By Jen Offord.
The FA Cup is set to make history again on Saturday. Founded in 1871, the world’s oldest association football competition was extended to the women’s game 99 years later, and this weekend, the 2015 final between Chelsea Ladies v Notts County Ladies will be played at Wembley Stadium for the first time.
It’s a big moment for women’s football, particularly with the game riding high on the back of the Lionesses success at the Women’s World Cup in Canada last month.
And although the long-term aspiration has always been to bring the FA Cup final to Wembley, it was the England v Germany international back in November of last year that finally proved the women’s game could attract a big enough crowd.
Already a record number of tickets have been sold but if Notts County striker Ellen White is feeling the heat, she isn’t showing it. Speaking at Wembley earlier this week, she said she expected “a great spread of County fans, Chelsea fans and hopefully England fans, coming out to support the game.”
But White insisted: “I don’t feel a lot of pressure. I think it’s exciting that so many people will be hopefully coming out to support women’s football. It’s a massive incentive for us to put on a spectacle to encourage people to come and watch our club games as well and be really excited by women’s football.”
It’s unsurprisingly a big game for Chelsea captain Katie Chapman, too, even if this will be her ninth appearance in an FA Cup final. Despite her illustrious career, she is still expecting Saturday to be a special afternoon. “My whole family’s coming,” said Chapman. “The crowd is going to be unbelievable!”
She added: “For me to come here and be the captain – I’d love to lead our team to a win, for sure. It’s a massive day . . . and to be on stage here, at the home of English football, is a great showcase for women’s football and I just hope we can make it a good game so that the fans enjoy it. And it’d be nice for us to be lifting that trophy, for sure.”
Both players agree the Women’s World Cup has certainly made a difference. “The gates have been unbelievable,” according to Chapman. “The amount of people has more than doubled. You can feel it as well, the atmosphere is absolutely brilliant. It’s overwhelming!”
White added: “It was fantastic to come back and realise 15million people stayed up to watch our matches (and obviously struggled the next day!).
“I think it’s just really exciting to see the whole nation being proud of us. I don’t think we’ve really experienced that before, for everyone to be really excited about women’s football, feeling like they’re on the journey as well.”
But it would be impossible to mention the highs of the World Cup fever without also mentioning England’s painful exit, via a freak own goal from Notts County defender Laura Bassett, who will also play on Saturday.
Now County players are determined to help their captain lift the FA Cup to make up for her Canada heartbreak.
White said: “It’d be fantastic for us to win it and follow Laura up those steps, but I know for a fact that Laura will be concentrating on the team and focused on winning it for us.
“I know that each and every one of us want to do it for each other; we want to do it for our staff and for the whole of Notts County, to put us on the map. And we want to do it for our friends and family watching.”
So how did the team all rally round Laura when she returned?
“We just pushed her over,” White joked, but added that Bassett will “be looking forward to this game to showcase what she’s about and put in a massive performance.”
They’ve had great support from the media and fans so far, but White insists the players are unfazed by any remaining detractors of the women’s game because success comes at a price.
She said: “I think now we’ve put ourselves in that spotlight that will begin to happen to us a bit more. I think women’s football is still 50 years behind the men’s – we’ve still been developing and trying to change people’s views; obviously men’s football is always going to be the largest and biggest sport around the world, so they’re going to pack out stadiums. They’ll always be looked at and scrutinised highly.
“We want to be one of the best international teams in the world and what comes with that is scrutiny and people looking at us from all different angles. But I think it’s exciting as well that so many people want to be watching us and looking at every detail of us and I think it shows how far we’ve developed. We’ve got to be excited by it, really.”
Chapman, who at 33 is coming towards the end of her career, has seen a lot of change in the game. “You couldn’t imagine it. I say to people that I’m quite sad I’m coming towards the end of my career, because it seems like women’s football is really picking up. But what a great future for the women’s game and for the youngsters coming through.”
As for Chelsea’s chances on Saturday? “We started the season really well and had a bit of a blip recently with the two losses. But we’re strong as a team and I think we can bounce back from that.”
But not if Notts County have anything to do with it.
White added: “We can’t wait to step out and show the nation what Notts County is about. Hopefully we really put ourselves on the map, to highlight that we’re a force in women’s football to be reckoned with. We’ll be putting on a big performance.”
Read more from Jen Offord here!