Leicester City 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur (Women’s Super League)
We’ve been on a 7km dog walk around Cotgrave Country Park this morning and my ankle is in bits. I’m hobbling down the stairs and trying to put my right trainer on, squealing like a six-year-old who doesn’t want to go to school as I squeeze an adidas classic over my swollen foot.
It’s back to WSL action this afternoon as Leicester City host Tottenham Hotspur. Both have had reasonable starts to their campaigns although Leicester lost 6-2 at home to Arsenal last weekend, throwing away a two-goal half time lead. Spurs having drew their last two games are unbeaten in six and have only lost against Chelsea this season so far. They played well in a recent game I saw them win at Aston Villa.
I'm in the car, the drive down the A46 is always nice on a Sunday, never much traffic, even on the A6 or through Leicester City Centre you can breeze through without too much stop start, so I never mind doing Leicester games, although last time I was here I got told off by a nosey steward for peering through my binoculars at the back of the stand.
I’m parking in the club car park where I’m asked if I’ve booked. Before trudging awkwardly across the Raw Dykes Road onto Filbert Way, the Stadium bowl like and blue under the grey drizzling skies. There’s a huge Christmas tree up outside the club shop. I’m walking towards stewards guarding the entrance as I’m prepared to be patted down with my binoculars in my pocket, I’m relieved when he lets me through before saying “you know where you’re going”. I don’t always need binoculars, but they have been a solid purchase by my wife for scouting as they can help spot a shirt number in the distance, or when a Referee reveals a yellow card on the far side, but a lone man walking into a girl’s game with them in his pocket, it has myself feeling at unease but always prepared with my explanation.
Through the stand turnstile where I scan my phone I’m into the concourse which feels busier than usual for a WSL match, I’m having a quick pit stop and although the pies smell lovely, I’m saving myself for Sunday dinner when I get back.
Up the stairs I go to the block, I’m walking past the seat I purchased to the very back, these often left unreserved for women’s matches are nicely padded unlike those below, I’m sat down looking at the stunning surface as the teams warm up, music playing, slowly filling, only this side is used for women’s games, the attendances probably the same as you would get for old reserve team football which used to be played at clubs home grounds in midweek. Three sides of the stadium not in use but cosy in this, the West stand.
I’ve noticed more people than usual in this block as a club official is directing folk to sit near me, I think they are mostly parents of mascots who enter the field with the players. Credit Leicester, they don’t get many here, but they have a real passion to make it work. A woman blurts out the teams on a PA as the video boards show footage of games, there’s good music (mainly Kasabian) and a really good vibe before kick-off. Flags are waved by youngsters, a drummer boy stands behind the goal, there’s a persistence by all involved to make it work, a real family vibe and it feels like the start of a city getting behind what is a relatively young franchise, formed only in 2004 but ‘acquired’ by the King Power group in 2020.
And since that acquisition the side have prospered, from Midlands League to the top league it's their third successive campaign in the WSL.
The game is nearing, by now I’ve moved seats as I notice the media section is 90% unoccupied, I walk over naughtily and sit down with a huge log desk, the seat is not so nice and padded as previous but at least I’m out of way of screaming kids and parents with backpacks eating sandwiches and bananas. The pint guzzlers maybe in men’s football… In the women’s game it’s all about bringing your packed lunch to feed the family.
Leicester start well. They have Hannah Cain out left and she’s causing early problems to the Spurs full back. A slick move down the wing see’s her racing away before squaring to Cayman inside the box who takes a touch and finishes. 1-0.
It’s a deserved lead at half time as they open up their opponents at times but at the other end, Janina Leitzig in goal does pull off one top save from Jessica Naz who should have scored when one on one and another from a looping header where she dived to her left to flick it around the posts.
The second half starts with Spurs pressing for a leveller and they eventually get on the scoresheet through Celin Bizet who nets on 56. The game is good, competitive, even sided, the away side end the match pushing for a winner but despite a flurry of corners and some good defending by Leicester, the match ends with a shake of hands and points satisfyingly shared.
Leicester defended really well and broke on occasion in particular through Hannah Cain where neat one touch football often got her away. CJ Bott at right back and centre half Sophie Howard, in particular, always up for a committed tackle almost old-skool in the way they play. Janina Leitzig is a top-level goalkeeper and it’s no secret that since her arrival the side has performed much better. Sam Tierney in midfield putting a good shift in whilst leading the line, often isolated, Lena Pettermann put in a good unselfish performance for her team.
For Spurs, league top goalscorer Martha Thomas couldn’t add to her tally but Jessica Naz on the left wing was a constant threat, very quick, direct, if she could finish more often, Spurs might be converting their recent draws into wins. In midfield I saw a really good performance from Grace Clinton and Eveliina Summamen beside her played well. In defence, Spurs at times used Molly Bartrip’s distribution to get her side quickly away whilst Luana Buhler besides her looked solid. Ashleigh Neville at left back another of my 'no-nonsense' favourites.
Women’s football is good. It’s a good family day out and is starting to get some real personalities in the game, fans now regularly singing the names of their heroines, players are becoming star attraction and men, walking out of the stadium are talking about performances, with the words ‘we’ used, win, lose and draw, I’m feeling there’s much more serious and genuine passion involved from those who go see their team play. If we can get ‘more’ through the door, the game will only grow for the better.
Kids for a quid? Free tickets for schools? How about discounted entry for men’s season ticket holders? Bring your relatives along for free? Get more mascots involved and more pre-match and half-time entertainment, to grow the fan base further and encourage more families to get involved too, as the only thing that is missing right now is more regular, larger, attendances, and I think there’s a market for these to double, triple, even quadruple in size within the next few years.
Leicester City: Janina Leitzig, CJ Bott (Denny Draper 87), Jo Green, Sophie Howard, Courtney Nevin, Missy Goodwin (Aileen Whelan 46), Sam Tierney, Janice Cayman, Jutta Rantala (Aimie Palmer 72), Hannah Cain (Ava Baker 73), Lena Pettermann.
Tottenham Hotspur: Rebecca Spencer, Angharad James, Luana Buhler, Molly Bartrip, Ashleigh Neville, Ria Percival (Rosella Ayane 58), Evelina Summanen, Grace Clinton (Ellie Brazil 71), Celin Bizet, Martha Thomas, Jessica Naz (Asmita Ale 58).
Sunday 19th November 2023, Leicester City Stadium, Leicester (att 2,000).