Welcome to this week’s column. No prizes for guessing my top story of the week. I’m glad to say that my “Give Australia the gold now” statement was proved spectacularly wrong. Anyway, more of that later.
This week’s stories include a last round-up from the Commonwealth Games, plus news from football, netball, rugby, tennis, cricket and rugby league.
Let’s crack on, starting with those golden Roses!
Jamaica 55-56 England
What a comeback! England were six down at half-time and I, for one, thought it was all over.
The Roses made a terrible start, completely failing to get to grips with Jamaica’s huge 6’ 6” shooter, Jhaniele Fowler-Reid. They were also profligate at the other end; as Jo Harten admitted, “I had a shocker of a start.”
But in the third quarter they began to pull it back and by the start of the fourth they were only three goals down.
It was neck and neck in the final quarter and with 30 seconds to go it was 55-55.
From England’s centre pass Helen Housby missed the shot to win it with just seven seconds left. It looked to be going into extra-time when Harten made up for her bad start by taking the rebound and popping it in with one second left on the clock.
Australia 51-England 52
If you thought the semi was tense, it had nothing on the final. I don’t think I was alone in thinking the Diamonds would run away with it – but how wrong I was.
It was 25-25 at half-time.
In the third quarter the Roses went behind again and were four goals down going into the final quarter.
But they pulled it back yet again and with 20 seconds to go it was 51-51. They couldn’t do it again, could they?
Well, yes they could. This time it was Helen Housby who held her nerve after first Harten then Housby herself missed the chance to take the game. Australia were penalised for contact and
Housby put away the shot to take the game on the buzzer.
As part of the defenders’ union, can I just put in a word for the England defenders? The shooters get the glory, but without the fabulous performances from Geva Mentor and captain Ama Agbeze, plus the whirlwind that is Serena Guthrie, the Roses would not have won it.
Other Commonwealth Games Highlights
Hockey: England’s women won bronze, demolishing India 6-0 in the bronze medal match. Sophie Bray scored a hat-trick with Hollie Pearne-Webb, Alex Danson and Laura Unsworth also on the scoresheet.
Badminton: Gabby and Chris Adcock retained their mixed doubles title in an all-England final, defeating Lauren Smith and Chris Ellis 19-21 21-17 21-16. Smith also won silver with partner Sarah Walker in the women’s doubles. And England made it six medals, taking mixed team bronze. Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour claimed bronze in the women’s singles.
Boxing: Wales’ Lauren Price won gold in the -75kg category, defeating Australia’s Caitlin Parker on a split decision. Sandy Ryan of England (-69kg) beat Rosie Eccles of Wales to take gold, with Lisa Whiteside also taking gold in the -51kg, beating Carly McNaul of Northern Ireland on points. There were also silvers for Michaela Walsh and Kristina O’Hara.
Rugby Sevens: England claimed bronze in the inaugural Commonwealth Games appearance of women’s sevens. They defeated Canada in the bronze medal match, 24-19. New Zealand beat Australia 17-12 to take gold.
Squash: England claimed silver and Wales bronze in the women’s singles through Sarah-Jane Perry and Tesni Evans respectively.
Table tennis: Bronze went to England in the team event, while England’s mixed doubles team of Liam Pitchford and Tin-Tin Ho took silver.
Basketball: England took silver in the women’s event, losing out to hosts Australia 99-55 in the final. As with netball, basketball receives no UK Sport funding as it is seen as unlikely to bring in Olympic medals. Will UK Sport have to think again after this?
Athletics: Jade Jones of England completed a remarkable double when she claimed bronze in the T54 marathon, having won gold in the para-triathlon earlier on in the Games. She was then selected as flag-bearer for the England team at the closing ceremony. The England women’s 4x100m team of Dina Asher-Smith, Asha Philip, Lorraine Ugan and Bianca Williams won gold in a time of 42.26, beating Jamaica (42.42) and Nigeria (42.75). Laura Weightman claimed bronze in the 5,000m and Morgan Lake silver in the high jump (both England).
Apologies again to those I have missed.
Netball – off the court
England’s Commonwealth Games gold is, and I’m not going to shy away from saying it, a “watershed” moment for the sport in England, and the UK.
But a rosy future for the sport in this country is not guaranteed.
At the moment the sport receives £13.9m for the grassroots game and £3m for the national team from Sport England.
It’s a lot of money – agreed. But there are 160,000 girls and women currently playing netball in England and numbers are growing. It will take all of that money to sustain and promote this growth with the excitement surrounding the “Back to Netball” and walking netball programmes.
When it comes to the elite game, UK Sport contributes little to netball. The Superleague has done a tremendous amount over the past few years to fund itself. It has got backing from Sky Sports and has sponsorship deals with Vitality and Mrs. Crimble’s, amongst others.
UK Sport is supporting next year’s World Cup in Liverpool, but it is still reluctant to put money into the elite game. As we know, UK Sport is all about success – funding those who are already successful to do more (not the place for this debate here) so isn’t it time for them to put its hand in its pockets for netball? Do England really have to win the World Cup before they are counted as successful?
