photo by Avit

I’d never been to QPR Ladies ground before. I knew it was going to be a schlep because I knew it was near Heathrow airport, the furthest point I can go on the M25 from home before coming back on myself. I had dropped my son off there only the day before, and now here I was back on the most boring congested sixty mile stretch of the M25 (ever) but with the added inconvenience of rain and traffic jams.

This was the West Ham Ladies league match sandwiched between two cup finals. QPRL were touting the game as a chance for youngsters to get inspired. To play football. They tweeted…

#QPRLFC are hoping to inspire the next generation, with hundreds of local girls expected for Sunday’s @FA_WPL fixture with @westhamladies!

The teeming rain was was annoying. The traffic was making me late. Hundreds of school children? I’ve nothing against children (I used to be one) but in my experience, children at football matches tend to lose interest pretty quickly and end up being impatient,restless or bored, or all three.

‘Hundreds?’  I pondered.

The car park was chock-a. A row of coaches seemed to be taking up a lot of the spaces. Hundreds of school children…. I was beginning to believe it.

The club house was more modern than I had imagined, but after taking one tentative step inside and enquiring as to the whereabouts of the pitch I was directed back in the direction I had just come from. And there it was. Nestled into a small gap between the 21st century fencing was something that Arthur Negus would have been interested in, a rickety old green turnstile. It looked like a portal to the 1930’s, or platform nine and three quarters.  I half expected to walk through and see fans sporting rosettes, waving rattles at Stanley Matthews and shouting things like ‘Good play old boy’ and ‘Spiffing’. £2 later/lighter I was in the ground, still convinced it was the 1930’s. There was nothing grand about the grandstand, it looked like an old cow shed that the cows had abandoned in search of more salubrious surroundings. There were three other stands which were not even up to cow shed standards. Welcome to the third tier of women’s football, I thought. Bizarrely, next to the ‘not so’ grandstand was the juxtaposition of some palm trees, planted to cheer the place up a bit no doubt. It wasn’t working.

Level playing field?

The promise of hundreds of school children was broken, there were a few, 10-20 maybe. the car park occupants must have been going somewhere else. Not here. The official attendance was 160 which wasn’t bad for a WPL match, especially in the pouring rain. And on a Sunday. I’ve always thought that 2.00pm on a Sunday was a naff kick off time. Saturday football is played in the afternoon and Sunday football is played in the morning. It’s the law….. or at least it should be.

West Ham Ladies were hoping to continue on their great unbeaten run against second bottom in the league QPRL, who had only won two games all season. The team was unchanged from the one that had won the good Isthmian Bostik Women’s League cup on Wednesday, the only difference being Rosie Kmita was now wearing the captain’s arm band instead of Amber Stobbs who was keeping it warm for Amy Cooper, who hasn’t been seen since the game against Keynsham Town in early February. Medal winner Vyan Sampson was on the bench again still yet to kick a ball in anger for the Hammers as was Leanne Mabey and Dayna Chong. Having two central defenders on the bench seemed a curious decision, especially against one of the weaker teams in the league.

And still the rain came down. The whistle was blown and West Ham Ladies slipped straight into top gear, probing and pressing the QPRL defence. Predictably it was Amber Stobbs who broke the deadlock with one of her trademark booming shots from outside the area which the keeper could only parry into the roof of the net. It was closely followed by a bravely headed goal by Chantelle Mackie.

Chantelle Mackie

She took to the near post at a corner kick and kept her eyes on the prize during the defensive melee. I think it was her first goal, and if it wasn’t,  it was the first goal I’d seen her score anyway. Mackie has developed into a real tough cookie. A clash of heads left her pole-axed on the floor, but she just dusted herself down and got on with it. QPRL were trying to weather the storm (as we all were) but fell foul to two more strikes from the prolific Kelly Wealthall and midfielder Ellie Zoepfl before half time was announced.

Ellie Zoepfl

The rain persisted. The second half was a master class given by West Ham Ladies in how to dominate a game, the animated energetic Rosie Kmita switching wings with Zoepfl to confuse the enemy, Amber Stobbs (my LOG) freed from her defensive duties to terrorise defenders, Kelly Wealthall keeping defenders busy and in the process helping herself to a hat trick, Andria Georgiou    and Molly Clark the enforcers breaking up play in midfield, whilst full backs Mackie and Auguste alternate between extinguishing any opposition threats by fair means or foul (literally) and providing width to WHUL attack. Mackie almost achieved the impossible feat of her scoring two in a match but her smart shot was saved at the near post. The 57th minute heralded the playing debut of new signing Vyan Sampson  coming on with Chong for Austin and Zoepfl.

To be fair the comfortablest positions to play in WHUL team at the moment is central defence and goalkeeper purely because they are shielded so well by the rest of the team. Chong displayed her natural ability and was unlucky not to score after QPRL keeper made a point blank save.Sampson displayed her WSL pedigree with some sumptuous control and passing, giving the manager a welcome selection headache to come.

Vyan Sampson and the palm tree

Fittingly it was the stylish Georgiou who closed proceedings with torpedo of a shot from the edge of the area.

10-0. Not bad. Not bad at all. Despite the rain.

Two things I overheard on the pitch that summed up the winning mentality of WHUL.

A QPRL defender bemoan ‘This is embarrassing.’

‘ Hannah…I need the ball quicker!’  Amber Stobbs berating Wheeler for not releasing the ball sooner. At the time they had an 8-0 lead.

As an observation in this game and Wednesday’s final, bad fouls were punished not by cards, but by having to apologise to the injured party. I can’t see it catching on in the men’s game.

And so to Sunday’s FA plate final against Luton Town Ladies who had quite prosperous Sunday themselves beating Haringey Borough Women 14-0. Natasha Fensome scored five and Jess Mckay scored four for the Hatters, so maybe West Ham Ladies should keep a close eye on them, but in my opinion the Hammers will be too strong for the team that play in the 4th tier of the Women’s pyramid and should pick up their second trophy in the space of ten days. The only selection problem I can see West Ham having is who to reward with a place on the bench.

I’m sticking my neck out and going for a 5-0 to the Hammers.

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