Sunday 17th June 2012 ko 17.15
UEFA Women’s European Championship Qualifying Group 6
ENGLAND 1 (Yankey 67)
Entry (all areas) £5
@ Salford City Stadium
This close season mullarky isn’t much fun, I’d gone almost a week without a game! But then Chris Berezai phoned, and said he and Chris Bedford (http://pitch-side-stories.blogspot.co.uk/) were going to this one, so why not?
In purely groundhopping terms, this was quite an important one, as Salford City Stadium is only used by Salford City Reds Rugby League team, and so chances for another association football match at the ground look to be slim. A 5.15 kick-off, presumably to tie in with the Men’s European Championships allowed me a run home at a reasonable hour.
The 12,000 stadium is in fact in Barton-upon-Irwell, Eccles, and was built to replace the rugby club’s former home, The Willows. That ground hosted two association laws games, both between Salford FC and FC United of Manchester. It’s one obvious quirk is partial standing behind both goals, 2/3 of the space being simply tarpaulins. The space is there for an expansion to 20,000 but that would require some major adaptations. The devil in this place, is in the details.
Consider the attendance, well under half capacity but sufficient to cause a massive queue from the M60. The official car park costs £5 but is only bookable in advance, so all other drivers are directed to the nearby aerodrome. That costs £5 too, but the queue to leave afterwards was lengthy, and was worse when we got to the road back to the M60. I’d rather not imagine what it would have been like with 20,000 there.
We approached the ground and discovered the modus operandi was to buy a ticket before heading to the turnstiles. Common enough, but only have three windows open is plain silly, especially another was wasted on programme sales. I saw no programmes on sale in the ground. It wasn’t obvious where our turnstile was so we asked a steward resplendent in his “G4” jacket. He asked which stand we were in, we replied, “The West,” he responded, “Well, I THINK it’s this one, not but I’m not sure where the turnstiles are.” I walked round to the corner, and guessed correctly.
Anyone who’s made a serious attempt at completing the 92 Premier and Football League grounds will recognise the ground. It’s what a tolerably ambitious League 2 club builds. Safe, functional, and utterly lacking in imagination. The sight lines are good, but the leg room lacking, the food hot, but overpriced. It didn’t stop many groundhoppers turning out for this one though! Another annoyance was the insistence of the programme, announcer, and scoreboard of referring to the visitors as “Holland”. Holland for what its worth, is the western area of the Netherlands, and it was the Netherlands National Women’s team on show this evening. Still pricing the tickets at a fiver is an excellent move, and it was an obviously different demographic watching the game. Its also an idea that those organising finals for the FA Vase, and Trophy should take a long look at.
With the Dutch topping the group, and only the top team guaranteed to progress to next year’s finals in Sweden, England needed a win to stay in with a shout of top spot. In front of the BBC2 cameras, the game was as dull as the ground was uninspiring. In a turgid first half both sides passing was too poor to generate a chance worth recording. It took a cheeky bit of quick thinking from England midfielder Rachel Yankey to break the deadock. Awarded a free kick just outside the Dutch box, keeper Loes Geurts started lining up a wall, without checking that the referee had signalled an “On the whistle” kick. She hadn’t, so Yankey neatly lofted her kick into the underguarded net, and left the Dutch to argue the point.
After that the game opened up a little, but was never going to be a game to convert any doubters to the cause of the womens’ game. That’s a real shame, as the BBC has invested much in female football, but I suspect England manager Hope Powell will be far more interested in the leaps and bounds the team has made during her tenure.
There was one more piece of poor management as I left. I walked past two large security guards at reception in order to get team sheets for the three of us. I asked the lady behind the desk, and she looked at me in stunned silence. Eventually another guard said, “Sure, how many do you want?” and went and collected them. In the meantime I was treated to the lady shouting at the guards, ” How did you let HIM in?”
I should have said something, but I collected the teamsheets and disappeared into the Sunday night traffic.