I decided to go to the first week of games out of the two week tournament, as it logistically worked out the best way to see matches at three different stadiums by the means of public transport. This was along with getting to see the host nation Scotland play and an England game, too. The games I chose to watch were the group stages, but that didn't really matter to me, as I was sure they would be played just as competitively as the knockout stages. I decided to base myself in Glasgow for the trip, as it seemed the most convenient area to stop, due to where the games were being held. I also love the city!
As this was my first experience of an international tournament like this, I didn't quite know what to expect in terms of it's set up and match day experience. I knew it wouldn't be as glamorous as something like a World Cup or senior European Cups, though I was hoping for there to be some kind of 'buzz' and excitement surrounding it.
My first game was a 4pm Group A tie between Norway and Netherlands at Firhill, home of Partick Thistle, just north of Glasgow city centre. I'm not especially a fan of all seater stadiums as you can't walk around them and admire the stands from all angles. Perhaps I've been spoilt by all the non-league or junior grounds I go to where you can go wherever you want (within reason). Despite my displeasure for not being able wander about, Firhill was extremely aesthetically pleasing.
It was a three sided stadium- the fourth side had scaffolding where terracing used to be. The stand which they opened for this game was the larger and more contemporary Jackie Husband Stand. This was opposite and in contrast to the older Colin Weir Stand, which was very pleasant to look at. The stadium displayed lots of it's original features, including it's facade in it's original condition boasting the 1927 year it was built, along with a giant mural on the side (not from 1927, to clarify)! Unfortunately cars were parked alongside it, so I couldn't take an especially good photo, but here's what I did manage:
|The facade of Firhill|
I'm not going to divulge too much about the game, though the result was almost sealed in the first five minutes, as Netherlands scored two goals in quick succession. Despite Norway making a few breakaway chances and some good passing play between them, they didn't manage to score and a couple of keeping mistakes meant they ended up conceding a further three goals, losing five goals to nil.
As it was a group stage game, I was unsure how many spectators might be there, though a turnout of 145 people was announced. There were a healthy gathering of supporters from both competing countries, dressed in their respective colours and despite Norway losing by quite a goal difference, it didn't seem to dampen their flag-waving, cowbell ringing (yes, one spectator really had one) spirits.
Mini flags advertising the tournament and blow up clappers were issued free on entrance for those who wanted them (I politely declined), though unfortunately could not get hold of the printed tournament programme at this game (only issued online), which was a disappointment. Also, because I paid on the gate, I was not issued with a ticket stub, either. This was a shame, as a ticket is always a nice souvenir, especially from a tournament like this.
As stated earlier, I wanted to fit in as many games from this tournament as I could, should public transport allow, so as soon as the ref blew the whistle to signify the 90+3 mins were up, I quickly made my way to the nearest bus stop in order to catch the bus into the centre of Glasgow. This would allow me to grab something to eat and then catch the train across to Paisley for the Scotland vs France tie. I probably could have walked the section where I needed to take the bus, but I really didn't want to miss the train and I definitely needed to eat between games (rarely good veggie options at football matches), so I decided against risking it and took the bus!
Arriving at Paisley St James, just across the road from St Mirren Park, there was quite a bit more of a buzz surrounding this game. Scottish fans were gathered outside, and on entering, it was a great atmosphere: face paints, flags, blow up hands, plenty blue Scotland shirts and a really family friendly feel to it. I'd like to think there was a boosted attendance at this game (1,285) because it was just off the back of the WWC and even though Scotland didn't get out of the group, I'm quite sure it did something to raise the profile of the women's game in the country. There were plenty of girls football teams/ clubs in attendance, too.
Adding to the atmosphere there was plenty of pre-match entertainment, including female freestylers, the singer Be Charlottle performing her song 'Dreamers' which is the official track of the competition and also the Scottish National Anthem played out on bagpipes prior to kick off.
The game was fantastic to watch. Both teams battled hard throughout, clearly desperate to finish the competition higher than their senior counterparts in the WWC. France had the edge and scored first, though Scotland came back with an equaliser after a tussle in the box. Scotland nearly scored again close to final whistle, though the striker's shot went a little too wide. This was their last chance of a win, because France scored in the first minute of stoppage time, with Scotland failing to reply.
The stadium was a bit too much of a new build for my liking: a quite standard four sided all seater, with open corners. It looked very smart and nice enough, though didn't exactly ooze character. Despite this, I didn't come to this game for the stadium like I usually do when I visit new places, but this time for the game and that definitely didn't disappoint. Both teams had some stand out players and I'm sure these really will be some of the stars of the future.
The third and final match I attended from this tournament was to travel a little further afield across to Stirling. Despite it being a 26 mile journey, it was only £8 on the train- that's with a 26-30 railcard, mind. I got to Stirling around 1:30pm, two and a half hours prior to the 4pm kick off. This was because I've never been to Stirling before and wanted to have a proper look around. My first stop was of course the castle. I didn't intend on buying a ticket to actually go in, because of the expense and the fact I didn't think I would have time. To be brutally honest, I'm not even interested in looking around castles from the inside either, albeit often impressive exteriors.
Another motive and perhaps my main motive of going up to castle was to see if I could get any aerial views of Forthbank Stadium! I had my zoom lens with me, so it would have made for a perfect picture opportunity. Unfortunately, the stadium was too far around to see from my chosen vantage point and could only see the rugby ground. Perhaps if I'd paid entry, I might have got views from all angles. Next time, eh?!
After that, I made my way down back through Stirling. A very nice town, with lots of interesting buildings, little cafes, restaurants and bars. It was very touristy, too, with the locals monetising on the fact, with bagpiping buskers in full national dress.
I decided to walk from the town to the stadium, as of course that was the cheapest way of getting there. It also allowed me to take in the sights of the industrial road leading out of town- just how I like it! The stadium is situated about a mile from the centre, amongst an industrial estate. It is nearby a retail park, too, with all the usual chain shops and pubs.
I got to the stadium with plenty of time to spare, allowing me to take some exterior shots and get a good seat near the halfway line.
There was bit more of a muted atmosphere here than the previous two, though a fair few England supporters were present, with flags aplenty! Spain, the current holders of this competition had the upper hand over England for most of the game and took chances wherever possible. England failed to score, resulting in a 1-0 loss and subsequently knocked out of the competition.
I managed to get my hands on one of the rare printed versions of the tournament programme at this game- at last(!), though still no ticket stub for payers on the gate. Something I feel could definitely be looked at for future versions of this competition. If they were handing out non-recyclable plastic gimmicks for supporters, then surely a ticket stub made out of paper shouldn't have been that much of an ask. Anyway, what do I know...
|Before the rain came|
The ground was definitely worth the trip: two large seated stands taking up each of the long sides and a smaller standing terrace at each of the ends behind the goals. Like the rest of the stadiums used in the competition, you could not walk around the stadium here, so was unable to get any specific shots of the stands. The views were fantastic, though the hills were quickly no longer visible when the rain came for the second half (and the rest of the day). The rain by no means put a dampener on my trip, even if I did get soaked on my walk back to the train station!
Overall, I feel that as a follower of women's football, to attend a tournament like this was a great experience, even if it was not as 'glam' as the World Cup. It was good to see the standard of younger women's sides and see what the future may hold for the squads, along with highlighting several issues which would need addressing as they move up to senior teams.
I also think the tournament came at the right time, just two weeks after the Women's World Cup. With interest in women's football at a current high, it was good for this kind of tournament to keep up some of the momentum. I am already planning my next Scottish trip at the end of August when Scotland Women's National team take on Cyprus in the Euro qualifiers at Easter Road...