Welcome to this week’s column. There’s plenty to get through to again this week so let’s go straight into stories from football, tennis, rugby, cricket, netball and boxing.
The Final Four extravaganza is nigh. And Loughborough Lightning are still top of the pile. After round 15, they have 42 points, six points ahead of Wasps in second with Thunder back on third with 33 and Storm six points further back on 27. But just behind are Bath on 27 and it seems to be between these two for the last place.
Monday 15 May
Team Northumbria 44-56 Team Bath
Celtic Dragons 57-69 Surrey Storm
Sirens 59-45 Severn Stars
Manchester Thunder 44-58 Wasps Netball
Loughborough Lightning 72-51 Hertfordshire Mavericks
There are three rounds to go. It’s round 16 this weekend and the Sky televised match is on Monday 22 May when Wasps Netball take on Surrey Storm at 8pm.
Football – On the Pitch
FA Cup Final
Birmingham City Ladies 1-4 Manchester City Women
After securing an encouraging draw the previous week, Birmingham City should have been in with a chance on Saturday, but truth be told they never looked as if they believed they could win the FA Cup Final at Wembley.
A crowd of 35,271 was there to see the WSL1 champions take Birmingham apart.
It was all too easy for Lucy Bronze to head home from Megan Campbell’s cross to take the lead on 18 minutes. Seven minutes later they were two up, this time Bronze the provider and Izzy Christiansen firing home.
Carli Lloyd grabbed the third on 32 and it was really all over as a contest by this point.
In the second half Birmingham battled hard, pulling a goal back in the 73rd minute through Charlie Wellings, but Manchester City were to have the last word, scoring a fourth through substitute Jill Scott.
And now Manchester City women have not done the treble as some uninformed journalists would have it, but they do hold all three domestic titles.
Liverpool continued their storming start with a convincing win over Sunderland. They are six points ahead of Chelsea in second, but have played two games more. One of the strange things about WSL football is the distribution of games. Thus some teams have now played five, while others only three. Manchester City have only played three and lie third.
Wednesday 17 May
Liverpool Ladies 4-0 Sunderland AFC Ladies
The Black Cats had no reply to this in-form Liverpool side. The home side took the lead on 10 minutes with Caroline Weir hitting the corner from 30 yards out. Thwere two up on 21 with Natasha Harding getting her name on the score sheet. It was 2-0 at half-time.
After the break Sunderland fought hard. Maddie Hills hit the post just after the resumption and perhaps if her strike had gone it things might have been different.
But it was not to be. Weir got her second and her side’s third on 57 minutes, with former England captain Casey Stoney rounding off the scoring ten minutes from time.
Yeovil Town Ladies 0-1 Reading FC Women
Yeovil are still yet to register a point as Reading took all three points at the Viridor Stadium. The only goal of the game came on seven minutes when defender Mandy Van Den Berg poked the ball over the line from a corner.
Chelsea Ladies 2-2 Arsenal Ladies
It was an excellent topsy-turvy match at Staines, which luckily was shown live on the BBC red button.
The away side took the lead on 34 minutes when keeper Carly Telford brought down Danielle Carter in the box. It was a soft one, but Jodie Taylor stepped up to take the resultant penalty. Telford looked to have redeemed herself as she saved the spot-kick but couldn’t keep out the rebound that Taylor put away to make it 1-0 to Arsenal.
There was no further scoring in the first-half although it was tightly fought and there were chances for both sides.
After the break Chelsea upped their game. They drew level when the imposing Millie Bright met a Hannah Blundell free-kick in the box, heading it firmly past van Veenendaal.
The last ten minutes were frantic.
Chelsea looked to have taken the points when Drew Spence, scoring off the bench for her sixth in six games fired into the corner from a pinpoint pass from Crystal Dunn one minute into injury time.
But Arsenal were to have the last word as Jordan Nobbs deflected a Carter shot into the goal in the 95th minute to level the game.
It was clear by the body language of the team and of coach Emma Hayes, that Chelsea viewed the result as two points lost.
Birmingham City 2-0 Bristol City
Birmingham put the disappointment of the FA Cup final behind them on Wednesday as they took their first Spring Series win against Bristol City at Solihull Moors.
England striker Ellen White scored twice before half-time to put the home side two up and although Bristol tried hard in the second period, they could not break down the Birmingham defence.
Off the Pitch
The fallout from the Notts County debacle continues.
Defender Amy Turner has signed for Liverpool Ladies, while Wales international Angharad James has joined Yeovil Town Ladies. Striker Rachel Williams has signed for Birmingham City Ladies again. She previously played for them between 2011 and 2013.
England defender Laura Bassett meanwhile has decided not to sign for a new club before the Euros in the summer.
She is currently training with her previous club, Birmingham City, and is in Mark Sampson’s squad to go to the Netherlands.
She has decided to delay making any further decisions about her future until after the tournament.
Replacing Notts County
The Football Association has invited WSL2 clubs to apply to join WSL1 for the 2017-18 season to replace Notts County Ladies.
Whoever does fill the gap will have to meet WSL1 criteria around licences and finance (they should have perhaps checked Notts County for this).
Doncaster Belles, who were relegated last season, have released a statement expressing their disappointment that the FA is going through this process. They consider that as a relegated side they should have had priority.
A decision will be made in June.
Scotland’s women will play three warm-up matches in their preparation for this summer’s Euros:
9 June: Scotland v Romania (Falkirk)
13 June: Sweden v Scotland (Vaxjo)
7 July: Scotland v Republic of Ireland (venue to be confirmed)
Top Catalan women’s team, Barcelona, are in negotiations with the American National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) with a view to entering a team into the2018 competition.
