Tag Archives: Craven Cottage

England show why women’s football deserves more attention

Slowly but surely, the old stereotypes about women’s football being dull, slow and lacking in the skills department are being demolished by its growing sense of professionalism.

Attending the recent international friendly between England and Australia at Fulham’s Craven Cottage underlined this profound shift in how the women’s game is perceived.

Just over 6,000 fans gathered for the Lionesses’ first game in London for four years, and while the FA might have wished for more, the atmosphere inside the ground was fantastic.

Flags waved, drums sounded, a brass band played. The entire ambiance was different to men’s football, where mainly male crowds still indulge in the kind of tribalism that too easily results in aggressive behaviour, bad language and even violence. 

People were much more approachable and willing to speak, especially when the subject of women and football came into play. Everyone had something to say. 

As Vicky, an Australian supporter, told me: “Apart from the physical strength, the gap between men’s and women’s football is closing.”

Michael, a 45-year-old England fan, said: “I’m here to support my country but also because women football has something very special.”

Dominated

The pre-match scene at Craven Cottage

An excitable female announcer hyped up the fans ahead of kick-off, but the values of respect and fair play were observed throughout the evening.

“No matter which team I support, I just want to see a decent football game tonight,” said Elisabeth, 26, another Australia fan.

As the match got underway and England dominated, children screamed while mothers shouted even louder. Even the Australian fans applauded as the Lionesses created chance after chance, taking the lead through Fran Kirby on 21 minutes.

There were some whistles and boos from England fans as several questionable refereeing calls went against their team, but the howling rage and obscenities that often tarnish men’s matches was non-existent. 

On the pitch, another aspect that makes women’s football stand out from the elite men’s game is the respect shown by players towards each other and the match officials.

You will rarely see a bad tackle, diving and simulation are virtually non-existent, as is haranguing the referee, no matter how poor their decision.

Without all these negatives holding things up, women’s football also features more actual action and less stoppages.

Accessible

Another big difference lies in the cost of showing your support. Adult tickets to see England take on the Matildas started at £10, while under-18 and student tickets were tremendous value at just £1.

In comparison, tickets for the England men’s friendly against the USA on November 15th at Wembley start at £10 and go up to £100.

‘With plenty of media attention both before and after the game – and live coverage on BT Sport – the women’s international game is clearly on the up’

Vicky said: ‘Women’s football is pretty accessible and the FA has recently done such a great job. They develop the game by selling cheap tickets and I think it’s a really good idea.’

In terms of style of play, teams dare to play decent football. Players were always ready to make a difference and it was a pleasure to see considerable strength from both sides. The crowd was quickly won over by England’s display.

“Obviously, women are not as fast as men, but in terms of strategy and tactics, it’s very similar.” added Vicky.

Harry, a Fulham ticket season ticket holder, added: “Even though people think that women’s football is dull, I think there’s a lot of technique on show.” 

Lucy Staniforth, playing at No. 10, certainly showed plenty, with several decent deliveries into the six-yard box as the Lionesses mauled the Matildas but failed make their dominance count.

England should have been 3-0 up in the first half, but some gritty Australian defending kept things interesting. The hosts were also denied two clear penalties, but the atmosphere remained friendly and peaceful.

Momentum

Phil Neville’s side were eventually left to rue all those missed chances as Aussie defender Clare Polkinghorne rose to power home a close-range header with six minutes remaining.

England pushed for a late winner but had to settle for a 1-1 draw. Sweden are next up for them in a friendly at Rotherham as the build-up to next summer’s Women’s World Cup in France continues.

As the crowd drifted away, players from both teams stayed on the pitch to chat to fans and pose for selfies – something else you don’t see in the men’s game.

With plenty of media attention both before and after the game – and live coverage on BT Sport – the women’s international game is clearly on the up, aided by the ongoing success of an England team currently 3rd in Fifa’s world rankings.

The Women’s Super League is also gaining momentum but still suffers from negative perceptions about female football.

After witnessing England’s latest performance, more people should park those perceptions and give it chance.

Flying Fulham see off stuttering Wolves

Fulham underlined their promotion credentials with a 2-0 win over Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers at Craven Cottage.

The hosts extended their home winning streak to eight games and are unbeaten in the league in 2018, closing to within a point of fourth-placed Derby County.

Rising star Ryan Sessegnon scored their first in the 38th minute, being in the right place at the right time yet again, and the second came from Aleksandar Mitrović in the 71st minute with some lovely individual brilliance to cap off a well-contested match.

Wolves managed just two shots on target and have dropped 12 points in their past eight games in all competitions, winning just three.

Slaviša Jokanović recalled Tomas Kalas, Floyd Ayite and Ryan Fredricks, which proved to be a good choice by the Fulham boss as Fredricks makes a crucial block from Helder Costa’s shot four minutes in, with Wolves quick out of the blocks.

