Prenton Park, Birkenhead 27 April 1991 – Doncaster Belles 0–1 Millwall Lionesses

Yvonne Baldeo hits winner as Lionesses stun Belles and seize Cup

Midfield warriors Gillian Coultard and Debbie Bampton pose with D.J. Bear prior to locking horns again

Classic match report: Millwall end Belles hoodoo to win their first national Cup

…Back to the football then (craving your indulgence Eni!) England kick-off their latest bid for World Cup glory at Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park, in an opening qualifier against Russia later this month. And that’s all the excuse we need to recall Prenton Park’s first big women’s fixture; this classic Cup final in 1991 between Doncaster Belles and Millwall Lionesses. Odds-on favourites Donny lost out on a fifth win in their eighth final, as Yvonne Baldeo’s 65th-minute winner handed the spoils to first-time finalists Millwall.

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Match: England 2–0 France, 7 November 1974, Plough Lane

Plough Lane – England 2–0 France

England beat France to secure eighth straight win

Classic match report: Southampton duo Davies and Lopez score to down Les Bleues at Wimbledon

In 1974 the British economy was in the toilet due to crackpot ‘austerity’ measures. Terrorism lurked on the nation’s streets due to disastrous foreign policy failures. While a feeble government colluded with backward Loyalist bigots from Northern Ireland. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! Still, at least in those days England could beat France at women’s football, which they’ve never managed since…

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Match: England 8–0 Scotland, 23 June 1973, Manor Park

Manor Park 23 June 1973 – England 8–0 Scotland

England thrash Scotland in first ever home match

Classic match report: Lionesses rattle in EIGHT as roof falls in on sweltered Scots

England’s first official home match took place in the rarefied environs of Manor Park, Nuneaton on 23 June 1973. With England leading 2–0 at half-time, the peely-wally Scots ran out of puff. A final score of 8–0 remains their record defeat. Pat Firth’s debut hat-trick, braces from Pat Davies and moonlighting Scot Paddy McGroarty, and a late finish from sub Eileen Foreman undid Scotland, whose captain Mary Anderson had to go off at half-time.

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Match: England 1–0 Sweden (3–4 PSO), 27 May 1984, Kenilworth Road

Kenilworth Road 27 May 1984 – England 1–0 Sweden (3–4 on penalties)

Linda Curl’s cracker levels the tie but Swedes edge it on penalties

Classic match report: Sweden win the first ever UEFA Women’s Euro, but brave England push them all the way

Photo from the much-missed Damfotboll.com

Women’s Football Archive Exclusive: the definitive account of England’s Euro 84 final clash with Sweden. Clunkily entitled the UEFA Competition For National Representative Women’s Teams, the inaugural continental showpiece went down to the wire in torrential rain at Luton’s Kenilworth Road. Playing 35 minutes each-way with a size four ball, the sides met in front of a record crowd at Sweden’s national stadium, the Ullevi in Gothenburg, two weeks previously. England’s gutsy 1–0 defeat left things delicately poised for this return match in Luton…

 

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Match: Republic of Ireland 0–5 England, 3 May 1981, Dalymount Park

Reagan’s rampant England put five past Ireland

Guerin in her later guise as a hard-bitten crime reporter

Irish soccer starlet Ronnie Guerin in her later guise as a hard-bitten crime reporter

Classic match report: Debuts for Coultard and Gallimore as England drub Girls in Green

In June 2016 England blooded two new Lionesses in the shape of Rachel Daly and Nikita Parris, who both made their debuts in a 7–0 cakewalk against hapless Serbia. Some 35 years earlier England also handed out a double debut, to Gillian Coultard and Angela Gallimore, in this match with Ireland at Dalymount Park. In their first visit to the Emerald Isle, England eased to a 5–0 win. But Ireland’s team sheet included a star name of its own: Veronica “Ronnie” Guerin wore the famous green shirt before she turned into a leading journalist, got tragically gunned down and became the subject of a Holywood blockbuster…

Ireland


In 1981 Ireland’s national team had some talented players but lacked structure, resources and proper association backing – a state of affairs which may sound familiar to fans of the 2016 Girls in Green.

