Article written by Online Soccer Champions
“So men or women it’s the pinnacle for any footballer,” says Tony André, manager of Dynamo North London, as his side enjoy a cup run. Anjana Gadgil joins them for the ride and explores why the FA Cup is still so important.
Filled with nervous energy, the two teams line up in the tunnel and lift their boots so the referee can check their studs; given the all-clear they run out onto the pitch. For the way team, having a tunnel and two FA appointed linesmen is a first, and the 50-strong crowd shouting encouragement from the stands is by far the largest they have played to.
Dynamo North London, a women’s team that play in the Greater London League Division Three, are the lowest ranked team left in the FA Cup, having made it through two qualifying rounds to the first round proper. They travelled away to West Ham Ladies, lying third in the South East Combination League, seven rungs above them, for the biggest match of their lives.
The FA Cup is important to the lower league teams. There’s the financial reward, Ł250 for getting this far and another Ł250 should they win – which for an outfit like the Dynamo means they could reduce the players match fees or hire a bus to their next game. It’s a chance to play against good teams in decent grounds.
And there’s always the hope of repeating the feats of teams such as Bristol Rovers, who made it to the semi-finals in 2001 while they were in the South West Combination League, or WhiteHawk Ladies – a tiny outfit from the Sussex County FA Women and Girls League – who got to the quarter-finals in 1996 and attracted a huge amount of local media attention. As followers of the male and female game know, a Cup run always creates excitement.
Tony André, the manager of Dynamo North London, explains why he’s so happy to be in this position: “The FA Cup is the greatest and best known football competition after the World Cup. So men or women it’s the pinnacle for any footballer.” Many of the girls had never played team football before joining the Dynamo and only three years ago they were getting trounced by bottom division teams 8-0. For André, the tie shows how far they have come since he established the team in 2001.
“We have a real chance in this match – and clearly we have the ability as otherwise we wouldn’t still be in the competition. We have worked hard and it’s a great result for a team of our size to have got this far.”
On paper the opposition are far superior, but André dismisses this. “I have learned to take no notice of a team’s supposed position. We’ve beaten teams in the (London) Premier and First Divisions. There’s very little mobility in the league structure so a very mediocre team can maintain their place in a high division simply because only one team goes down.”
The women’s FA Cup began in 1970-71 as the Women’s Football Association Mitre Challenge Trophy and was won by Southampton, who went on to dominate the ‘70s, winning it eight out of ten times.
Doncaster Belles led the way in the eighties and early nineties and Arsenal have been the dominant force from the late nineties onwards.
For the big teams, as well as the money and the chance to play in Europe, a place in the final means national recognition for a sport that doesn’t see much media coverage. Sky Sports first covered the game in 2001 – when Arsenal won during their treble winning season, and the BBC won the rights to cover it in 2001.
12,444 people were at Loftus Road for May’s final and another 2.1 million people watched Julie Fleeting lead Arsenal to victory over Charlton with a stunning hat-trick.
That’s an all-too-distant prospect for the Dynamo, who lost to their East London opponents 3-0. Some consolation was seeing the opposition coach give her team a severe telling-off after the match for not scoring more. Now, says Andre, his team can concentrate on winning promotion out of a difficult league.
But as one player said, getting through to the first round of the FA Cup proper is something to tell the grandchildren – and if they had supporters other than a handful of boyfriends at their home games, they would no doubt be chant “Where the hell was your FA Cup run then?”