Sheffield United 1-0 Charlton Athletic (Women’s Championship)
The beauty of living where I do in Central England and working in football is having stone’s throw access to all these great historical clubs and homes where the game initially pioneered and spread globally from, all within an hour or so's commute of my own family patch.
Sheffield, they say is the birthplace of association football. South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire had a major say on the game’s growth during the early years in the nineteenth century. Sheffield FC of course the oldest of all, Notts County the oldest to appear in the football league. I was at Gainsborough Trinity on the Notts/Lincs border in midweek, they claim to have the oldest football ground, as do Mansfield Town at Field Mill, as does Sheffield United and Bramall Lane.
The Women have only been playing here since the start of the season, Sheffield United’s men since 1889, previously a cricket ground built in 1850, one of the oldest global sporting venues still in use today.
It's little over an hour from my door, up the M1 I’m onto the Sheffield Parkway A57 at junction 33, roads fairly quiet, skies dimly grey.
Reaching the Park Square roundabout in the town centre, I’m directed down the A61 past the city’s railway station, it’s full of student digs, modern, high rise, as I pass the Sheffield Hallam University and onto Shoreham Street as the ground appears beyond the rows of terraced housing.
I’m looking for somewhere to park. Cherry Street has no entry posts up and I can’t get down it, so I turn around and finally pull up on John Street outside the doors which says Sheffield United Executive Entrance. Usually permit only Mon-Sat, I’m falling lucky today on the sabbath as I press the button on my key fob to activate central locking before walking towards the stadium.
The huge brick built stand is opposite a couple of car repair shops on a tight narrow street, I’m looking for the entrance to the ground, only one turnstile in operation today, it’s around the other side, in the Tony Currie Stand, I’m onto Bramall Lane itself, walking with my laptop bag over my shoulder in tracksuit and bobble hat, past the Cricketers Pub and the away end which used to be called the Jessica Ennis-Hill Stand.
I’m through the car park of the Copthorne Hotel as I marvel elevated at a red, white and black structure that is the Tony Currie Stand down below, two statues in bronze outside the main entrance, Joe Shaw a footballer who played over 700 games for the Blades, Derek Dooley a former Chairman who ironically, made his name as a striker at cross city rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
I’m directed to ‘Boundary Corner’ where the turnstiles are in operation. A friendly steward points me in as I walk through, popping a couple of quid into a charity box for Sheffield Hospital’s I’m given a pin badge with a Blades logo on, something I probably shouldn’t declare as a Nottingham Forest fan.
A Tetley’s tea and a Boost is lunch for the day, I had a Ginsters pasty and a pack of Hoola Hoops on route and I’ve a Sunday dinner made up by the mother-in-law ready to go in the Microwave when I get back, I walk out to the turnstile ask a stewardess where I can sit and she says anywhere, I make it up a good ten or twelve rows before taking my pew.
It’s a fabulous view, central, the arena enclosed, the away end to my left, huge spine tingling looking Kop to my right and family stand with corporate boxes opposite, the only stand in use the one I’m in, it’s painted red all around, the green surface below already has the players of both sides warming up on as a group of pigeons eat the grass seeds laid by the groundstaff in the far corner, the near touchline has a DJ, table and speakers on the by-line, pumping out some dance beats into the deafening tannoy system.
Sheffield United are second bottom, haven’t won in the league since September, their interim manager is absent so it’s an interim to the interim in charge today.
Charlton have won their last eight, have an outside chance of promotion, are going well at an important stage of the campaign, I text my WhatsApp group of retired male amateur footballers, who probably aren’t interested, that they should get their money on Charlton today.
Some fella’s sat in front of me, he’s arrived two minutes before kick-off and decided to not only park himself of all places, in the one seat in front of me, but he’s fucking standing up. There’s five rows behind where nobody is sat… WHY ME?
I pick my laptop bag up and make way up the steps for the Press Box, ask a man who’s sitting up there on his own if I can join him, and take a seat on the back row, unobstructed, I now have a desk, with plug sockets, even USB slots, an even better view than before, until that idiot turned up at least.
The teams are out as the cheers from below echo inside the largely enclosed chamber, both sets of girls take the knee prior to kick off as the Chip Butty song is sang by a few hundred of the thousand plus inside.