Like his English counterpart Martin Reagan, coach Tony Kelly had taken over a couple of years previously. And he had a similar remit to Reagan: cobbling together a functional national team from a patchwork of regional amateur leagues, while trying to raise coaching standards across the board.

They had scored a notable 1–0 victory over Belgium in October 1980, in a controversial friendly at Dalymount Park. The scorer in that game, Grainne Cross (pronounced “Gron-ya”), left the field covered in blood after colliding with the Belgian goalie, who was stretchered off needing stitches in her chin.

IRELAND
1. Marian Leahy
2. Gabrielle Byrne
3. Mary Joyce
4. Pauline Boland
5. Janice Mooney
6. Philo Robinson
7. Grainne Cross
8. Teresa McCann
9. Debbie McGarry (out 68)
10.Barbara Kelly
11.Breda Hanlon (out 56)
Substitutes:
Catherine Fitzpatrick (in 56)
Ronnie Guerin (in 68)Coach:
Tony Kelly

With Anne O’Brien out of sight and apparently out of mind in Italy, midfielder Cross was perhaps the team’s closest thing to a star player. She spent a season in Italy herself, with Fiammamonza in 1986–87.

The rest of the time she played for local teams in Limerick, including Krups, De Beers and Greenpark United. She was reportedly one of FIVE sisters to play for Ireland, which must be some sort of record. Two other Cross sisters turned out on the Limerick League circuit.

Grainne later played rugby union for Old Crescent RFC.

After the Belgium match Ireland came back to earth with a bump in their next game, being hammered 5–0 at home by Scotland in March 1981. Goalkeeper Marian Leahy played exceptionally well to avert an even more embarrassing rout.

Leahy was another product of the Limerick League, who won a debut cap in Ireland’s first meeting with England; a 6–1 reverse at Exeter in May 1978. An IT professional, she captained Ireland in later games after becoming a buccaneering full-back, including the first women’s international to be held at Wembley in April 1988.

Like many Irish soccer fans of a certain vintage, Leahy keenly followed the Arsenal side graced by Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton. Even the floodlights at Dalymount Park, then Ireland’s national stadium, were hand-me-downs from the Gunners’ old Highbury ground.

There was another, more direct, link to Arsenal too: Frank’s footballing sibling Helena Stapleton was in the 20-strong squad for the match, having made her debut in the Scotland defeat.

Helena played for Dunseedy, a club based in the Raheny area of Dublin. There she formed a potent attacking tandem with her pal, a strong-willed youngster named Ronnie Guerin.

Ireland’s squad also included Denise Lyons, who was English-born but grew up in Waterford. She found success at college level in the United States; playing for Keene State Owls from 1986 to 1989 and then starting a long and glittering spell as head coach in 1992.

Philo Robinson also starred for Keene State Owls, from 1988 to 1991. She was from Dublin and orphaned at a cruelly early age. Like Lyons she was later named in Keene State’s athletic Hall of Fame.

Janice “Jan” Mooney was playing for the Suffragettes club in 1981, but later moved to London and went on to captain the Wembley LFC team which spawned Kelly Smith.

Included in the 20, but not – for some reason – in the team, was experienced skipper Linda Gorman. She was a veteran of Ireland’s first national team matches in 1973 and went on to become the national team’s first female boss in the 1991–92 season.

Tensions


In February 1980 a brace from Irish-descended Kevin Keegan settled a Euro qualifier in England’s favour, but men’s matches between the two nations were politically charged and relatively rare.

With “the troubles” at their height, many Irish citizens were still smarting over 800 years of British oppression, while the IRA’s bombing campaign in Britain had unleashed rampant Hibernophobia.

On the day of this match, the Irish revolutionary (and sometime left-back) Bobby Sands MP slipped into a coma on the 64th day of his hunger strike. His death two days later sparked riots all over Ireland.

Events took a turn for the worse when a second hunger striker, Francis Hughes, died the following week. A furious crowd tried to ransack the British embassy in Dublin.

The men’s home nations tournament was promptly cancelled when Northern Ireland’s opponents refused to travel.

But the two women’s associations forged very friendly relations, shared it seems by the players and staff on both sides.

