfield. A rare thing to say, considering it’s not happened since 1999! The win moves them up to 4th in the WSL, whilst Liverpool are bottom – just 1 draw in the opening six games for them. It's still early in the season, mind, so there's plenty of time to turn it around – the team that lies immediately above them (on 3 points from 6) is, funnily enough, Bristol City (formerly, Bristol Academy!)

It was another interesting experience, watching a women’s game at the ‘traditional home’ of the corresponding men’s team – again, plenty of families were able to attend for cheap (a fiver for adults, free for children with an attending adult), as they got an opportunity to visit the ground, sing along to YNWA and cheer on a side wearing the shirt. I think Liverpool should have this arrangement in place more regularly – not only to get the team playing in the city but also because families like these here today, I'm sad to say, continue to be priced out of the men’s game. The women's game needs to keep pushing this advantage.

I make my way back via Sandhills station, get off at Liverpool Central and slip into Sanctuary (craft ale) Bar before my train home from Lime Street. It’s a decent place for beer ponces to stop-off just after/before catching a train – I sit in the homely-atmosphere downstairs and indulge in a nice pint of ‘Golden Warrior’ by Empire Brewing. Even on a Sunday night, the nightlife in Liverpool is bustling – karaoke sounding from the many Irish pubs in the short walk between Central and Lime Street stations. Apparently, there’s another bar called ‘The Sanctuary Tap’ near James Street station, about half-a-mile away. Looks like I’ll have to come back one day – here’s hoping Everton [Women] get that ground built soon! 

Liverpool Women 0

Everton [Women] 1

Attendance: 23,500


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