Thursday, 3 July 2014

Battle Of Two Cities...

SOTB took a trip down to Widnes' Select Security Stadium, home of Liverpool and Everton Ladies FC, to watch the FA Womens Super League highlight of the season-'The Battle Of Two Cities'. Over 1300 fans were in attendance overall as London-based Arsenal and Chelsea beat Merseyside duo Liverpool and Everton. It was a great afternoon for fans, who got two high quality matches for just a £5 entry ticket. As well as a junior fanzone section outside the stadium for children to enjoy a range of activities, there was competitions and freebies available throughout the day.

In the early kick off, Liverpool spent the first half on top, with their ability to keep possession for long spells clearly winding up the visitors. Natasha Dowie and ex-Gunner Gemma Davison both impressed and had a few chances to put their team ahead between them. Unfortunately for Liverpool, after the break, defender Casey Stoney put Arsenal ahead from a corner as an initial attempt on goal rebounded up against her nose and into the net. Both sides had chances to score throughout the scrappy second half, as Arsenal got into their attacking flow and Liverpool brought in some early substitutions. Liverpool's last minute replacement keeper Danielle Gibbons was on brilliant form to keep the score down in the later stages.

After the first game, we got a chance to catch up with Liverpool's captain, Gemma Bonner. At only 22 years old, Bonner bears the qualities of a player who has been in the professional game for decades. She is clearly an all round footballer-great defensively, a natural born leader and even scores the occasional goal. Originally she started playing for Leeds United from the age of eight, Bonner moved to Chelsea in 2011, where she first started playing under Matt Beard. In 2012, she then met back up with Beard who was now Liverpool's manager, by also joining the Mersey club. 

Did you feel any pressure going into the game today with Arsenal at the bottom of the table and seemingly a lot to prove on one hand, but then they've also enjoyed recent FA Cup success? 

Arsenal have always been a good side over the years, historically they've always been the best in women's football. Although they were bottom of the league before today, we knew it would be a tough test. It showed out there, it was a bit scrappy, the goal itself summed the game up really. For me, it's patience. Once we've conceded a goal, we've got to keep doing the things we are doing well. The patience in the play then once we do get into the final third, take them risks.

How does it feel having a player like Natasha Dowie on the team, a proven goalscorer, surely that's a relief as a defender having her on your side?

Yes definitely, it's not just Natasha though, we have got a lot of good players. Like out on the wing for example we've got Gemma Davison, all across the team we have got players that can win games for us. Once it does finally click for us, we'll score more goals.

Do you see yourselves being able to retain the title again with ease, or is the competition from other teams becoming more intense and open now?

We're expecting to be up there with the players we've got. With the league more competitive then ever, teams are taking points off each other all over. It's going to be tight this year, although we lost today,we've got to remain positive. Other teams will be taking points off them too, so we will keep positive and improve on today.

You have started writing a new column on Liverpool FC's website. How is that going so far and was it your idea?

It was the club's idea actually to push behind the women's side. Using the men's fanbase, puts a lot more knowledge out there into the game and gives people more insight. Matt Beard and I are going to take it in turns on a monthly basis and hopefully that will improve the fanbase for us.

Coming up in July, you have the Merseyside derby with Everton. Sharing the same stadium, does that increase the rivalry even more on match days?

It's great every time we play them, there is always going to be some rivalry. They're always tough games against Everton. We found out recently as they knocked us out the cup, and it then was a tough game in the league cup. The derby and rivalry adds to the occasions, so it's always hard against them.

Last season saw Liverpool beat Bristol Academy 4-3, with your 86th minute rocket of a goal securing all three points. How does it feel knowing that goal helped put you back on top of the league and ultimately contributed to winning the season, with it being so tight at the end?

It was a great feeling scoring the goal but more importantly for us it was getting the three points. If it hadn't of gone in and been a draw, it might of been different at the end of the season. I was just happy overall to help the team get the three points.

Well done also for making the PFA team of the year, alongside fellow team mates Lucy Bronze, Fara Williams, Natasha Dowie and Nicole Rosler. What does having that strong Liverpool connection in there show to your league rivals?

For us, if you look at the season we had last year, the positive about it was the great team spirit that we had. There wasn't just one focus in the team. It shows, the recognition of the players together, it's great to have so many LFC players in there.
Lucy won the player of the year award, she had a great season and has been a good attacking outlet for us.

You had quite the season, also being nominated for the 2013 North West player of the year amongst Everton's Nikita Paris and Toni Duggan, with the latter winning the award. These types of recognition must surely boost your chances in the England senior set up?

It's always nice to get nominated for these awards, but ultimately it's on the pitch where you need to prove it. Last season was successful for us as a club, but it's a totally different season now. We've got to forget last season in a way, learn from it, push on and improve even more.

Regarding the England set up, it's a smooth transition from club to country, as you get use to playing with the same players more and against them each week in the league. The standards are a lot higher in training, and as you go back to your club you want to take those standards with you.

As a club, Liverpool FC come across very tight nit and almost a family in a sense. Do you get support from the men's side and vice versa?

The men's side of the club have been a massive support to us, the column is just another way of them wanting to put us out there. The club has a 'one club' philosophy and to be integrated into that makes you feel proud to be part of the club.

Lastly, what does the future hold for you Gemma, any ambitions to play abroad one day or at any other clubs?

I'm happy where we are as a club, I think we're in a good place. We have got Champions League football to look forward to, but we're focusing on the league campaign for now. I think we're being placed in the last 32 of the CL, so training will increase and the schedule will be tough with more games. We have got a good squad and now the youngsters are coming through with more league experience.

If last season was anything to go by, this year's FA WSL will still have plenty of twists and turns still to go in the race to the top. Liverpool sit mid table with nine more league matches as well as Continental Cup fixtures. And of course, they get to rub shoulders with Europe's elite players in the upcoming Champions League. Many thanks to Gemma for giving her time to be interviewed and also to the FA WSL and clubs for a fantastic day.

Both match highlights can be found here: Liverpool vs Arsenal and Everton vs Chelsea