SENT HER FORWARD EXCLUSIVE
Portsmouth will have to play the biggest game in Premier League history on Sunday without either of their first-team goalkeepers after the league told them they would have to use one of their teenage understudies.
The champions of the southern division face Northern League winners Sheffield in the championship play-off, with the chance of becoming the first club in women’s football to gain promotion to the Super League.
But Perry Northeast’s plans have been thrown into chaos after discovering that rules introduced to cover this season’s first ever play-off prevent the experienced Michelle Beazley replacing the suspended Sadie Blakely because she has not played enough games for the club.
Beazley, the former Lewes ‘keeper, was signed on deadline day in March, but with Blakely in such fine form, has played only once for Pompey.
But Premier League rules require all players taking part in the play-off to have made at least three appearances for their club in the competition this season.
Ironically, in a campaign in which so many crucial issues are being determined as much in committee rooms as on the pitch following a catalogue of rule breaches, Portsmouth spotted the potential problem in advance of the game and approached the league for help.
They asked to be granted special dispensation to play Beazley, given the specialist nature of the goalkeeping position and the fact that they have wanted to field their strongest side throughout a compelling Premier League campaign, which was not decided until their final match.
The league’s management committee last night decided to grant them dispensation – but only to play one of their youth goalkeepers – 16-year-old Courtney Trodd or Rhia Cox, who is 17.
Even in the short time the experienced Beazley has been at the club, she has played more league minutes for Portsmouth than the other two put together, having stepped in for the win against Cardiff City when Blakely was unavailable.
Trodd played the last 54 minutes against Queens Park Rangers when Blakely was sent off, and Cox – who has appeared 14 times for the club’s development squad – has not figured at all in league competition for the first team.
Ironically, Beazley has played nine Premier League games for her former club, Lewes. But of course they don’t count. She has also been an unused substitute for Portsmouth four times.
The situation has arisen in the wake of Blakely’s sending-off against QPR, which earned a one-match suspension.
But even on that, the club feel hard done-by, with referee Harry Redman confirming he sent the goalkeeper off for two bookable offences, even though he showed her a straight red – which, if it had been the intended sanction, would have enabled the club to appeal.
They have already questioned the legality of the dismissal, given that two cards were not shown, but to no avail.
For the first time in two years of dealing with me, Northeast felt unable to speak, saying he was in shock and wanted time to collect his thoughts.
Carol West, the Premier League chairman, told Sent Her Forward the league would not be making any comment on the decision of its management committee.
Rule 8 M of the FA Women’s Premier League Handbook states that “a player shall not be eligible to play for a team in any special championship, promotion or relegation deciding match (as specified in Rule 12(A)) unless the player has played three games for that team in this competition in the current season”.
A separate rule, 10 G, makes clear that being an unused substitute does not qualify as an appearance.
Intriguingly, it does not use the words “championship play-off”, which could be argued to be part of the scheduled league season, as it was put in place before the start of the 2014/15 campaign and is addressed separately in the handbook – although it’s hard to think of a match more “special” than the one that could determine whether a Premier League side is promoted to the lucrative, high-profile, televised Super League that has helped raise the profile of the women’s game in England.
Quite why Beazley, who was signed legitimately before the transfer deadline and made her debut in the Hampshire Cup final when Blakely fell ill, should be prevented from playing when the two teenage goalkeepers have been granted special permission is open to speculation.
Certainly, both have been on Portsmouth’s books longer than Beazley, but neither has more first-team league experience with the club than her.
And it is also true that the league was not obliged to help out Pompey – even in respect of Trodd and Cox – although the uniqueness of the goalkeeper’s role – and the farcical implications of one side playing the league’s biggest ever game without a recognised goalkeeper – surely meant it had to do something.
One imagines the club’s alertness and responsible behaviour in raising the issue with the FAWPL ahead of the game, rather than breaching its rules through ignorance or deliberate intent, will have counted for something.
But it would seem the committee’s mind was also on the events of that fateful day in April.