Why I’ll miss Pompey’s greatest day

Gemma Hillier celebrates a goal against Lewes on April 9 2014 Photo: Jordan Hampton)

I’ll be missing the potential for this… (Photo: Jordan Hampton)

Portsmouth Ladies, my hometown women’s football club, play the biggest game in their history on Sunday when they take on Super League leaders Notts County at Gosport’s Privett Park.

The home FAW Cup quarter-final tie against a team packed full of internationals is a fitting reward for their memorable cup journey this season, which has seen them eliminate two fellow Premier League sides without conceding a goal, and then – after being given a scare by lower-league Crystal Palace in the fourth round – knock out Super League 2 side Durham.

For the superbly run club, its managerial duo Perry Northeast and Katie Poore, loyal director of football Vanessa Raynbird, and all the players and backroom staff, it’s a magnificent occasion that will live them for ever, whatever the outcome on the pitch.

I’ve been fortunate to witness two of their four FAW Cup wins so far this season – including their thrilling last-minute victory over Durham in the last round.

But I will not be there for the biggest date of all.

Despite my bond with the city of my birth, despite being a season-ticketholder at Fratton Park, despite my Twitter name, I launched Sent Her Forward because I was a fan of football – not because I was a Pompey supporter.

My aim has been to bring as broad – and objective – a coverage as I am able to of women’s football at all levels throughout the South East (and occasionally beyond).

My interest was first kindled by what I witnessed when I turned up on the off-chance of seeing a game of some sort at Haywards Heath FC.

True to my word

As those who have read my background notes will be aware, the dedication, application and no little skill displayed by the women of Haywards Heath Seconds and Wivelsfield Green that day had me hooked.

And a year later, I set up this blog-cum-website, with the intention of recognising those refreshing characteristics sometimes missing from the men’s game – particularly at the highest levels.

I’ve tried to be true to my word and to my ideals.

Yes, Portsmouth Ladies are the highest-placed women’s team within reasonable driving distance for me.

Yes, their cup run has been captivating, their league form impressive.

Yet I have seen them play just three times this season.

I’ve seen fellow Premier League sides Brighton and Lewes twice and hope to add leaders Gillingham to my list before the season is out.

Allegiance

But I have seen far more games at what most of us regard grassroots level – from the pick of the regional teams in the South West Combination and South East Counties Premier Division, through to Sussex’s next generation, at under-16 and under-18 level – often exposed to the worst of the elements, my notebook disintegrating in the pouring rain and my biro refusing to make an impression.

Action from Crawley Wasps v Hangleton Rangers U18s April 20 2014

… for something more like this

And this coming Sunday I intend watching Bexhill United, of the aforementioned SECWL Premier Division, and Herne Bay, from the league below, as they participate in their League Cup final at Three Bridges.

When Pompey were handed a home draw after their win over Durham, I could easily have scrapped my plans for April 27 and headed back down the M27 to Privett Park.

I had not been ordered to attend the Bexhill v Herne Bay game. When it comes to reporting on women’s football, I owe allegiance to nobody but myself.

But the fact is, my allegiance is really to all of you who play, watch, manage, ferry, cut the grass, wash the kit and work your socks off so that women and girls in the South East can wake up on a Sunday morning “buzzing” (to use the in-word) for their weekly fix of football.

Every game I cover I treat in the same way that I approach my coverage of Premier League matches in one of my day jobs.

And this weekend, that means reporting on the endeavours of two of the region’s most successful sides this season.

My focus will be on Bexhill United and Herne Bay, even if some of my heart is 85 miles down the road.

Perry and Katie, and press officer Lee Roberts, know my situation and my reasons for missing their latest big day. They understand my desire to try to cover everybody’s big day.

And there’s always the semis…

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