The club already has an office in New York and six academies across America.
There are currently 10 franchises in the NWSL, but none from Europe. However, the noises coming from the League seem positive and it looks as if this proposal could have legs.
No, no new staggering news about a new women’s motor cycling initiative, but it’s that old, old story of the “grid girls”.
It seems that, at least in Spain, their days could be numbered – or curtailed.
Catalan political party Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds have called for new rules on the use of grid girls at the Moto GP Catalan Grand Prix in Barcelona in June.
The party would not ban the girls outright, but would impose a dress code and ensure that there were an equal number of “grid boys” employed.
This is the last in a number of attempts by various groups to alter or ban the practice. Progress is slow, but progress there is. Let’s hope that persistence pays and this outdated and ridiculous practice bites the dust soon.
India seem to be playing themselves into fine form just in time for the World Cup. The final of the Quadrangular series will be between India and South Africa. The round robin section is now complete and the rest of the scores were as follows:
Zimbabwe 113 all out (40.2 overs)
South Africa 114/3 (21.2 overs)
South Africa won by seven wickets
A record-breaking game then took place between India and Ireland!
India 358/2 (50 overs)
Ireland 109 all out (40 overs)
India won by 249 runs
Some of the staggering statistics from that game:
Openers Deepti Sharma (188) and Punam Raut (109) shared a first-wicket stand of 320 runs. This was the first 300+ stand by any pair in women’s cricket. It was also higher than the current men’s record of 286 between Upul Tharanga and Sanath Jayasuriya for Sri Lanka in 2006. Sharma’s 188 came off 160 balls, the second –highest individual score in women’s ODIs, bettered only by Belinda Clark’s 229 not out for Australia.
In the next game the top two played a thriller.
South Africa 269/5 (50 overs)
India 261/9 (50 overs)
South Africa won by 8 runs
Ireland 150 all out (45 overs)
Zimbabwe 154/5 (41 overs)
Zimbabwe won by 5 wickets
19 May 2017
Zimbabwe 98 all out (42.3 overs)
India 99/0 (16 overs)
India won by 10 wickets
Also in action as we speak, Ireland unlikely to chase down this total but,
South Africa 323/8 (50 overs)
Ireland currently 67/1 off 17
Ireland need 257 off 33 overs
Both the third place play-off and the final take place on 21 May. Results and report next week.
Off the Court
Maria Sharapova has not been given a wildcard for the French Open, which begins later this month. There has been some hoo-hah in response to this, but the French Tennis Federation has defended its position,
“There can be a wildcard for the return from injuries – there cannot be a wildcard for the return from doping,” (FFT) chief Bernard Giudicelli Ferrandini .
Quite right – the FFT was under no obligation to grand this wildcard to Sharapova, but the WTA has chosen to say they had “no grounds to penalise” her.
On the Court
The Madrid Open duly ended with an exciting climax, with third seed Simona Halep victorious over fourteenth seed Kristina Mladenovic 7-5 6-7 6-2. Halep seemed to be heading for a straight sets win, but Mladenovic fought hard to level the match at one-all. But the Frenchwoman had perhaps pushed herself to exhaustion in the process and could not maintain her form to take the third.
Another week, another tournament. The Italian Open is now well underway
British number one Johanna Konta started well with a straight-sets win over Yulina Putinseva of Kazakhstan 6-3 6-0.
She had a bye in the second, but went out in the third round (last 16) to the rejuvenated Venus Williams, 6-1 3-6 6-1.
World number one Angelique Kerber made a surprise exit in the second round as she was comprehensively defeated by Anett Kontaveit of Estonia 6-4 6-0.
The quarter-final match-ups look like this:
Kontaveit v Halep (6)
V Williams (9) v Muguruza (3)
Bertens (15) v Gavrilova
Svitolina (8) v Pliskova (2)
Harriet Millar-Mills was crowned Aviva Premiership Women’s Premiership Player of the Year 2017 this week. It is the second year in a row that she has won the award.
Nicola Adams won her second professional fight at the weekend. She stopped Mexican Maryan Salazar in the third round in Leeds on Saturday.
It was Adams’ first fight over three-minute rounds, rather than the usual two.
Her partner, American boxer Marlen Esparza also won her second fight the previous week and now (according to a nicely cosy BBC article) the two are in a “battle” to see who will win a world title first.
And finally, there was a blue plaque unveiled this week to the most successful women’s team ever – the Dick, Kerr Ladies.
The Dick, Kerr Ladies were founded in Preston at the Dick, Kerr & Co munitions factory in 1917. Its original aim was to raise money for wounded troops.
In 1920 a crowd of 53,000 saw them play at Goodison Park. In the same year they played in the first women’s international against a French XI, winning it 2-0.
Who knows what they could have gone on to do?
But in 1921, in their wisdom, the FA banned women’s football as apparently “unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.”
The team actually carried on regardless, playing all over the world and chalking up a 200-match unbeaten run in the process.
The Dick, Kerr Ladies disbanded in 1965 due to lack of players, just four years before the Women’s Football Association was founded. If you are interested in their story, check out Gail Newsham’s book, In a League of their Own.
There are only two statues to sportswomen in the UK. There is a new campaign surrounding blue plaques and general recognition. On Twitter you can follow @blueplaquerebel or check out www.blueplaquerebellion.com and the hashtag #recogniseher. Send them your nominations for women in sport who should be celebrated.