Netball – on the court
The Vitality Superleague is back this weekend after the Commonwealth Games break. And if the venues are not packed out for this round of matches, I’d like to know why.
Saturday 21 April
Manchester Thunder v Surrey Storm (5pm)
Team Northumbria v Severn Stars (6pm)
Loughborough Lightning v Benecos Mavericks (7pm)
Sunday 22 April
Wasps Netball v Team Bath (3pm) – This is the live fixture on Sky Sports
Football – off the pitch
The Michael Oliver/Gianluigi Buffon debacle
Which dimwit decided it would be a good idea to post Lucy Oliver’s mobile number on social media after her husband refereed the controversial Champions’ League quarter-final between Real Madrid and Juventus?
Apart from the fact that Michael Oliver made the correct decisions, why should someone think it was acceptable to drag Lucy into the argument?
Not that they stopped at that, of course. They had to go on to make threats and abuse her generally.
Did they think it was acceptable because Lucy is an excellent and experienced referee in her own right? Or was it just because she is a woman and, therefore, fair game?
The bottom line is it’s not acceptable in any way. Not the abuse of Michael Oliver. Not the abuse of Lucy Oliver. Not at all.
Over to UEFA to sort it out.
In the last week it has come to light that one of the stalwart teams of the league, Millwall Lionesses, is in financial trouble.
The WSL2 club has said it has “significant financial discrepancies” and opened a crowdfunding page earlier this week to try to raise money to complete the season.
Emilie Perry, Chair and sole director, resigned in March and the club says “all external funding channels have been exhausted”.
The team currently lies second in the division and is unbeaten in 11 games. Players and staff have said they are willing to play without salaries in order to finish the season.
This is pretty rotten news and questions must be asked of the FA (yet again), which has already approved the club’s application for what will be the Championship next season. Surely it looked into the club’s finances? The crowdfunder may be a great short-term solution, but the club will have to be sustainable in the future. I know the men’s club support them both monetarily and in-kind, but let’s hope they find their own backer, and soon.
When I started putting the column together earlier on in the week, the page was just starting up. By Wednesday they had exceeded their £10k target! The page is still open for contributions though, so if you can, please click here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/millwalllionesses and let’s get them funded.
PFA Awards Nominations
The list of nominees for the Women’s PFA Players’ Player of the Year awards is out.
- Ramona Bachmann (Chelsea)
- Millie Bright (Chelsea)
- Fran Kirby (Chelsea)
- Maren Mjelde (Chelsea)
- Jill Scott (Manchester City)
- Ji So-Yun (Chelsea)
Women’s PFA Young Player of the Year award:
- Erin Cuthbert (Chelsea)
- Gabby George (Everton)
- Lauren Hemp (Bristol City)
- Ellie Roebuck (Manchester City)
- Georgia Stanway (Manchester City)
- Keira Walsh (Manchester City)
The Awards ceremony is this Sunday, 22 April. For what it’s worth, my votes would go to Millie Bright (own goals notwithstanding, is improving in leaps and bounds) and Georgia Stanway. News of the winners next week.
Football – on the pitch
The semi-finals of the FA Cup took place last weekend and it was good to see them televised by the BBC (to hoots of derision from the Neanderthals, of course). We now know the final will be between Arsenal and Chelsea. Here’s how the semis unfolded:
Everton 0-1 Arsenal
It’s a sixteenth FA Cup final for Arsenal but heartbreak for Everton as the Gunners scored a stoppage-time winner to take them through.
Dan Carter opened the scoring or Arsenal on 25 minutes and went into the break with this slender lead intact.
In the second-half Everton equalised from the penalty spot. Chloe Kelly calmly converted after Dominque Janssen was penalised for bringing down Courtney Sweetman-Kirk in the box.
The winner came in the 91st minute as Louise Quinn headed in from corner and the Gunners were through.
Chelsea 2-0 Manchester City
Two goals from in-form striker Fran Kirby were enough to see Chelsea into the final.
But City will be disappointed with their defensive performance as much as their toothlessness in attack.
Kirby was on the scoresheet as early as the fifth minute. She latched on to a ball that should have been cleared by City captain Steph Houghton, to race through and put it past the ‘keeper.
In the second-half she did it again, this time Jen Beattie the defender with the error.
Chelsea are still in the hunt for three trophies; the FA Cup, the League title and the ultimate prize of the Champions’ League. Manchester City have seen a slump in form that they will have to end if they are to realise their own dreams of retaining the WSL1 title and winning in Europe.
Sunday 15 April
London Bees 1-3 Durham Women
Sheffield FC 4-0 Watford Ladies
Wednesday 18 April
Bristol City 0-2 Liverpool
Everton 0-1 Chelsea
Manchester City 3-0 Sunderland
Arsenal 3-1 Reading
Yeovil Town 0-0 Birmingham City
Millwall Lionesses 2-1 Aston Villa
London Bees 2-1 Brighton & Hove Albion
Thursday 19 April
Doncaster Rovers Belles 3-1 Durham Women
Oxford United 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur
So it’s as you were at the top of WSL1 with Chelsea on 32 points from 14 games, three points clear of Manchester City, although City have a game in hand. Arsenal are third, five points behind City with two games in hand over the leaders.
