It’s a regular occurrance for publications and websites to chart the progress of teams from the first qualifying round through to the big showcase final, but it’s not so often that a fan dedicates themselves to making sure they get to a game at every stage, and even less so in the women’s game.
So we’re delighted that John Spooner is doing that and that he’s sharing his journey with us here:
The Road to Wembley for the 2018 SSE Women’s FA Cup Final began on Sunday 3rd of September with what was, for many teams around the country, their first competitive game of the season.
From a starting point of 276 clubs, an increase of 22 from the 2016-17 season, the road to Wembley will culminate on Saturday 5th of May.
The draws for the first and second qualifying rounds were announced by The FA on 18th August with 174 teams from the top divisions of England’s County and Regional Leagues entering the competition at that point. Primary interest in the draw was focused on the number 16 which saw my daughter’s team Blackpool, of the North West Women’s Regional Premier Division, drawn away to Nelson, from the Lancashire League Championship division. With three divisions between the two sides there was the potential for some FA Cup giant killing.
With Blackpool not having entered the competition in 2016-17 it meant that, when the match day squad was finalised, there were 10 Women’s FA Cup debutants in the tangerine shirt playing against a side making its debut in the competition. Playing in front of a crowd of around 70 on a drizzly day at Victory Park, known locally as Little Wembley, an upset never looked likely as Blackpool registered a club-record win in the competition and progressed to the second qualifying round for the third time. In a relatively one-sided game there were FA Cup hat tricks for Lily Hambly and Lydia Black to list as memorable achievements, while Ellie Spooner and Megan Illingworth marked their competition debuts with stunning strikes that would be mentioned for years to come!
When the draws for the first and second qualifying rounds were made secondary interest was in the number 18 where newly amalgamated West Didsbury and Chorlton would host North West Regional League Division 1 rivals Warrington Wolverines, with the winner drawn away to the winners of the tie between Nelson and Blackpool. By contrast this was a keenly contested tie with West Didsbury, who led 2-0 at half time surviving a second half comeback to secure a 3-2 win, with a late goal from their captain Elizabeth Livesey
With the first qualifying round negotiated Blackpool and West Didsbury were just 10 rounds away from Wembley when they locked horns at the Hassra Sports Pavilion on 17 September. By contrast to the first round this game was played in sunshine and a tight game was expected. Playing in front of 52 spectators the home side went ahead through Lydia Black’s opportunist strike early in the second half and the visitors replied through Jami Hodges. The teams couldn’t be separated in 90 minutes and extra time followed. Lindsey Turner put the visitors ahead in the 8th minute of extra time and looked likely winners until Charmaine Cardwells 25 yard strike with 5 minutes left took a competitive game to penalties. A dramatic shoot out ensued in the only one of the forty eight ties to a shootout. The home side twice took the lead, however Wests keeper Claire Jefferson proved to be the hero saving three of the seasiders penalties to put her team into the hat for the third qualifying round.
The reward for West Didsbury and Chorlton was a home tie in the third qualifying round on 8 October against MSB Woolton who, like Blackpool, play their football in the North West Regional Premier Division. Once again Wests were involved in an exciting tie as a two goal half time lead became three early in the second half. The drama of the FA Cup once again took hold as the visitors hit back to trail by just one goal with just under half an hour to go. A fourth goal eased the nerves for the home support and two late goals confirmed Wests’ place in the first round proper before an injury time consolation goal from Woolton ended the scoring.
With history being created for Wests at every stage of the FA Cup the draw for the first round proper determined they would face opposition from outside the North West for the first time, being drawn away to Hartlepool United from the North East Regional League Premier Division. However it was subsequently established Hartlepool had fielded an ineligible player in their third qualifying round win at Farsley Celtic. As a result Hartlepool were removed from the competition and Farsley reinstated to host Wests in the first round. For the third consecutive tie Wests, who play at tier 6 of the Women’s pyramid faced a team from tier 5, and had the opportunity to cause another upset.
