Blues ladies make history with victory over Arsenal

The casual football fan would probably be shocked if you told them that this year Birmingham City has played host to numerous Champions League ties, including a 1-0 victory over one of the most successful club teams in the world over the past few years. But on March 24th, just such a match happened, as Birmingham City Ladies team continued to make history with a 1-0 home victory over Arsenal in the Champions League Quarter finals leg.

Blues Ladies had previously written themselves into the history books by playing their first game at St Andrews in the previous round, a 5-2 victory over Russian side FK Zorkiy. Despite that game only being attended by 1000 people, the general mood was one of absolute optimism going into a quarter final against the formidable Arsenal team that had dominated the Women’s Super League (the equivalent of the Barclays Premier League) for the past two years.

On the night the clash with Arsenal was a game that dispelled whatever clichés may be thrown at the women’s game: the tempo was fast, the quality of football extremely high and the athleticism of both teams more than evident. As the Blues began to dominate possession and push into the Arsenal half, the work of captain and former Team GB star Karen Carney played a crucial role in Birmingham’s opener.

Birmingham City Ladies team continued to make history with a 1-0 home victory over Arsenal in the Champions League Quarter finals leg.

After receiving the ball on the right, the English Winger drove down the flank before turning with a couple of stepovers and cutting the ball back to right-back Chelsea Weston. Weston curled the ball into the middle of the box where new signing Remi Allen was well placed to loft an effort into the far corner, capping off a slick and efficient attack from Birmingham.

Birmingham continued to apply pressure to the Arsenal defence and could have been 2-0 up, but for a goal line block of Kirsty Linett’s sidefooted effort by another Team GB star, Arsenal’s Casey Stoney. Blues had to be sharp in defence as well, with 18 year old Aoife Mannion denying Ono a clean shot on goal with a last ditch tackle. However the home side remained in control as first Linnett went close with a fierce dipping effort from 20 yards, then Lawley fired a long range effort over the bar.

A late rally from Arsenal was well controlled by a relatively inexperienced Birmingham defence to ensure that the game finished 1-0, the sole Allen strike in the first half ultimately proving enough for the Blue Belles. They now face a trip to Arsenal in the coming weeks for the second leg, with then the potential of an unprecedented Champions League Semi-final and the near certainty of a clash with Swedish favourites Tyreso who managed an 8-1 home win in the first leg of their tie. The Swedish debutants to the competition boast a formidable side including Marta, who is widely perceived as the best female footballer in the world.

Birmingham captain Karen Carney fights for the ball. Photo: BBC.

Birmingham captain Karen Carney fights for the ball. Photo: BBC.

It was a fantastic night for women’s football, and the club especially, who continue to make historical progress in Europe’s top competition, and manager David Parker deserves due credit for taking the team this far. However on top of that it was a great advert for the game; followers of the male team may be surprised that Birmingham City ladies team have enjoyed such opposing fortune; the former are languishing at the bottom of the Championship in wake of the Ladies Champions League triumph.

The simple explanation to this is the lack of financial domination in the female sport: less press coverage and less commercial impetus in the sport means a side such as Birmingham can succeed despite the club’s notoriously precarious financial position.

It was in fact largely down to Carson Yeung’s takeover that Birmingham Ladies have enjoyed this success. In 2005 the club stayed alive only through the £10,000 donation of one of the players’ parents. Five years on Yeung’s takeover and pledge of support for the women’s team underlined a successful application to be founding members of the FA WSL, heralding a new era for the team.

Following the victory the BCLFC website announced that season tickets were now on sale for the price of just £30.

Although Yeung’s incarceration has now had a crippling effect on the men’s side, in the women’s game huge quantities of money appear to be less fundamental in sustaining the team. Following the victory over Arsenal, instead of announcing a boost in ticket prices, the BCLFC website announced that season tickets were now on sale for the price of just £30. This total would likely not be enough to buy a single ticket to see the Premier League’s top teams, never-mind for a whole season of games.

So what is evident is that for a tenth of the price of most clubs in the Premier League, someone could see an entire season of football from a dynamic and upcoming side who have now graced the latter stages of club football’s most prestigious competition.

By no means am I suggesting that women’s football will replace or overcome the men’s game, to the contrary they should co-exist and support each other in the future. This is something that Birmingham are doing incredibly well at the moment with joint ventures between the men’s and women’s teams ranging from charity events to the club YouTube channel. However this combination of top quality football and rock-bottom prices will surely see a continuation of the exponential growth of what is already a fantastic sport.


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