England


At the time of this match, Martin Reagan’s ambitious revamp – introducing interregional fixtures as a route to the England team – had yet to bear fruit. In 1980 he won one, drew one and lost one of his three games in charge.

ENGLAND
Terry Wiseman .1
(c) Carol Thomas .2
Angie Gallimore .3
Sheila Parker .4
(out HT) Linda Coffin.5
(out HT) Linda Curl .6
Debbie Bampton .7
Liz Deighan .8
(out 54) Tracy Doe.9
Eileen Foreman.10
Janet Turner.11
Substitutes:
(in HT) Maureen Reynolds
(in HT) Gillian Coultard
(in 54) Christine HutchinsonCoach:
Martin Reagan

This was England’s first visit to Ireland and was a rather belated return fixture to the 6–1 win at St James’ Park, Exeter in May 1978.

Uncapped players Gillian Coultard and Angela Gallimore were drafted in ahead of this match, as Reagan began carefully crafting the side which went all the way to the inaugural European Championships final in 1984.

Coultard was 18 but had apparently been held back from senior international football to aid her development. Some four years earlier she had been playing in the old Probables v Possibles trials match (for the Probables).

It was the worst kept secret in women’s football that tough-tackling Doncaster Belle Coultard was already one of the best in the country. But Reagan made “keep it simple” her mantra in order to harness her fantastic talent for the team’s benefit.

Gallimore played for the Broadoak club, based in the Middleton area of Manchester. A defender who was strong in the air and possessed a wand of a left foot, she too went on to enjoy a fine England career, before a knee injury wrecked it after 35 caps.

Theresa “Terry” Wiseman had taken over as first-choice goalkeeper from Sue Buckett. It was reported in the Irish newspapers that Wiseman was a Londoner with green roots, as one of her parents hailed from County Cork. Presumably Martin Reagan and Liz Deighan could also boast of Irish heritage somewhere in their own family trees.

England were without Pat Chapman, so St Helens-born winger Janet Turner played on the left flank.

The match


After eight minutes England took the lead. Right-back Gabrielle Byrne, a Kells LFC player from Drogheda, inadvertently turned the ball into her own net under intense pressure from Janet Turner.

Ireland were outmatched but scrapped for a foothold in the match during the first half. Teresa McCann was prominent in midfield as the Girls in Green worked hard to shut down the wide open spaces of “Dalyer”.

Disaster befell Ireland on the stroke of half time; Tracy Doe’s fine cross was headed powerfully into the net by her strike partner Eileen Foreman.

The two-goal cushion persuaded Reagan to roll the dice at the interval. Coultard was brought on for Linda Curl, who at that stage was a fixture on the right of England’s midfield three.

That gave England their second debutante of the day. Gallimore had impressed after starting at left-back.

Inspired by what the Irish Independent called a “wonderful performance” from Coultard, England went further ahead on 50 minutes. Half-time substitute Maureen Reynolds of Lowestoft got the goal.

The fourth goal came from Christine Hutchinson on 58 minutes, five minutes after she entered the fray as England’s final substitute.

A tough Geordie with a talent for arm-wrestling, Hutchinson’s playing career took in Wallsend, Percy Main and Whitley Bay. But she was also a PE teacher and successfully got girl’s football on the timetable in 1986.

As Ireland ran out of steam Reynolds’s second goal made it 5–0 on 65 minutes.

The decidedly blunt match report in the now-defunct Irish Press blamed: “a blatant lack of stamina coupled with an extremely shaky defence”.

Reagan showered his squad with praise, taking the same 16 players to Japan later that year, insisting they had grabbed: “a host of friends and admirers and were a great credit to England”.

With one or two minor tweaks (and the addition of prolific young striker Kerry Davis) this squad formed the basis of the side who pushed Sweden all the way to penalties in the Euro 1984 final.

Coultard ruled England’s midfield roost for the next 19 years, famously becoming the first female England player to scoop a century of caps.

Veronica Guerin


With his Ireland team 5–0 down and the match ebbing away, coach Tony Kelly handed his impetuous substitute Ronnie Guerin a debut cap.

During her short cameo Dunseedy striker Ronnie failed to make any impression on an English defence led by vastly-experienced Sheila Parker – a holdover from the classic Dick, Kerr’s Ladies era.