The game is edgy, scrappy, the two sides look fairly even, Charlton the better in possession, but United look good on the break, there’s half an hour of ‘defences on top’ before the Blades win the first corner of the game, Sophie Barker in-swinging against the bar as the ball falls down inside the area, a header is cleared off the line and out of play as the Referee begins a long discussion with her lineswoman to find out if indeed the ball actually went in?
Nothing doing, United take their corner before a Charlton resurgence tests the home sides back four, Addison the Addick who’s four foot nothing, a tiny winger shoots off target, Stenson in goal is forced to make one save, but neither keeper is particularly busy.
Charlton are on the attack with players up for a corner but a clearance falls to Sophie Barker who’s like a powerhouse through the midfield, she’s bursting forward for United before playing in Georgia Walters through on goal, in the left hand channel now Walters cuts in and places home right footed to give the home team a half time lead.
Big celebrations, a big goal for United who are looking to quash the threat of relegation with bottom club Coventry United below them showing some fight of late.
That goal sets the mood for half time as the DJ re-enters pitchside, the players come out in the second half and United cling convincingly on to what they’ve got, it’s not pretty but they fend off any Charlton threat, Walters has a free kick narrowly wide, before she heads over an opportunity to seal victory for the better team on the day.
Charlton do have a chance late on as Hennessy fires wide from inside the area, the sort of opportunity when missed, you start to get the feeling it’s not going to be your day.
That day belonging deservedly to United, as the game headed into seven minutes of injury time you could feel the nerves of the fans inside the stadium, ‘head it, kick it, get rid’ they shout, but United looked comfortable for their lead, the away side perhaps under-estimating their opponents on the day, the home side were up for it, and organised, and more clinical in the final third when they had their big match-winning opportunity.
Georgia Walters in coolly scoring the winner proved the difference and she was certainly one of United’s better players, operating largely from the left-hand side of midfield but often cutting in with educated runs towards the penalty area, she's a decent presence and calm on the ball, she took her goal very well.
Bex Rayner was another player who impressed, busy off the ball, forward thinking on it, dangerous when wide one v one, Sophie Barker was superb in the centre of the park and defensively United were at the races, not often giving Charlton many sights at goal, although I was slightly disappointed with Alethea Paul who did superbly when I last watched the Blades play Forest in the FA Cup.
Despite defeat and abject overall performance, you could see the class in some of the Addicks players and I really liked Elisha N’dow, a centre back who lasted only sixty minutes, taken off on a booking, sacrificed as Charlton brought on an attacker, she looked athletic and calm defensively, a former England U19 international, has previously played for Aston Villa in the WSL and I’m sure she’ll return to the top flight at some point soon.
Other players with WSL potential include Melissa Johnson, a forward who drives with the ball well, whilst winger Angela Addison, a summer signing from Tottenham, is a player who poses a real menace from the left hand side, low centre of gravity, always looking to run at defenders and put balls into the box.
Another new signing this season for Charlton is midfielder/striker Freda Ayisi. She came on in the number ten role during a late cameo and proved a menace, now 28 the former Arsenal and Birmingham player is one that could hold the key to unlocking opposition doors for Charlton during the remainder of the season.
Bramall Lane is a proper football ground, no doubt about that, Sheffield is a great city and the friendly South Yorkshire welcome I always get is one that I’m always respectful of, when I make the short trip north up the M1.
Charlton, they’ll be heading south down the same motorway very disappointed over their 3 hour journey back to the capital, whilst the Blades will be buoyant that their win can lift them away towards safety, the only disappointing thing on the day, is that bottom club Coventry also won, the table proppers have not given up the fight for survival, quite yet. United will need more wins like this, to keep them affloat.
Sheffield United: Fran Stenson, Charlotte Newsham, Sophie Barker, Naomi Hartley, Grace Riglar, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk (Ellie Wilson 90), Maddy Cusack (Tamara Wilcock 77), Bex Rayner, Alethea Paul, Georgia Walters (Rhema Lord-Mears 77), Sophie Haywood (Mia Enderby 68).
Charlton Athletic: Sian Rogers, Elisha N'dow (Freda Ayisi 60), Melissa Johnson, Emma Follis, Emily Simpkins (Sophie O'Rourke 77), Laura Bruton (Lois Roche 88), Angela Addison (Alex Hennessy 77), Kiera Skeels, Bethan Roe (Heidi Logan 88), Corinne Henson, Mia Ross.
2:00pm Kick Off. Sunday 12th February 2023, Bramall Lane, Sheffield (att 1,117).