I just needed the validation from other people to tell me that I should follow my heart. It’s a funny thing being a football fan and how we make those decisions or plan our lives.
I had a holiday booked abroad over the Easter period, a big mistake to plan a trip mid-season. This meant I would be missing the men playing Manchester City at Old Trafford but more importantly (yes, you read that right), the women guaranteeing both promotion from the FA Women’s Championship and winning the title by beating Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at Leigh Sports Village.
Luckily, the type of people I have met through supporting the United Women are special. Just as Lauren James had scored her fourth goal of the game against Crystal Palace in our 7-0 rout, fellow Barmy Army supporters’ group member Marc FaceTimed me and allowed me to still be a part of the celebrations and title win that day, though I was separated from them by over 3000 miles. I started to cry.
It was painful not being there cheering on the girls when I felt I should have been but I did experience the happiness of watching a United team that I love and feel so deeply connected to win a trophy. I felt gratitude to Marc and my fellow supporters that they would think of me at such an important moment. Thankfully, Marc turned the camera away towards the pitch to save some of my blushes.
After returning from my trip on Friday in the early hours, I was back on the road a little over 48 hours later as we travelled down to Dartford to watch United face Millwall. The jumbo pork pies for the long journey south were supplied by good pal Andy while cakes baked by godmother Deborah filled me up for breakfast, along with the regular snacks and sugary drinks.
Onto the action and the first highlight for me was when stand-in captain Amy Turner first murdered a few of the Millwall players, taking the ball but making sure that the Lionesses felt the pain as she did so, and then proceeded to score her first goal for the club. I was generally impressed by how hard-hitting the ladies were in the tackle.
On paper, the match meant nothing to us. We’d already got promotion, won the league, job done – but not under Casey Stoney’s stewardship. They continued to play with the intensity and heart that is expected of champions. It wasn’t just Amy going in strong, it was Katie Zelem, Leah Galton, Martha Harris. All setting the tone, fighting for every ball, ruthless and relentless, as Stoney likes to emphasise.
One of the moments of the season occurred just before the half hour mark as Martha Harris broke into the penalty area and was taken down. At 3-0 up, regular penalty taker Katie Zelem decided to let Harris have her moment. She expertly converted, sending us all into raptures.
The supporters had a tongue in cheek running gag with the United right-back, shouting at her to shoot every time she got the ball, no matter of her the position. This was partly due to Barmy Army member Ben’s promise to shave his beard if she scored, going so far as to have a flag reference this and United sponsor Remington getting involved. After the match, Harris presented Ben with his new shaving kit to everyone’s delight. This is the kind of interaction that I’ve only witnessed in women’s football.
After leaving Princes Park, I went to watch the men’s fixture with Chelsea on television. Watching the game it felt like there were very few players which United fans can connect with in the current side. Thankfully, I have the United Women to be proud of and long may it last as we prepare to move up to the top flight.
By Jack Morris @ripper48