Young Ronnie grew up into Veronica Guerin, the fearless investigative journalist, immortalised in celluloid by Cate Blanchett.

Her 1996 murder by netherworld drug lords led to an outpouring of national grief and sweeping new laws which sent Dublin’s gangsters scuttling away overseas.

A year before her killing Guerin was shot in the thigh. She was saved from more serious injury when her femur stopped the bullet, a feat attributed to her soccer-toughened bones.

Sports nut Guerin also played basketball for Ireland, before destiny marked out a greater and more noble path than any ball sport.

In a world where “legends” and “heroes” are ten-a-penny, this is a genuine case. And the wider women’s football family can proudly claim her as one of our own.

Match: Italy 3–1 West Germany, 26 August 1984, Stadio Armando Picchi

Hosts Italy crush West Germany to claim Mundialito

Picture from the excellent History of Women's Football on Facebook

Picture from the excellent History of Women's Football on Facebook

Classic match report: Three first-half goals secure Italy’s win over patched-up West Germany

In August 1984 Italy beat West Germany 3–1 in the 1984 Mundialto Femminile final. A capacity crowd at the Stadio Armando Picchi in Jesolo saw goals from vaunted front three Carolina Morace, Rose Reilly and Betty Vignotto put the Italians ahead, before West Germany reduced the arrears in the second half through Anne Kreuzberg.

Gero Bisanz's inexperienced West Germany team were running on fumes by the time of the final – a lengthy injury list included Player of the Tournament Sylvia Neid. Notorious slow-starters Italy had lost 2–1 to the Germans in their opening Mundialito match but ran amok here to secure the silverware.

Along with several other members of the victorious Italian squad, Morace and Reilly played for Serie A champions Trani. At club level Ireland’s Anne O’Brien laid on most of the duo’s goals, but in the blue of Italy they supported Betty Vignotto. Veteran striker Vignotto had shrugged off a series of knee injuries to remain the national team’s headline act.

Footage of the entire match exists at the Calcio Donne website here (please give ’em the hits). The 3–1 result mirrored the 1982 FIFA World Cup final between the nations. Hapless Antonio Cabrini, the future Italian women’s coach, missed a penalty in that game.

The teams:


ITALIA
1. Eva Russo
2. Marisa Perin
3. Tiziana D’Orio
4. Maria Mariotti
5. Paola Bonato
6. Feriana Ferraguzzi
7. Viviana Bontacchio (out 78)
8. Carolina Morace (out 75)
9. Betty Vignotto (c)
11.Anna Maria Mega
16.Rose Reilly (out 66)

Substitutes:
10.Betty Secci (in 78)
13.Viola Langella (in 66)
15.Ida Golin (in 75)

Coach:
Ettore Recagni

DEUTSCHLAND
Marion Feiden .1
Elke Richter .2
(out 32) Christel Klinzmann .3
Monika Degwitz .4
Ingrid Zimmermann .5
Sissy Raith .6
(c) Rike Koekkoek .8
Petra Bartelmann .9
Anne Kreuzberg.11
Marie-Luise Gehlen.14
(out 69) Rosi Eichenlaub.16

Substitutes:
(in 69) Eva Schute.17
(in 32) Susanne Scharras.18

Coach:
Gero Bisanz

Clockwatch: Italy 3–1 West Germany as it happened


1. Italy kick-off here at a packed Stadio Armando Picchi in Jesolo.

3. The hosts start well with adopted Italian Rose “Relli” to the fore. They force an early free-kick on the edge of the box but make a complete mess of an elaborate training ground routine. A candidate for worst free-kick ever?

5. German number 9 Petra Bartelmann – with a bandaged thigh and hand – hits a tired shot on the turn. Italy’s 17-year-old goalkeeping prodigy Eva Russo touches it out for a corner, but the danger soon fizzles out.

Italy's teenage stopper Eva Russo

Italy’s teenage stopper Eva Russo

7. Some nice early touches for Germany’s keeper Feiden, who makes a brave save at the feet of Vignotto then plucks the resultant corner out of the air.

8. GOAL for Italy. Reilly’s skill on the left wing precedes a deep cross, turned in from close range by her lurking Trani club-mate Carolina Morace.