At the bottom, Yeovil registered their first point of the season this week with a home draw against Birmingham City.
In WSL2 Doncaster Rovers Belles are still top with 35 points from 13 games. Beleaguered Millwall are second with 29 points from 12 games.
Watford are bottom with just one point from their 11 games.
The GB Fed Cup team for the World Group II play-offs has been announced.
It will comprise Jo Konta and Heather Watson for singles and Anna Smith and Gabi Taylor for the doubles. It will be Taylor’s debut, a reward for her fine start to the year that has seen her rise from 323 in the world to 175 after winning three challenger series titles.
If they win against Japan, they will be in World Group II for 2019, but if they lose they will go back to the Europe/Africa Zone.
The tie, which will be played on hard courts, will be this weekend; 21-22 April at Bourbon Beans Dome in Miki, Japan. There will be radio coverage on BBC 5 Live and also on the BBC Sport website.
Charlotte Edwards has been appointed Hampshire’s new director of women’s cricket. She takes over from Bob Parks.
In an interview with the Hampshire CC website Edwards expressed her enthusiasm for the new role:
“I see an ambitious organisation that will compliment my passion for domestic cricket,” she told the club website.
“I look forward to working with players, coaches and staff to help Hampshire become one of the leading domestic clubs in the country for women’s cricket.”
It will be Saracens v Harlequins in the Premier 15s final on Sunday. The second-leg of the semi-finals were as follows:
Saracens 45-26 Gloucester-Hartpury
Having received a sound beating in the first leg, 62-0, Gloucester-Hartpury showed real fight against Saracens in the second.
Indeed the away side took the lead through a try from Rachel Lund. But Saracens soon came back and by half-time their lead was 19-14, as they scored through Bryony Cleall, Helena Rowland and Hannah Botterman. Gloucester-Hartpury also put a second score on the board through Mary-Ann Gittings.
The home side started strongly in the second-half, with Garnet Mackinder and Marlie Packer both crossing the whitewash.
Saracens skipper Lotte Clapp went over again to make it 38-14, before the away side countered again, Sophie Tandy scoring their third.
Rowland grabbed her second try of the match, but it was Gloucester-Hartpury who put the last score on the board as Tandy going over for her second.
Harlequins 22-7 Wasps
Wasps only needed to win by seven points or more to secure their final spot, but it was not to be.
It was Quins who opened the scoring on 25 minutes, after 20 minutes of Wasps pressure. Stacy White went over in the corner and Quins were ahead. Jess Wooden went over for a second shortly after.
After the break the home side scored another two tries, through Deborah McCormack and Vickii Cornborough and the game and tie, were effectively sealed.
Danielle Waterman finally went over for Wasps, but there was no way back.
The final is a week on Sunday, 29 April at Ealing Trailfinders. Kick-off is 3pm. Adult tickets are £10 and children go free.
I realise that rugby league is woefully underrepresented in this column. I also know I have promised to rectify this before, but have never quite managed it. I will make an effort this season! The RFL is really getting its act together to promote the game and it certainly becoming more high-profile. It’s not made it onto the BBC website yet, but as they can barely cover the men’s, it’s no great surprise (couldn’t be because it’s from oop-North, could it? Why are they based in Salford if not to redress the North/South bias?). And to give the BBC its due, I did hear Dave Woods, its excellent rugby league correspondent, talking about the new season during the interval of a men’s superleague match last week.
Anyway, I started out my journalistic career covering Sheffield Eagles for the Sheffield University newspaper, so I’ve really got no excuse.
The Superleague comprises seven teams: Wigan Warriors, Featherstone Rovers, St Helens, York City Knights, Bradford Bulls, Leeds Rhinos (the first appearance for a Leeds team) and Castleford Tigers.
The 2018 Superleague season got underway last weekend and the result were:
Wigan Warriors 54-0 Featherstone Rovers
St Helens 40-0 York City Knights
Bradford Bulls 16-32 Leeds Rhinos
There is a fine website dedicated to both the men’s and women’s game. Check it out here
As I’ve not mentioned netball for a couple of thousand words or so, I feel justified in putting it in just one more time in this column. I’m happy to say that the comments on various websites after the Roses’ triumph were, by and large, positive. In fact, there were several along the lines of (men) not being interested before, but being converted to the skills, excitement and atmosphere of the sport through their Commonwealth Games viewing. Of course, there were still the Neanderthal naysayers citing the supposed irrelevance, worthlessness, sheer girliness of the game. And, bizarrely, those (men again) on the other side, harping on at it being sexist that it’s a “girls’ game” and that men don’t play. In their (mighty) opinion there’s no way it should be an Olympic sport if there were only women playing it.
They obviously don’t know that actually there’s quite a big following for men’s netball – clubs and everything! Even mixed leagues! So instead of crying “sexist” why don’t they just pick up a ball and try it? Get involved, get better and get it to a level whereby they could hold big tournaments. I’ll tell you why, because it’s easier for them to denigrate it and call it worthless if they’re “not allowed” to play it!
More news and views next week.