It was a great time for United’s women to play the first of two games at the Abbey in about a month. Cambridge United are one of the forty-five professional teams in the English and Scottish leagues currently partnered with #HerGameToo, a non-profit organisation which aims to both raise awareness of the sexism that still permeates the sport and create a presence in and around the game to help foster a more inclusive environment. United’s #HerGameToo ambassador Emma Smith shares great resources on her Twitter and deserves the support of every fan.
The men’s team game against Shrewsbury next Saturday will also be dedicated to “Women’s Football Weekend”, highlighting the barriers and problems faced by women in the sport, both as spectators and players. This weekend, however, the Abbey saw a crowd upwards of 500 watch Cambridge WFC take on Norwich City WFC in the bright winter sun. I’m sure I was not the only United fan experiencing the women’s team for the first time, and I even managed to attract two friends who had never even been to the Abbey before.
Manager Darren Marjoram had said pre-game that there’s more to come from his side, who had 22 points from 16 games coming in. Like Mark Bonner, he’s another life-long U’s fan and former season ticket holder which is great to see. Their season has been inconsistent, but he’s excited for where the future is going. With the planned derby with Cambridge City postponed, United came into the game seeking redemption after a 5-0 loss away at Hashtag United way back on the 13th of February.
Cambridge made three changes from the team that lost that game: Abi Davies, Lauren Rouse, and Abbi Griffin were replaced with Grace Waygood, Laura Mitchell, and Laura Baker in the starting line-up. Norwich also came into the game on the back of a loss, but were arguably more match-fit, beaten at home by Stevenage just a week prior.
Perhaps as a result, Norwich started the game well, focusing on getting the ball to their tall No. 10, Freya Symonds, who was a handful for the United defence with her dangerous-looking pace. After an early period of pressure though, Cambridge came back and began to assert their dominance in possession, the best early chance falling to No. 9, Ruth Fox, who could only force a corner one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Good balls into the box that just lacked an end product became something of a theme during the game, and Marjoram picked up on his side’s wasting of chances in his post-match comments.
Soon after, excellent running on the left from Fox, too quick for the Norwich defence, enabled her to cut into the box (I resist the urge to make a cheap fox-in-the-box pun…). Her cutback was scuffed initially, but finished well by No. 16, Alysha Stojko-Down, after the goalkeeper had been dragged out of position. Stojko-Down, having signed from Watford in October, was one of a handful who particularly impressed during the game.
Norwich tried to hit back immediately with a shot from the edge of the area, nearly creeping in at the far post, but they couldn’t muster much more for the rest of the first half. Cambridge could have scored again early in the second half, but another ball across the box beat everyone as they failed to put the game to bed. This was nearly punished, as Symonds appeared to have lobbed United’s keeper Lauren Webb, but she was able to collect as the shot lacked enough power.
The decisive incident came on 68 minutes as Norwich substitute Ella Gambell was sent off for a mistimed challenge on Emma Jenkins. It was met with a little surprise among the crowd, but most of all from Norwich’s manager, who himself was booked for his protests. Certainly not malicious, but the ball ran away from Gambell who had failed to control it, and her dive-in with a high boot drew an audible yell from Jenkins, so it seemed earned.
Darren Marjoram argued that United should have been more confident in their attacking play against a depleted side, but it was Norwich who offered the next best chance. A corner met the head of Megan Todd, but Webb got down well to save.
Cambridge no. 7 Laura Mitchell was tireless all game. She, like Fox, caused Norwich problems and provided the best outlets for United down each wing. The visitors looked panicked by Mitchell’s mazy run, as she cut in from the right on 75 minutes. After she was brought down, a free kick led to a scramble in the Norwich box, Fox nearly turned it in, but it was blocked out for a corner.
Norwich played admirably with a player less, Symonds appeared to drop further back into midfield to make up the numbers, but still found herself with a good chance to equalise. Through on goal thanks to her pace, she was denied well by Webb. Tired legs made the end a bit messy, with Norwich’s frustration also showing in a spat between a Norwich defender and United No. 10 Amy Howlett, who had stopped her taking a quick throw-in.
There was just enough time for one final United chance, a ball over the top was handled well by the Norwich defence, but a curling effort nearly caught out their goalkeeper, whose blushes were spared by the post.
A solid win over a side troubled by relegation worries. It wasn’t perfect, as Darren Marjoram reiterated post-game, but they did enough to win, in what turned out to be a good advert for our women’s team. The crowd got behind the team well, and the promising attendance hopefully means the women’s team has gained more supporters in the long run. The players were just doing their jobs, it’s not their responsibility to be ambassadors for social causes, but nevertheless the game formed part of the ongoing statement, reinforcing that football is a sport for all genders. As I was leaving, I turned back to see the players still talking to young fans at the front of the stand. Strengthened in my belief that Cambridge is a club up there with the best in its connection to the local community, I left certain to return to future games. You can usually catch Cambridge WFC at Rowley Park in St Neots, or at the Abbey again on the 27th of March against high-flying Billericay Town.
Player of the Match: Ruth Fox. Honestly, all the defence deserve credit for keeping Symonds out all game, and while Stojko-Down scored the goal, it was Fox’s hard work down the left that made it possible. She had some dangerous runs, a good first touch, and probably should have been rewarded with a goal but it wasn’t to be. Shout out to Mitchell too who was a comparable threat on the other wing.