12. The Germans look to hit back as Kreuzberg wins a free-kick deep in Italian territory. It’s a lame dive by Germany’s blond number 11, who rolls around like a dying swan. The free-kick is hoofed high and wide.

17. Germany’s “sweeper-keeper” Feiden races from her goal-line to clear Marisa Perin’s long pass away from Vignotto. As a former outfielder with her club, Feiden has that in her locker.

19. GOAL for Italy. It’s 2–0 as Vignotto’s looping shot from the left crashes off the frame of the goal, only to be swept in by Rose Reilly at the far post.

23. It’s all Italy now. Morace shows great skill to step away from a couple of wild tackles in midfield. She finds rampaging winger Anna Maria Mega, who dinks the ball over the German crossbar.

27. A long stoppage here as German defenders Zimmermann and Klinzmann collide in the centre circle then languish on the deck. Number 5 Zimmermann, the sweeper, rises gingerly to her feet but treatment continues for number 3 Klinzmann who still looks groggy.

29. Penalty to Italy. Vivi Bontacchio – a diligent right midfielder in the Roberto Donadoni mould – tears down the line and fires in a cross. Morace is caught under the arc of the ball, but bumps dazed defender Klinzmann. Contact is minimal and it looks a very soft award: Italy’s ‘homer’ ref can hardly get the whistle to his lips quickly enough!

Penalty! Klinzmann and Morace on the turf

Penalty! Klinzmann and Morace on the turf

30. GOAL for Italy. Senior pro Vignotto pulls rank to take the kick: dispatching an unerring finish high down the middle of the goal. Poor Feiden has had no chance with all three Italian strikes.

32. Substitution for West Germany. Coach Gero Bisanz hooks the embattled Wolfsburg defender Christel Klinzmann and sends on number 18 Susanne Scharras. Can they stem the blue tide?

34. Curly-headed Italian goalie Eva Russo makes a great save, tipping over Degwitz’s fierce free-kick. Incredibly, the officials then signal for a goal-kick. German protests are muted – it’s just not going to be their day… Insouciant Russo trots off to collect the ball. She lets the centre-back take the kick, as is her wont.

40. More nonsense from comedy ref Zaza. He whistles for half-time exactly on 40 minutes despite the lengthy stoppages.

41. We’re back out here and Italy threaten to go further ahead: Reilly bursts through the German rearguard but drags her shot well wide of Feiden’s goal.

44. German coach Bisanz has switched things around for the second half, with partially-mummified number 9 Bartelmann now playing as a wing-back. Italy are unchanged.

43. Italy’s graceful libero Fery Ferraguzzi gets a last-ditch toe on the ball to deny Germany’s number 16 Rosi Eichenlaub. It’s the first we’ve seen in this match of Eichenlaub, who scored against Italy on the opening day. A big, strong outside-forward with hunched shoulders, she’s very difficult to stop when allowed time to turn and build up a head of steam.

44. Shortly after her excellent intervention, Ferraguzzi blots her copybook. She dithers on the ball and is indebted to youngster Russo who makes a great save.

44. GOAL for West Germany. Italy fail to clear their lines and Anne Kreuzberg lashes the ball into the net from the inside-right channel. Hit with pent-up frustration, it nestles in the far corner of the goal before startled Russo can react. That’s Bad Neuenahr forward Kreuzberg’s second goal on the occasion of her sixth cap.

46. Rattled by the goal, the Italian players babble and gesticulate as only Italians can.

47. Anna Maria Mega is hobbling after a hefty challenge. Another member of the Trani contingent, the left-sided tough-nut has certainly put herself about today. Looks like she’s okay to soldier on.

51. There’s been a real drop-off in the quality here. The players look fatigued which may explain the lack of movement. The game is also becoming pockmarked by niggly fouls.

53. Italy’s right-back Marisa Perin is flattened while defending a corner, but carries on while holding her ribs. She hasn’t really lived up to her terrifying nickname – the female Claudio Gentile – today. She looks a tidy full-back rather than a blood-splattered centre-half. In her day job she’s a farmer [insert gag about agricultural defending here].

55. Now Bontacchio is hurt by Zimmermann’s late tackle. Vivi is perhaps the last of the women’s football “Munitionettes”: she’s employed in a weapons factory.

