The lost daughters of English football came out for a cup final bathed in the
traditional sunshine at Selhurst Park. Not the 22 on the pitch but the hundreds
leading their fathers through Norwood Junction station, eager co-conspirators
in Dad's plan to add one more game to the end of the season.
It made sense. If not all the 13,824 crowd were regulars at women's football
they would at least be familiar with the story. Arsenal almost have the Premier
League National Division title wrapped up, and have won the FA Women's Cup four
times in the last decade. Fulham are the sport's only professional team who
have cut a swathe through the South East Combination this season (played 17,
won 17) and can be heard from the top flight like a distant rumble.
Persuading some of Europe's best footballers to drop to the equivalent of the
men's Second Division was made easier by the arrival of owner Mohamed Fayed's
money. Up to £50,000 a year for some if some reports are to be trusted,
although the purchase of 21-year-old Rachel Yankey was probably the one that
hurt the north Londoners the most. The dashing little England striker was Arsenal's
from her early teens.
Yankey earned herself a booking in the first 20 minutes and a challenge from
Arsenal's veteran striker Marieanne Spacey that deposited her by the advertising
hording. The crowd responded with a shriek of disapproval, at least one piercing
octave above the norm. Fulham missed out after 43 minutes when Norwegian international
Margunn Haugenes struck the post and Sanchia Duncan, who tucked away the rebound,
was judged offside.
Arsenal's Clare Wheatley had struck the bar on the half-hour from Kirsty Pealling's
cross but the first genuine chance came three minutes into the second half when
Fulham's Marianne Pettersen was grounded by Carol Harwood as she tricked her
way into the area. Emma Byrne did rather better stopping the penalty from Haugenes
that Crystal Palace's Matt Gregg had managed against his club's 14-year-olds
during the half-time prize shoot-out.
Arsenal's goal came, appropriately, from Angela Banks, whose 23 league strikes
this season are more than double the total of her nearest rival in the goal-
scorers' chart. Racing in on a rebound in the area she stretched to hook the
ball beyond the reach of Fulham goalkeeper Jody Bowry and into the corner.
A cup victory, Fulham said, would have lent them the legitimacy to tour some
of America's new professional clubs in the summer. The professional sisterhood
out there have cartoon names like the Bay Area CyberRays and New York Power,
a world away from double-figure victories over Crowborough Athletic on a Sunday
Banks' goal proved to be the only one Fulham conceded in the competition, but
it was enough to derail their onslaught on the women's game.
"It did prove to us that we can go to work every day and still compete
against professionals," said Banks. "It shows we work hard outside
of training as well. Each girl looked at the player she was marking and thought,
`She gets paid to play football' - you want to beat them."
The Arsenal manager Vic Akers put it rather more strongly. "That's an
important result for the National League. It goes to prove that throwing money
at players isn't always the be all and end all," he said. "There is
a chance for others, like semi-professionals, to play at the highest level."
Arsenal: Byrne, White, Harwood, Stoney; Pealling, Williams, Ludlow,
Grant, Wheatley; Banks, Spacey (Maggs 85).
Subs: Higgs, Wooliscroft, Thorpe, Tracy.
Booked: Williams, Harwood.
Fulham: Bowry; Gibbons, Petersen, Phillip, Jerray-Silver; McArthur, (Rahman
83), Chapman, Haugenes, Yankey; Duncan (Mork 77), Pettersen.
Subs: Young, Hynes, Betts.
Referee: T Parkes (Birmingham).
Source Sport Telegraph