West Ham Women
On Sunday, I attended my first Women’s Super League match, supporting West Ham United against Liverpool at Rush Green. I’ve long held an interest in women’s football – my sister Nat, who also attended Sunday’s game, used to turn out for West Ham Ladies and is still playing. I have also coached girls’ teams, as well as a boys’ side, at younger level.
We arrived at Rush Green to a very family-orientated atmosphere. Lots of activities for the kids, a hut selling beer, soft drinks and snacks and a West Ham DJ booming out music on what was a gloriously sunny day. The staff at the event were fantastic – very helpful, especially as it was our first visit. Carlton Cole was the matchday guest and had a brief interview with a West Ham media representative before signing autographs and posing for photographs.
It was around this point that the match became a mini-WHTID event – we bumped into BSB and his son, while ebiwhu was over from Germany. Ebi actually took in three Hammers’ matches over the weekend, the others being the first team’s defeat to Tottenham and the Under-23s’ victory over Swansea.
The five of us stood together for the match as West Ham United Women’s Season Ticket Holders have priority on the seats. First Team Season Ticket Holders, like me and Nat, paid £5 for entry but a Women’s Season Ticket is only £15 so you’d get your money’s worth very quickly. West Ham were without injured left-back Claire Rafferty, despite the highlights on the official website stating she played and that West Ham started with 12 players – our media team just cannot stop making errors, it seems.
Liverpool, managed by former goalkeeper Chris Kirkland, took the lead after eight minutes – a searching cross-field pass found Reds right-winger Jess Clarke, arguably the best player on the pitch. Her centre found Courtney Sweetman-Kirk who forced an excellent double save from Hammers’ keeper Becky Spencer before finding the net at the third time of asking. Sweetman-Kirk joined Liverpool from Merseyside rivals Everton in the summer and has represented England at Under-23 level.
The Hammers took a while to get going, their first shot at goal coming from Irish forward Leanne Kiernan who fired over after 25 minutes. Minutes later American midfielder Brianna Visalli shot straight at the Liverpool goalkeeper.
Despite losing promising Dutch left-winger Esmee De Graaf at half-time, the Hammers were more purposeful after the interval, Kiernan having a shot tipped over in the opening exchanges of the second half. The Reds were dangerous on the counter attack and Spencer had to be alert to save a one-on-one to keep the Irons in the contest with 20 minutes to go.
West Ham captain Gilly Flaherty had a goalbound header tipped over with ten minutes remaining – by this stage my West Ham Player of the Match, 19-year-old Swiss international winger Alisha Lehmann (pictured below), was providing some dangerous deliveries from the flanks. Kate Longhurst and Julia Simic also had good games in the midfield – Simic, a German international, had her father watching from the sidelines with our resident German ebi even having a chat with him. Despite appearing to be very right-footed, left-back Erin Simon looked comfortable on the ball while right-back Ria Percival was feisty and tenacious in the tackle.
Liverpool struck the bar from distance in the closing minutes, with the rebound converted but ruled out for offside. In the last action of the game, Kiernan escaped her marker wide on the right with a lovely piece of skill, letting the ball run past her, deceiving her full-back and allowing her to run into space. Her cross-shot hit the angle of post and bar before bouncing out with the final whistle almost immediately following.
It was an unfortunate end to the game for the battling Hammers who had put on a good show and would have just about merited a point. The Women’s team actually reflected the Men’s First Team from the day before, I thought. We went 1-0 down in the first half, had some decent efforts at goal in the second and could have equalised in the last minute. To continue the reflection between the two, both the Women’s side and the Men’s First Team have had a large influx of players over the summer and, whilst clearly gelling quickly, are still a work in progress. It was, however, great to see nearly 2,000 supporters at Rush Green cheering on the girls – a higher attendance than some League Two sides enjoyed at the weekend.
It’s great that West Ham United finally have a Women’s side competing at the top table. I can thoroughly recommend getting over to Rush Green to support the team. COYI..!