60. Yellow card for West Germany. The game’s first booking had been coming. German skipper Rike Koekkoek enters the referee’s notepad for a gratuitous trip on Rose Reilly.

63. Play is held up while the German substitute Scharras seems to be in some discomfort. Looks like she might have cut her head.

64. Oh dear. Feiden spills an easy cross. The danger is averted but West Germany’s goalkeeper is having a proverbial ‘mare. She’ll go on to have much better days than this in her career, that’s for sure.

German netminder Marion Feiden (later Isbert)

German netminder Marion Feiden (later Isbert)

66. Substitution for Italy. Home coach Ettore Recagni looks to shore things up by replacing Rose Reilly with the more defensive Viola Langella. Yet another Trani player enters the fray.

67. West German boss Gero Bisanz will be bemused at the wilting of his midfield in this second half. He must be pondering a call-up for 16-year-old Duisburg wunderkind Martina Voss when the Euro qualifiers get back underway in October.

69. Substitution for West Germany. Big Rosi Eichenlaub’s race is run. She’s replaced with Eva Schute for the last ten minutes or so.

75. Substitution for Italy. Number 15 Ida Golin is on for Carolina Morace. Today’s opener was Morace’s fourth goal of the competition, securing her the capocannoniere ahead of prolific policewoman Linda Curl who scored three times for England.

78. Substitution for Italy. Two minutes left now and Italy are looking to run down the clock. Number 10 Betty Secci replaces Vivi Bontacchio, who takes a well-earned rest.

79. Late drama as Zimmermann hacks the ball off her own goal-line, narrowly avoiding a fourth goal for the dominant Italians.

80. Full-time. That’s it! Italy are champions of the 1984 Mundialito Femminile.

To the victor the spoils: the Mundialito trophies

To the victor the spoils: the Mundialito trophies

Winning captain Betty Vignotto with sinister Bride of Chucky-style mascot 'Paulina'

Winning captain Betty Vignotto with sinister Bride of Chucky-style mascot ‘Paulina’

Match: Arsenal 2–1 Doncaster Belles, 28 March 1993, Highbury Stadium

Belles beaten as Arsenal move to brink of first title

Embed from Getty Images

Wheelchair-bound boxer Michael Watson on the Highbury turf, surrounded by chart-toppers Aswad

Classic match report: nouveau riche Gunners edge out Belles before record Highbury crowd

December’s bumper 3,256 crowd at Brighton’s AMEX Stadium left women’s soccer stattos scratching their noggins. Was it a record? Well yes… and no. It was a record for the newly-reconstituted WPL, but definitely not an English women’s league record. That particular honour went to this epochal Arsenal–Belles clash at Highbury, which topped 18,000 way back in 1993. Arsenal’s Wylie and Ball scored either side of Coultard’s equaliser. Although beaten Donny roared back with a league and cup double the following season, this match arguably cast the die for Arsenal’s unhealthy long-term suffocation of domestic competition…

Background


The match was staged as part of a benefit day for stricken boxer Michael Watson. Islington pugilist Watson had graced a golden era of British middleweights alongside sworn rivals Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank.

The fearless trio wrote their names in boxing lore by going at it hammer and tongs in their frequent TV bouts with each other. At White Hart Lane in September 1991 Watson was ahead of Eubank on the judges’ scorecards before being decked by a fateful uppercut at the end of the 11th round.

Incredibly the lone ringside doc was unequipped and the ambulance which trundled through the dispersing crowd initially took Watson to the wrong hospital. It was well beyond the ‘golden hour’ for treating head injuries when Watson finally arrived at St Bart’s.

Top surgeon Peter Hamlyn battled all night to save Watson’s life but he remained in a coma and brain damaged. A slow and gutsy partial recovery took place over the following years at the family home in Chingford, under the watchful eye of mum Joan.

The fund raiser scooped around £86,000 towards Watson’s rehabilitation and he later clobbered the boxing authorities with a £1million lawsuit for their breathtaking negligence.

Schedule


Admission to the “extravaganza” was a fiver, and it was pay on the gate. The day began at 12:30 with an 11-a-side celebrity match between Arsenal fans and a team of sportsmen put together by Daley Thompson.

