Welcome to Sent Her Forward, my very first blog on women’s football.
Its character will, hopefully, grow over the months as I gauge interest and try to take into account feedback from those of you who choose to read it.
What it is
A look at the women’s football scene in and around where I live – namely, Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and Surrey.
I hope to include match reports, results and round-ups from many of the region’s games. But of course, they will not form comprehensive coverage of all women’s football in the region.
The game has blossomed, nationally, internationally – and locally. I’ve been astonished at the amount of football played by women and girls in Sussex alone.
And I’ve been impressed by the professionalism of the set-ups at so many clubs.
I hope to be able to share the tips, secrets and views of some of those involved in putting women’s football on the map in this area, as I believe they have a lot to offer.
And I’d be delighted if some of you with a story to tell or a view to offer would contribute, too.
What it’s not
A self-indulgent forum for me to shout about what I know about women’s football.
At least, that’s not the intention. Partly because I’m not self-indulgent; partly because most of you who read this will know far more about the women’s game than I do.
But mainly because my prime aim is to stimulate interest and discussion about the game that we all share an interest in and a passion for.
Why women’s football?
I love football, as anyone who follows me on Twitter will know.
I’ve watched Portsmouth Football Club since I was seven – that’s not far off half a century – from the mediocrity of the old Division Two to the desperation of Divisions Three and Four, through the joys of promotions to the Premier League, the FA Cup and European adventures and the rapid decline back to the bottom tier of the Football League.
So I’m neither an armchair critic nor fair-weather fan.
I saw my first women’s match more than a decade ago – on television, when the Women’s FA Cup Final was screened. Arsenal beat Fulham, I believe, in front of nearly 14,000 people.
It was much slower than I had been used to; the players seemed so much less strong (or were they my preconceptions colouring my view?), but the football was decent.
There were some players with undoubted natural skill, and the football generally seemed more open than so much of the high-stakes stuff I had paid good money to watch or viewed on TV.
I grew to love the way the national team played under Hope Powell, and I was as sad as many of you at how disappointingly her final teams performed in the recent European Championships.
As they have proved since her departure, the talent was there. But maybe familiarity bred contempt, both among the players and manager.
England Women under the temporary stewardship of Brent Hills have been a breath of fresh air, and personally I would have been delighted if he had been given the manager’s job permanently.
I’m pleased the FA has found a role for him, heading the women’s elite development programme.
Let’s hope Mark Sampson, the new head coach, proves as effective.
But local football? That’s a bit parochial
Locally, I first stumbled across the women’s game when I wandered into the ground of Haywards Heath FC, and saw their women’s second team in a local derby against Wivelsfield Green.
There were blood and guts, skill and determination, feistiness and strong rivalry.
But I saw no cynicism, only channelled aggression and no little skill, as Wivi turned the tables on their local rivals to win 4-2.
I was hooked – especially by the style of football, which, played at a slightly slower pace than the men’s game, made it easier as a spectator to appreciate tactics and strategy, and the considerable skill on display.
From that first game on a cold November day in 2012 to the end of the 2013/14 season I saw almost 50 women’s or girls’ matches around Sussex and Surrey.
On only a handful of occasions were they less than gripping.
To many of the players – and coaches – that Sunday afternoon match is the highlight of their week. They live, eat and sleep football in much the same way my friends and I did when we were younger.
Don’t doubt their skill. Don’t doubt their dedication.
Hopefully, we’ll all learn a bit more about these attributes in the coming months.
What to expect
I attend matches, weather permitting, most weekends. I hope to publish my own match reports of those games. But with the best will in the world, from my traditional vantage point, close to one of the goals, I am not going to spot everything.
I don’t know the names of all the players, and my fading eyesight will sometimes play tricks on me.
I will write honestly about what I see, about who I think did what, and about any talking points I notice.
But I will make mistakes. I may miss out key details.
Rather than chastise me, please just let me know where I went wrong: who was that who nodded home a pinpoint cross at the other end of the misty drizzle that I can just about make out?
Who was that new winger who gave the opposition defence so much trouble?
And what was your club’s verdict on the match?
If I turn up at your game, can you spare the time to give me the team news before it begins?
I’d love you to offer feedback or even your own match summaries if you wish. I won’t necessarily use them all, but I’ll try to share.
And better still, provide me with match reports and details of all those games I couldn’t get to see.
I’ll do my best to provide round-ups.
Some of the information will be available elsewhere – on individual clubs’ websites, and on the relevant FA pages.
But my intention is to provide a one-stop shop for much of that info – and I will provide as many relevant links as I can, ensuring the potential for wider awareness and understanding of the local women’s football scene.
I’ll also tweet and publish links on my Facebook page.
Why not follow me and do your own sharing of this new venture?
But be warned: as a professional, I won’t pull punches. I don’t intend to be negative for the sake of it, but I do intend to be honest.
If you play below your normal standards, or a player is sent off needlessly, I will say so.
Can we get involved?
Thank you so much for taking the trouble to read this.
Please do give me your feedback and suggestions.
Please send me your results, the latest league tables, news of your next cup opponents – and especially match summaries (as brief as possible, please).
If you took photos at a match – or you know of someone who did – I’d be delighted to publish some of those on my blog. The more the merrier.
I cannot pay, and I do need to know that the copyright owner is happy for me to use them. But I will provide credits and web links where applicable.
This is not a self-indulgent crusade to get my name out there in the ether. I’ve been a journalist for more than 30 years, so I don’t need that.
But I do love football. And I do love writing.
What better opportunity to combine those and – with a bit of luck – spread the word about a game that, despite its justifiably growing reputation, is still misunderstood, misjudged and too easily dismissed?
Why Sent Her Forward?
If you haven’t already twigged, say it out loud.