The visitors did not have it all their own way early on, though, as good link-up play between Tom Cairney and Matt Target saw the ball end up at the feet of Sessegnon, who cut in to shoot but was crowded out by the Wolves rearguard.

In the 13th minute a shot from Cairney deflecting directly into the path of Mitrovic who managed to chip it over goalkeeper John Ruddy only to see his effort cleared by Wolves captain Conor Coady.

Increased pace

With play going back and forth in an open and fairly even first half-hour, the game was there for the taking, and it was Sessegnon who stepped up to the plate.

After a bad clearance from Ryan Bennett, Stefan Johansen and Mitrovic worked together once more to get the ball into the Wolves box, and a sloppy hold by Ruddy allowed Sessegnon to tap in for his 13th goal this season.

Wolves came out for the second half even more fired up than before, and the first booking of the contest came in the 48th minute after an obvious pull-back by Targett on the counter-attacking Costa.

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo added attacking impetus in the 64th minute, with Diogo Jota and Morgan Gibbs-White coming on for Costa and Alfred N’Diaye, while Sheyi Ojo replaced Ayite for the hosts.

The changes were to no avail for the visitors, however, as Fulham doubled their lead seven minutes later. Mitrovic electrified the home fans on a bitterly cold evening with a shot from 25 yards out that went straight into the bottom corner.

A minute later, Johansen nearly made it 3-0 with an effort which narrowly skimmed past the post.

Five minutes from time, Wolves missed a golden opportunity when, with an open goal in front of him, Jota scooped the ball over the bar from five yards out.

With only two minutes of stoppage time added, Fulham’s fans celebrated in the freezing temperatures as their team sealed victory over the table-topping West Midlands outfit and kept up their own push for promotion to the top flight.

Struggling Blackburn stun Fulham with late leveller

Fulham missed the chance to move into the Championship play-off places as they were held to a 2-2 draw at home to struggling Blackburn.

A 94th minute equalizer from substitute Lucas Joao stunned the Cottage and ensured Tony Mowbray’s unbeaten run since taking over Rovers continued.

Fulham have been scoring for fun this season – only Newcastle have notched more goals in the division. But the potency that has been so apparent in recent games seemed to be lacking slightly.

After 40 minutes, the game’s best moment was referee Andy Davies stumbling to the floor as the hosts looked to counter attack, until Neeskens Kebano was hauled down for a free kick. Everyone was down, including Thomas Kalas, who kindly picked up the referee’s red and yellow cards and handed them back to him.

Slavisa Jokanovic’s side were patient and slick, without being particularly penetrative. Ryan Fredericks and Scott Malone both got forward with intent as Fulham started to step up the pressure.

Influence

Rovers looked like they were going to get to break all-square, until Tom Cairney found the one thing the visitors didn’t want him to find: space. He turned, he surged, and he found Stefan Johansen free on the left.

Sone Aluko came closest to putting Fulham ahead earlier in the half, and it was he who was on the end of the Norwegian’s cross to guide home his sixth goal of the season on the stroke of half-time.

At that point, Fulham looked on course for a win that would take them into sixth place, between Reading and Sheffield Wednesday, with the two scheduled to play each other at Hillsborough on Friday.

Only Mowbray knows the reason why Joao did not start, and it must have been a good one. The Portuguese striker was brought on with half an hour to play and looked a class above the rest as he started to influence the game.

Lively

The Cottagers have kept just one clean sheet in their last eight games, and that seemed to give Blackburn some encouragement. Chris Martin dallied on the ball on the halfway line which enabled Rovers to pounce.

Marvin Emnes, who was lively all night, was brought down in the area and Craig Conway fired home the resulting penalty with 10 minutes to go.

Fulham pushed for a winner, and Ryan Sessegnon had a few promising runs down the left side to no avail. The 16-year-old wonderkid has recently been linked with a move to Tottenham, but it was a former Spurs defender who was the white’s best player on the night.

Fredericks looked to get forward at any given opportunity and his endeavor was finally rewarded late on when he played the ball low across the six-yard box for substitute Cyriac to convert low past Jason Steele.

Stunned

Craven Cottage was rocking. The Hammersmith end went into party mode for all of about five minutes as their elation was cut short. The man that had the biggest influence for Blackburn on the night had the final say.

Joao fended off Tim Reem with ease to sweep home a Derrick Williams cross in the 94th minute, leaving the Cottage stunned. It was a third goal in two games now for the 6ft 3in forward as Mowbray’s side jumped out of the drop zone.

Joao was booked for celebrating with a little too much wild abandon. The only plus for Fulham was the draw extended their unbeaten run to eight matches, but this was definitely two points dropped for Jokanovic’s team.

A home win against lowly Wolves on Saturday would still see Fulham rise into the play-off places, but they cannot afford to drop too many more points, especially at home.