The Arsenal supporters’ team played semi-regularly for charity and featured the likes of ‘Lofty’, from TV’s Eastenders. Prior to his injury Watson had turned out for the side.

The women took to the field at 13:30, followed by a musical interlude at 15:00 courtesy of reggae legends Aswad. Once the widespread bogle dancing had subsided, it was time for the main event: Ex-Arsenal XI v Ex-Tottenham XI at 15:30.

The veterans’ match appeared imbalanced with Spurs fielding a string of soccer wrinklies including 1961 double hero Cliff Jones. On the other hand Arsenal had some younger legs in alongside their own golden oldies like squeaky-voiced World Cup winner Alan Ball.

John Lukic, Chris Whyte and David Rocastle were all coming off a terrible season with Leeds United, while “Champagne” Charlie Nicholas was still playing for Celtic. He was 31 but inhabiting the body of a much older man.

The finale at 17:30 saw spirited Watson wheeled onto the pitch to meet his public. At 19:00 there was an invitation-only gala dinner in Highbury’s glitzy Mezzanine Suite.

Arsenal


For the previous decade, the best players in the south of England had been hopping around together from team to team – desperately trying to knock Doncaster Belles off their perch.

Usually constellated around Debbie Bampton, these teams would battle the Belles in the WFA Cup before the formation of the inaugural National League in 1991.

On the cusp of the FA takeover of women’s football in 1993, Bampton’s Arsenal were the latest pretenders to Donny’s crown and perhaps the most dangerous, given their comparatively vast resources.

ARSENAL
1. Lesley Shipp
2. Kirsty Pealling
3. Michelle Curley
4. Vicki Slee
5. Gill Wylie
6. Sharon Barber
7. Sian Williams
8. Debbie Bampton
9. Jo Churchman (out 80)
10.Chris Couling
11.Naz Ball

Substitutes:
12.Sarah Mulligan
14.Michelle Sneddon
15.Kelley Few
??.Debbie Smith (in 80)

Coach:
Vic Akers

After casting envious glances at Millwall’s groundbreaking girls’ youth academy, Arsenal had built one of their own, which soon hoovered up all the best kids. Some came from as far afield as Scotland – in the case of Michelle Sneddon.

This had already started to bear fruit for the first-team in the shape of cultured full-backs Curley and Pealling. An infusion of talent from local rivals supplemented the youngsters. North London foes Tottenham were ruthlessly denuded of star players Gill Wylie and Sharon Barber.

England keeper Shipp (later Higgs), midfield duo Bampton and Williams, sweeper Slee and frontrunner Churchman were all ex-Millwall Lionesses. As was full-back Maria Luckhurst, who began the season with Arsenal but was not getting much of a look in.

In the week leading up to the match Arsenal had nicked yet another Millwall player – Keeley Salvage – who was a no nonsense centre-half bearing the sobriquet “Well Hard”.

Arsenal had won the previous season’s League Cup, beating Millwall Lionesses in the final at Alt Park, Knowsley. But Doncaster Belles were not one of the 18 entrants when it was hastily convened in January 1992 – apparently as an afterthought.

Since being promoted from the 1991–92 National League Division One South, Arsenal had made a mockery of their 12–1 ante-post odds for the top title. In fairness, manager Vic Akers had built a truly formidable outfit.

Prolific strikers Naldra “Naz” Ball and Jo Churchman cut a swathe through the opposition, while a miserly defence shipped only 10 goals in 22 league and cup outings going into this game.

Akers’ team boasted a powerful spine in the shape of Gill Wylie the big Irish centre-half, Debbie Bampton and Welsh goal-machine Naz Ball. Each carried a potent aerial threat from set-pieces, at a time when heading was a sorely-underdeveloped skill in women’s soccer.

When Arsenal visited Doncaster’s Armthorpe Welfare FC Ground on 21 February 1993, a thumping 2–0 defeat brought an abrupt end to their season-long winning streak.

But just when it seemed that the Belles had slapped down the latest bunch of mouthy upstarts, as they had hundreds of times before, they came unstuck themselves in a shock 3–2 defeat at Wimbledon.

