Bromley FC provided the venue for Crystal Palace Ladies’ meeting with London Bees on Sunday 14 October, in the FA Women’s Championship. This is a personal view of a fantastic battle in the pouring rain between teams from north and south London. The 1-0 scoreline gave Palace three points but tells only a fraction of the story about a match which could easily have ended 4-4 but for some brilliant goalkeeping. I would have considered this match as more than worth the time and entrance fee, even if both these teams trained full-time.
In terms of the players’ strength, pace and skills I think the whole spectacle would definitely have credited two professional teams. As it is, these two sides are not yet full-time, and as so often while supporting the former WSL2 I was constantly reminded of Karen Carney’s comment about how “It is frightening how good these players would be if they could train full-time.” [Many people will have said that, but I remember Karen saying that once in a BBC interview in 2012, around the time of the Olympic Games.]
I thought both goalkeepers were outstanding in the drenching rain. Bees GK Sarah Quantrill saved a penalty low to her left, to keep the score at 1-0 to Palace, Ashlee Hincks having opened the scoring for the Lady Eagles early in the first half. As part of their updating on Twitter during the first half, Palace tweeted a tribute to their GK, Shanell Salgado, for turning over a powerful shot by Bees’ forward Tricia Gould – as well they might have. It wasn’t the last occasion in the match when Bees worked their way into strong positions in front of goal but were denied by a mixture of terrible luck and really determined defending by the Palace players. For those who don’t believe in luck, credit for Palace’s first Championship win goes to Salgado and the Lady Eagles in front of her.
However, Bees played their full part in this match. The committed home fans would say that Palace were the better team, but if this is true then it was by a narrow margin and travelling fans might say that 3-3 would have better reflected both sides’ attacking endeavour and commitment in midfield. Either way, the official record now shows the 1-0 result and perhaps this will be a League of mostly narrow margins among the teams who cannot yet train full-time.
In the Championship, Manchester United Women have a major advantage in this respect and it is great for football that they now exist. What Casey Stoney’s team are currently achieving is a sign of what can happen when funding is made available for women’s professional football to go full-time. Other clubs will have shown this before United Women, so there should now be plenty of evidence that women’s football can draw in good crowds and reach high standards in The Game. [On this basis, perhaps women’s football could move in the same direction as the Women’s NBA in America, after it was set up in 1996. At first, WNBA clubs did not break even but over ten years, one club after another began to break even and then move into profit.]
Official match reports now exist for this fixture, and there would be no point in repeating those here. As an individual view, I could say I was really glad to see the attacking threat posed by Kallie Balfour and Chloe Burr up front for Palace, and their defiance in defence, led by their captain Freya Holdaway. They have brought in Hannah Mackenzie from Spurs Ladies and she looks like a strong and dynamic asset to the side. Hincks’ leadership by example was very noticeable and worth the entrance fee alone.
Bees have great facilities up in Edgware and this shows in the quality throughout their team. I really enjoyed Annabel Johnson’s work at right-back, not just in defence but also getting herself forward to join in attacks. This sounds easy, and the best full-backs make it look easy, but it is a lot harder to do well. I never suggest direct comparisons between women’s football and the men’s version, but Johnson creates moments which remind me of Rob Jones when he was at Liverpool. I think there is much that she does which he would have been perfectly happy with when he played.
Emma Beckett was very influential for Bees and there are those on Twitter who suggest that (as of now) she is the best player to have played in both the old WSL2 and the current Championship. After careful thought, I would agree. She is a complete footballer, equally comfortable playing the ball around or striving to win it back.
Lauren Pickett has a fine record of goalscoring for both Spurs Ladies and Bees, making a visible difference for Bees on the left wing after she subbed on with around 20 minutes left. However, the player for Bees who impressed me the most was Destiney Toussaint, even better than the last time I saw her in an Oxford United uniform. Destiney was worth the entrance fee on her own, in terms of pace with the ball at her feet, acceleration from a standing start, and her mindset to look up for colleagues in a better scoring position than herself when the situation demands that kind of unselfish vision. When she is through on goal there is no problem with her ability to perceive that too. She reminds me a little of Rosella Ayane, for although they are not exactly the same they are both skilful players who may be slender in build but there is no problem with their physical strength or courage to ask for the ball. The Game severely needs their skills, as it needs the defenders who go up against them – defending also involves a broad skillset.
In my general opinion [not related to this match], football needs two referees, like hockey and netball, but should this not be possible, I hope the assistant referees might sometimes join in with making sure that the battles between attackers and defenders are fair to both parties. I realise this is easier said than done and I only had praise for the officials in this match. [Even if I had any criticism, I wouldn’t mention it publicly because I don’t think I could do a better job than the current officials.] I would still like to see two professional referees in elite football, but this is a general view and nothing to do with this match specifically. A basic search online reveals that UEFA takes this idea seriously and have been in contact with FIFA about it. The game is so fast at the elite level, both for men and women. It is now too fast, in my opinion, for one pair of eyes. The assistants have enough on trying to judge offside – elite football needs a second referee like field hockey, making four officials in the playing area for every match, like ice hockey.
Anyway, I thought Destiney Toussaint’s battles with the Palace defenders were worth way more than the entrance fee of £5, but I am not daring the clubs to raise prices for the fans. I am suggesting that new fans going to see the Championship would receive more than value for their entrance fee and travel money. With some food as well, the costs can quickly reach £20 or more in total, but on the evidence, if this match the Championship is well worth fans’ money and time. I especially enjoyed the way Destiney worked with Annabel Johnson down the Bees’ right, and the chances they helped create kept this a high-octane spectacle for all present.
Crystal Palace: Salgado, Nuttall, Collins (McRoberts 90′), Mackenzie, Nash, Haydock, Holdaway, Whinnett (Watling 80′), Burr, Balfour (Georgiou 85′)
Unused substitutes: Keogh, Ali, Butler.
London Bees: Quantrill, Johnson, Toussaint, Lane, Davy (Forman 58), Gould (Pickett 67), Rolandsen, N. Gibson, Beckett, Nunn (K. Gibson 90), Will