Women’s Champions League Final – VfL Wolfsburg v Olympique Lyonnais
Thursday, 23rd May 2013, 7.30pm
Stamford Bridge (Chelsea FC)
Entrance £10/£5, Programme £5 (if you could find one)
Distance 13 miles, Attendance 19278
“Two tickets. Lower, East, Stand.” The nonchalant stare meeting me through the window – over the rather deliberate wording – clearly just wanted my agreement hastily followed by money; I wanted more.
The monitor peering in my general direction was flashing so fast from image to image; I had no chance of seeing an accord let alone reaching one. What happened to that personal touch I wondered? Wasn’t there a time when any box office worker could knowingly explain the options?
“Isn’t the Matthew Harding Stand open too?” I enquired hopefully after a short pause. “It is but, there aren’t any seats in the middle… Lower East Stand?” the exchange continued. Evidently pointing out the poor view due to the shallow gradient of seats in the lower tier of the monstrous East Stand wasn’t a popular move at this juncture but, I made it all the same and, he sighed in response. Moments later I was dashing back to the car an understanding security guard had kindly allowed me to leave perched outside the Millennium Hotel (interestingly not opened at the millennium).
The compromise was twofold. Firstly I admitted (after checking for witnesses) to having a purchasing history at Stamford Bridge and, only then was the ridiculously low price of £15 English pounds exchanged for two tickets on the corner between the two disputed stands.
Arriving back in Fulham Broadway two nights later there was just enough time to note the changes of an old haunt, admire the Grade II listed Walham Green Station and, to assure a stall holder the photographs I was taking of tragic half’n’half scarves were not for Trading Standards, before meeting my uncle John for a pre-match bite.
It must be said the selection of food on offer in the area (or Fulham Broadway shopping centre) is an enormous improvement on the range a decade ago (or even now in Stamford Bridge) however, one has to wonder what our European cousins make of the standard British football fare. German sporting rations in particular are light years away from reheated pies and a weak beer we’re used to.
Still getting over the choice of half’n’halfs and cost of spending a penny (30p in Fulham Broadway in case you’re wondering) we wandered through light crowds toward Osgood’s statue. Despite a long history with football this was John’s first trip to the Bridge. “That looks nothing like him.” he offered “…and the ball’s not in proportion. It’s too big! …and Spackman has an entrance? ” before heading off to admire The Shed wall.
As we discussed the merits of Bobby Trambling’s prowess, about us fans and families were posing for photos whilst beheadphoned media folk with clipboards vied for the best stories. On we went past the areas of Zola and Wise, past the museum, and under the walkway displaying dead pot plants to our entrance on the corner.
Inside the corner wasn’t all I expected; worse still there were NO PROGRAMMES ON SALE INSIDE THE STADIUM. In truth the former is forgivable, the latter was a farce. To say supporters were unhappy was an understatement. Most stewards had no solution. “They’ve got some in the Megastore” one offered “you can get it on your way home.” “Wouldn’t it be better to read up on the teams before they play? Or even better if someone had told us before we entered?” I asked.
Twenty minutes later, having missed the purple folk dancing, I had one. The stewards were attentive and empathetic – as I stamped my feet in almost brattish style – but, once I mentioned writing an article for Late Tackle on the subject well, let’s just say an excellent senior steward dispatched a colleague quick-sharp to buy me one (something I am truly grateful for).
About the stadium, programme-less fans filling the lower tiers did their all to raise the atmosphere in the half empty stadium. On the pitch both teams were exemplary in their commitment. Wolfsburg’s Alexandra Popp(ed) up with a fine diving header, before a goalmouth scramble caused panic in the Lyon area and the resultant overhead kick sailed just over the bar. As the close control of both sides was completely praiseworthy I began wondering whether – as my wife gets away with discussing the tight shorts of the 80s – I could suggest any of tonight’s players as “tasty” (I’m still unsure of the answer). Lyon had begun to settle down more and demonstrated good control but Wolfsburg were always a threat.
