Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Road to Wembley #5

This FA Cup Third Round Qualifying tie between Sporting Khalsa Women and Lincoln City Women will be the first game of the competition this season my partner Ben has attended with me. Besides enjoying a day out with him, he also drives meaning for this game I didn't have to get public transport. Unfortunately you won't be reading about any convoluted train journeys this time. Apologies.

So, how should I fill the first section of this post up? I could describe our shopping trip to Morrisons pre-game or perhaps even recount our pre-match walk or what sweets we decided to buy. I'm just taking a guess though, that you might not want to hear about those, so I'm going to risk it and use this opportunity to air my thoughts on a recent graphic that has been doing the rounds on social media comparing the prize money in each round of the men's and women's FA Cup. If you do want to know what sweets we bought and aren't fussed about what I think about the prize money, then they were 'clear fruits' and you should probably skip the next three paragraphs.


I am not at all shocked by how low the women's prize money is in comparison to their male counterparts, but instead, disappointed. A lot of the comments on various threads are from people saying either the attendances aren't there and therefore not generating the revenue to justify higher prize money or saying the standard of women's football isn't 'good enough' to justify higher prize money.

Without breaking into too much detail and turning this blog post into something it's not, I will keep my thoughts brief. Basically, I see it that if there is very little money injected into to the women's game, especially levels lower than the Barclay's FAWSL (the only women's fully professional league in England), then how will the game ever develop/ progress at a reasonable pace and improve standard and therefore attendances? Surely this makes a case for increasing the money? I'm not even talking about equal prize money here. If the clubs had more money, this would inevitably improve facilities and coaching, resulting in a 'better' standard of play, equaling higher attendances and money justifiable. I feel we're at a perfect time now to introduce more money into the game, because there's definitely an increased interest after the success of the WWC during the summer. This is proven through recent record attendances at various levels across the women's game and of course selling out Wembley Stadium for the Lionesses friendly against Germany in November. Now is exactly the time there should be investment, or the momentum it has been building might fall, especially if the game doesn't progress any further or not at a fast enough pace.

As for attendances, in my experience they tend to vary depending on how well the clubs do with promotion on social media and in the local area. For example, in the first game of this competition I attended this season there were over 170 in attendance which was a lot for that level (tier six), though in this round there were approximately 25. A lot of clubs lower down the pyramid do not charge entry either, though some put a small price for spectators.


Sporting Khalsa is a club which isn't named after the place it is situated. It is on the outskirts of a small market town called Willenhall, located somewhere between the M6 and Wolverhampton. It is mainly known for it's lock and key industry. The town centre has a lot of paraphernalia related to this, including a workers' memorial and a giant mural of a lock.

The lock mural in the town centre
Without having done any 'proper' research before heading down the M6 to The Aspray Arena, we did not realise that it was an artificial pitch before paying our £3 admission and entering into the ground. This was a slight disappointment, because it's usually best to leave these kind of grounds for a bad weather day when everything else is waterlogged and postponed! Nevertheless, at least this game was definitely 'on' and in contrast to a lot of other 3G grounds, it had plenty of character. This is mainly due to to a refurbishment which happened during the 2017-18 season, which upgraded the then-current facilities without removing all the older characteristics of the ground. The main stand on the turnstile side was the original stand from when the ground used to belong to Willenhall Town, which Sporting Khalsa bought from them nine years ago when they went into financial difficulty. I spent some time chatting to Gary of 353 Photography who told us all sorts of useful history about the place. He was also the programme editor for the club, though unfortunately there was no programme for this game, but we did manage to obtain a team sheet.

The dugouts are unusual in the respect that they make up the front row of the main stand, cordoned off by a barrier separating the players from spectators. This is as far as I can remember, the only ground I've been to where the dugouts are part of the stand.

The main stand interior
The main stand exterior
As you can see from the pictures, the seats and ground are decorated with the clubs yellow and blue colours. The ground looks really bright and aesthetically pleasing. Besides the two main stands, there is no other terracing or covered areas. This isn't to say that you can't freely roam about: there is uncovered hard standing right the way around. Behind the goal opposite the clubhouse and changing rooms is a raised section. This allows for an elevated view and makes for a nice change of viewpoint throughout the game.

The other seated stand
This was always going to be a close match with both teams playing in the FA Women's National League Division 1 Midlands: Lincoln City fifth, just three places above Sporting Khalsa. The goalless first half displayed some very good football, especially from Khalsa who seemed to have the upper hand for the majority of the 45 minutes. They had the real first chance of the half, with the ball just shy of the net and bouncing off the post. Lincoln retaliated, though some good defending and goalkeeping from the home side halted Lincoln from scoring.

With October drawing to a close and the daylight diminishing thanks to the end of daylight saving going into this game, this was one of the first matches this season I had started to feel properly cold. This meant our usual half time routine of coffee was in order and off we went to the warm clubhouse to purchase our coffees for £1. To get to the clubhouse, you were to walk out of the ground and round, as the snack bar wasn't open for this game. On the way back around, I managed to spill some of my coffee as apparently walking 300 yards with a hot drink is difficult! In efforts to protect my camera from damage, the main victim of the spillage were my hands. Luckily I didn't get burnt and it actually did a nice job in warming my hands up! Still, I do not recommend...


Continued pressure by Sporting Khalsa continued into the second half, but Lincoln made a breakthrough around 15 minutes in. Around ten minutes after, Khalsa equalised, putting the two teams under pressure to score the winning goal. The hosts soon had another chance, but it strayed just wide of the post. Lincoln were the ones to break the deadlock and score another, putting themselves in the lead with a fantastic finish from a shot outside the box. Despite Khalsa's efforts, they didn't get another past the keeper and with a few minutes to go, Lincoln scored their third, sealing them a place in the next round of the cup.

Winners
Lincoln City demonstrated their lead over Sporting Khalsa in the league in this game with some excellent finishes and one can only admire them for that. As usual, best of luck to them in the next round and hopefully Sporting Khalsa will go into their next league game knowing they played some excellent football in this cup tie.

Sporting Khalsa seemed like a great community club, with a wealth of teams across all age groups for both females and males. It's facilities were excellent, housing various artificial pitches on the complex, with further developments on the cards.

Full photo set here.

Follow Sporting Khalsa Women on Twitter here and Lincoln City Women here.

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