Come the day of the first round tie at the Throstle’s Nest no one could have known what lay ahead in a pulsating encounter as Farsley twice took the lead in the first half and twice Wests pegged them back. Farsley went ahead for the third time and Wests pegged them back again. The award of an 80th minute penalty saw the home side in front for the fourth time. In keeping with the dramas Wests have been involved in a corner in the second minute of injury time saw substitute Amy Friel equalise for the fourth time and take the tie to extra time. Having been taken to extra time by Blackpool earlier in the competition Wests were aware that there could be more twists and turns ahead. On that occasion Wests keeper was the hero with 3 penalty saves. On this occasion Farsleys Ellie Casper was the hero with goals in the 113th and 114th minutes to put the home side into a lead they held onto to earn a place in the second round.
Farsley’s reward for their epic victory was a trip to Middlesbrough to face the in-form leaders of the FAWPL North at Teesdale Park. An even first half saw Celtic hit the woodwork before conceding on the stroke of half time. Half-time substitutions had an immediate impact for the home side with a second goal in the 47th minute. With their tails up, Boro ultimately overwhelmed their visitors to win 8 1 with Emily Scarr netting a hat trick to see them into a third round tie with Liverpool Marshall Feds from FAWPL Northern Division 1
The first weekend of 2018 saw this particular ‘Road to Wembley’ visit Teesdale Park, Thornaby for the second time as the FA WPL North leaders played host to Liverpool Marshall Feds from the FAWPL North Division One. With the visitors seeking to challenge themselves against higher league opposition they couldn’t have wished for a better a start as conversion of a third minute penalty and a second goal in the eleventh minute gave them the platform for an upset. A goal for the home side in just before ensured the game was on a knife edge and a prelude to the second half drama. A tight second half, which saw the Feds lose their keeper to injury remained goalless until the final ten minutes when a free kick on the edge of the box found the top right hand corner of the Feds net to level the scores.
A pulsating finale would have tested the emotions as Feds regained the lead in the eighty third minute only to see the home side dredge up a stoppage time equaliser and take this road to the Twin Towers into extra time for the third time. There were chances and opportunities at both ends and penalties looming on the horizon when Emily Scarr crowned her SSE Women’s FA Cup Player of the Round-winning performance by finding the net with three minutes remaining to put the home side in front for the first time. The referee’s whistle confirmed Boro’s place in the fourth round of the FA Cup alongside the WSL clubs who would join the competition at that stage.
Reward for the FA Women’s Premier League north leaders Middlesbrough was a trip to the Midlands to face WSL2 club Aston Villa. With Villa second bottom of the WSL at the time of the fixture the visitors were sure to relish the opportunity of an upset. A fourth minute goal from Ebony Salmon put the home side in front to ease the nerves. Goals from Elizabeta Ejupi in the 27th minute and Salmon again in the 37th minute put the home side firmly in control of their destiny. A second goal from Ejupi early in the second half ensured there would be no upset as Villa progressed to round five where they again would face North Eastern opposition in Sunderland of WSL 1. And so it’s to South Shields I will head on Sunday!
What John’s witnessed so far…
QF1 Nelson 0 Blackpool 14 – Victory Park, Nelson
QF 2 Blackpool 2 West Didsbury & Chorton 2 AET 2 3 pens – Hassra Pavilion, Norcross,
QF3 West Didsbury & Chorlton 6 MSB Woolton 3 – Brookburn Road, West Didsbury
R1 Farsley Celtic 6 West Didsbury & Chorlton 4 AET- Throstle’s Nest
R2 Middlesbrough 8 Farsley Celtic 1 – Teesdale Park, Thornaby
R3 Middlesbrough 4 Liverpool Marshall Feds 3 AET Teesdale Park, Thornaby
R4 Aston Villa 4 Middlesbrough 0 – The Lamb Ground, Kettlebrook Roaf, Tamworth
R5 Sunderland v Aston Villa
5 Leagues (WSL, WPL, NWRL, NERL, LL)
3 hat tricks (QF1 x2, R2)
3 games going to extra time 3 (QF2, R1, R3),
1 disqualification (R1)
1 penalty shootout (QF2)
1 player of the round (R3)