West Ham Ladies made club history on Sunday 15th April by winning their first national trophy since forming 26 years ago, the FA WPL Plate, and also took another giant stride closer to seducing the FA into accepting their bid for WSL status. The representatives from the FAWPL may have been impressed with the skill, fitness, professionalism and work rate of the Hammer’s Ladies, but as the criteria for exclusive membership to the newly formed league includes none of these attributes, they will still have been wringing their hands at the excellent media coverage they offered and the money that would be available to be injected into their league. .
This was indeed the West Ham Ladies Show.
To be fair the West Ham United media team put the FA to shame on covering the game, a game the FAWPL deemed to play in a stadium, which according to my unresponsive satnav, was in the middle of fucking nowhere, had goal posts leaning back at a 75 degree angle and pitch that had been played on just two hours previous. They had dressed the stadium up with a few banners screwed to the hoardings, a plastic patio table to present the medals from and a kind of archway to enhance the photographs that were to be taken. The FAWPL own media coverage looked non existent. There was a bloke getting in the way of my camera taking photos of the presentation with an iPhone but he could have been with the Luton Ladies contingent. Other than that, nothing. Apart from myself.
It was a final and on the way up the M1 I was wondering whether I would have a good enough vantage position to take photos without blocking anyone’s view. I needn’t have worried, I had both ends and the stand opposite to the grandstand to myself. Tell a lie…. there were three other spectators and six ball girls as well, but almost to myself.
The players, the club and their friends and families care…. but who else?
The FAWPL? The press? The fans?
I was debating whether to do write up of the match because of work commitments I’m a bit late to the party. I searched the internet and there was no mention of the game except from West Ham Ladies media. No pictures, no reports.
Who does care? …. apart from Danny Dyer …
West Ham United had provided the Ladies with two highly experienced photographers, as well as entrusting them with their 4K video equipment instead of the handy cam they usually have to make do with, which wasn’t ideal but a big step up from filming the game with the training pitch security cameras. They’d also laid on a luxury coach for travelling supporters (friends and family), and even MD Jack Sullivan had endeavoured to make the laborious journey up there. There was no sign of the bloke with the helicopter though, or Karren Brady and Michael Antonio who were supposed to be ambassadors for the Ladies team, but had only managed to see one game so far between them. In fact on the day of West Ham Ladies last final, the Baroness was tweeting trying to get a freebie from BA after her luggage was mislaid, instead of wishing the girls good luck.
Other notable absentees were the rest of the West Ham Ladies (Dev) squad who didn’t have a game that day, (Steph Bent and Mollie Kmita were the only ones that made the trip) Molly Clark who had scored the winner in the Women’s League Cup Final and medal winner new signing Vyan Sampson.
The 100 strong crowd, mostly West Ham supporters by the sound of it, applauded the teams as they lined up for the traditional pomp and circumstance of a cup final. It’s a real shame that West Ham didn’t bring their own PA system as well, as we tried to decipher the unintelligible garble from the stadium announcer which had more to do with his poor equipment rather than his thick brummy accent. Apologising profusely beforehand for any mispronunciations, he read out the team sheets, although he could have been announcing train cancellations for all that we knew. I half expected him to say “Mind the gap.” But he had saved his ‘piece de resistance until last when he requested that ‘Everybody be upstanding for the National Anthem.’ For an occasion that had all of the atmosphere of a school sports day, it seemed a little bit over the top, but a slice of patriotism now and again can’t hurt, I thought. Just as we were puffing out our chests, God save the Queen crackled out of the speakers like someone trying to tune in an old valve radio to listen to Norman Collier. It painfully emitted about four bars, before a large buzzing sound heralded it’s premature conclusion, much to the amusement of the whole congregation. ‘Sorry about that…. I’m not used to the new equipment,’ crackled his apology……. well I think that’s what he said.
The players didn’t care about any of that. Both teams were fully focussed on the job in hand. Luton ladies had a game plan, their formation was a mirror image of West Ham’s, like for like. And it worked. For 25 minutes they had frustrated the Hammer’s with their dogged determination and smart goalkeeping from Kezia Hassal. Enter Amber Stobbs with her almost predictable ‘bend it like Beckham’ volley into the top corner of the net to break the hearts of Luton’s finest. Before they had time to regroup Kelly Wealthall had taken advantage of some sloppy defending and pounced to net West Ham Ladies second. Luton Ladies were playing with one up front and were finding it hard to get anywhere near Connatser’s goal, as were most teams these days.
After the break Zoepfl took just 2 minutes to score West Ham’s third, striding through the Luton defence before unleashing a low shot past keeper Hassal. Luton did manage to threaten the West Ham goal on occasions, mainly from corners but were no match for the WPL side. Hassal made a string of saves that would earn her player of the game, the best one being a one handed tip over from a normally unstoppable Stobbs thunderbolt. Captain Kmita scored a fourth after Hassal had rushed out of her area to tackle Wealthall, the ball fell kindly to Rosie who took two touches and then curled the ball over a defender and into the empty net. It was the goal of the game. In the dying embers of the game the tiring Luton defence allowed Zoepfl too much space and she bagged her second of the match. Not the perfect ten performance of the previous week against QPR, but comprehensive 5-0 victory, another trophy, and another feather in their peacock tail, in front of the watching eyes of the FAWPL.
The following week saw the home demolition of Portsmouth Ladies. Pompey are no slouches and they are the only team in the league this year that actually played some football in the WHL half. In fact if they had scored the penalty they were awarded at 5-1 they could have made things very uncomfortable for the Hammers. However Hammer’s keeper Cara Connatser pulled off an incredible save, tipping the ball onto the post to deny them.
Even though the game was played in a mini heatwave the West Ham Ladies closing down of the opposition showed no signs of relenting, a testament to their training and fitness. Rosie Kmita scored another sublime goal to add to her one against Luton, and Jasmine Auguste scored with a brave header….. her first for the club, followed by an Arnie-esque celebration which could probably use a bit more work. The 7-1 scoreline didn’t flatter the Ladies at all…. they are on fire.
There were two landmark occasions to follow during this week. The Ladies team were invited to the West Ham United awards night for the first time and even had their own player award which went to Ellie Zoepfl, the graceful American player who has a great season and has chipped in with some excellent goals.
The other landmark occasion is the partnership with Barking Abbey School, to provide extra expertise training for 16-18year olds which could lead to further higher education with the UEL, another West Ham Ladies partner. Keith Boanas, who I tipped to be West Ham Ladies new manager back in December before General Manager Ray gave herself the job, is the Barking Abbey head coach. He would be a good fit for the ambitious Hammers as he left his post last year at Watford Ladies because of their total lack of ambition.
The strange thing about the partnership is the fact that last summer West Ham Ladies decided that they didn’t want a 16-18 year old team and made the previous season’s unbeaten quadruple winning girls team have trials to keep their place at the club. Only two players survived ‘the night of the long knives’, Kelly Wealthall and Andreya Ezekiel-Meade (now with Tottenham), the rest were released as they were told they were not good enough even for the development squad. The coaches of the rejected players kept faith in them and resigned, and reformed under the banner of Barking Abbey Girls U18s, who had a very successful season.
So just a year after destroying the academy that should have been the future of West Ham Ladies, Ray has announced “We are very excited about this partnership and by the prospect of opening a flourishing and successful Academy.”
This massive backtrack by Ray will hopefully let the girls get a chance to prove her wrong and get another bite of the cherry. The arrangement would also conveniently facilitate a smooth transition for experienced coach Boanas to take the reins, if West Ham Ladies succeed in their application to the WSL.
Personally I think it’s in the bag