That meant Arsenal would require only a point from their last game at Red Star Southampton for the title: IF they could pull off their Belles revenge mission on this big day out at Highbury…

Doncaster Belles


Doncaster Belles were reigning double winners but entered the match beset by problems. Ex-Leicester City pro Paul Edmunds had returned to the managerial hot-seat, after Jo Broadhurst’s dad Brian (ex-Chesterfield) filled in the season before.

BELLES
1. Tracey Davidson
2. Julie Chipchase
3. Louise Ryde
4. Joy McQuiggan
5. Loraine Hunt (out 33)
6. Michelle Jackson
7. Mandy Lowe
8. Gillian Coultard
9. Karen Walker
10.Gail Borman
11.Jan Murray

Substitutes:
12.Lorraine Young
14.Sheila Edmunds
15.Ann Lisseman (in 33)

Coach:
Paul Edmunds

Edmunds was still without Karen “Skiller” Skillcorn as an ACL rupture sustained in Spring 1991 was misdiagnosed and then the repeatedly-delayed treatment botched. At the time, crocked players were at the mercy of the NHS waiting lists.

Similarly, key midfielder Jackie Sherrard had hurt her knee in England’s Euro defeat in Italy the previous November. She had tried to play through the pain but eventually got a diagnosis of cartilage trouble and had to go under the knife.

Matters reached a head on 14 March 1993 when the Belles sensationally crashed 3–2 at Wimbledon. Legend has it, their first league defeat in 15 years.

Playmaker Jo Broadhurst must have been feeling sheepish, having served the first of a three-match ban at Wimbledon. The team bounced back to thrash Stanton Rangers 8–0, but were staring down the barrel of two defeats in three games without their creative lynchpin.

Philosophically, the rivalry with Arsenal cast into relief a clash of cultures. Belles players and staff simply could not get their heads around Arsenal’s gamesmanship and the po-faced, win-at-all-costs mentality underpinning it.

In Pete Davies’s I Lost My Heart To The Belles (1996) Broadhurst recalled the aftermath of the match:

“Us Belles were all singing, messing around – we were disappointed obviously, but it’s a game, we’ll have another chance – and them, they were just stood there. If that had been us we’d have been out partying, we always stay together when we’ve won something – but them, they went home.”

Broadhurst may have revised her opinion, as by the time Davies’s book came out she had herself been tempted south by Arsenal – who dangled the carrot of a paid gig in the club shop. Reborn as a striker she promptly hit the goal trail and breathed new life into her England career.

Joy McQuiggan, who hit the WFA Cup final winner for Leasowe Pacific in 1989, was one of the players drafted in as cover. Aptly, she bore a boxing-related nickname: being dubbed “Barry” after near namesake Barry McGuigan.

Mandy “Flo” Lowe and Ann Lisseman – later a big cheese in the police – were also adjusting to the demands of Belle-hood, although both would prove their mettle in the following 1993–94 season.

Match


Disaster struck for Doncaster Belles when Gill Wylie gave Arsenal the lead after just five minutes, heading in Curley’s corner. Then the bad luck continued when elegant centre-half Loraine Hunt tore her hamstring and had to be substituted after half an hour.

Undeterred, the depleted Belles kept scrapping and skipper Gill Coultard tore up the script by nodding in an equaliser on the stroke of half-time.

Just before the hour mark Naz Ball delighted organisers and the 18,196 crowd by scoring what proved to be the winner. She connected with Jo Churchman’s cross for the third headed goal of the match.

Akers unleashed livewire youngster Debbie Smith (not among the substitutes listed in the programme) for the last 10 minutes.

When local ref Bill Saville blew his whistle for full-time it left the Belles needing snookers to retain their National League title.

Epistemology


David Mills’ interesting article in She Kicks recently highlighted the poor record keeping which continues to blight women’s football. Mills is RIGHT that older records are “sketchy”, but WRONG when he then suggests an arbitrary ‘year zero’ cut-off point. Sketchy records can – and must – be made unsketchy!

Having said that, this article only considers matches from the formation of the first National League in 1991. Barnstorming Dick, Kerr’s Ladies famously brought 53,000 to Goodison Park, with at least another 10,000 locked outside.