In a great half, Sarah Bouhaddi had a shot deflected wide then, Amandine Henry and Megan Rapinoe dished up a clearly rehearsed corner which went just over. When Lyon did find the target Alisa Vetterlein was a rock. Behind us a school teacher, Mr Sommerfield, was also holding his own as a dozen screaming primary girls tried to dictate his every move. Going into halftime one thing was for certain, this game was worth every penny, even the 30p toilet up the road. “Not a bad little game this. Not a bad big game.” offered my uncle in typical understated fashion.
The break dished up UEFA ads on “femininity” and “togetherness”, and a lovely acknowledgement of local primary school flags celebrating the match. Three thousand had entered and – putting the Gazprom ad to shame – twenty winners were displayed from the East Stand.
The Germans kicked off the second period against holders Lyon, who for some bizarre reason had taken the impressive Rapinoe off but, the French team were evidently determined to dominate proceedings. They quickly got on top, fans had found their voice about us and, Lara Dickermann went on a quality run down the left allowing Camille Abily turned and shot deftly (only to find Vetterlein again equal to it). Up the other end Zsanett Jakabfi twice went close and Conny Pohlers was a shining beacon despite the Lyon dominance.
Fifteen minutes before the end as Martina Müller fired home a penalty, the Lyon fans in the audience could easily have felt hard done by however, the genius of Vetterlein, swift break and clear handball left the referee with no choice. Demonstrating a still strong love of my first Beetle, I’d already plumped for VfL, now I was just wondering if Martina was related to Gerd. TOR! BUT! GOAL! yelled the video screen; MR SOMMERVILLE yelled the school girls having given up on starting a Mexican wave.
Subs came and went, good ball skills skipped through the challenges and Lyon did their utmost to break through the German defence. Clearly fearing a junior pitch invasion, the closer we got to the 90 the more the stewards lined the pitch. More and more French chances were fended off before, Lina Magull had a fine shot tipped just wide.
The whistle went, Germans of all creeds – including one sporting a Bayern/BVB half’n’half – celebrated with their own version of togetherness whilst locals (typically) headed for an early exit. Lena Goessling was named Player of the Match” (no I don’t know why it isn’t Woman of the Match”), the winners arch was lugged out to please the cameramen, medals were hung and the trophy raised high atop some shaky scaffolding.
Leaving I was sure Platini had enjoyed the sunshine-to-floodlight evening; the school behind certainly had. This was a game which as another groundhopper rightly pointed out we would happily have “paid double for”. The standard was incredibly high; better than many games in our “best league in the world”. Both sides and their players did the occasion proud and the fans appreciated every minute. I loved this game and will be paying women’s football more attention going forward; I just wish more could have shared it with us.
Of course our view wasn’t perfect and priority seating irritated, as did the late comers, and the programme issue is frankly unforgivable but, the biggest disappointment must sit squarely with those doing the promotional work for this cup final. Even afterwards the BBC doesn’t even list its result.
In a week where even my elderly mother in her quiet leafy Home Counties village was fully aware of the men’s final two days later, why is it that no more than one other of my colleagues – not five miles from Stamford Bridge – had any clue this game was even on. Really heads should roll.
A year before the Germans held the 2012 final at the Olympiastadion, Munich, and over 50,000+ football supporters turned out to cheer it on. Tonight a mere 19,278 rattled about in the lower tiers of a 41,837 capacity stadium. That’s TWENTY TWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY NINE empty seats… It was really embarrassing and social media was not prepared to let it pass. How could this have been allowed to happen?
Let’s look at this another way. There are about 650 schools in Greater London. If every one of them had been given 35 free tickets, the stadium would’ve been full, the noise and atmosphere improved and, the TV viewers so important in the choreographers minds would have had an even greater sporting occasion to enjoy.
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Writing this during the men’s final at Wembley let’s hope that, when England is next awarded such flagship events, this country will have reintroduced safe standing which the Bayern and Dortmund fans proved tonight is possible and, the clipboard mentality that prevents large flags from entering Wembley (without a £1500 donation to help pay off the builders) will have gone for good, and that more than anything, we can build on a summer where women’s football rocked at London 2012 and actually fill the stadia for the most important game in Women’s European Football.
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Footnote: Dear editor, the first women’s game was on 7th May 1881 when Scotland hosted England and not 1894 as your (sadly hard to obtain) programme intimates.
a rare sight
an even rarer sight next season?