2020 Hind Sight

You’d be forgiven for thinking that women’s football has had a pretty bad time of it this year – what with the COVID-19 enforced abandonment of the 2019/20 season across Europe and Africa; nulling and voiding all FAWNL records; fans prohibited from entering stadia (just as more fans were starting to show up); a second lock down, etc., etc… But there were still some golden nuggets in a year we’ll all be glad to see the back of. Here are twelve things D2B will remember about 2020…

1. In waltzed the Matildas

The mainstream devoted a lot of column inches to the Americans that landed in the WSL. Meanwhile, we were enjoying the footballing invasion from a different nation.

Here come the girls… (clockwise from left) Caitlin Foord, Sam Kerr, Emily van Egmond, Hayley Raso and Alanna Kennedy

Australian super striker Sam Kerr put pen to paper for Chelsea in November of 2019, but her first performance for the Blues came in January of 2020, in a 3-1 home win over Reading.

That day Kerr nearly scored with her first touch of the ball, got the keeper sent off after being felled on the edge of the box and brilliantly tee up Beth England for Chelsea’s equaliser.

Her first goal would come two weeks later in a 4-1 win at title rivals Arsenal and she was back tormenting the Gunners again at the end of February helping to set up England’s winner in the Continental Cup Final.

Throughout 2020, a raft of Australian international players then followed Kerr’s lead and signed for clubs in England and Europe following the completion of their domestic W-League.

Many players from Down Under would normally head for the States which provides a perfect complement to the short Australian season. But competitive and relatively well-paid winter football suddenly looked more viable with the National Women’s Soccer League having to cancel its regular season due to Coronavirus.

Currently ten Matildas ply their trade for English clubs. They are: Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley and Lydia Williams (Arsenal); Chloe Logarzo and Ella Mastrantonio (Bristol City); Hayley Raso (Everton); Alanna Kennedy (Tottenham Hotspur) Emily van Egmond and MacKenzie Arnold (West Ham United)

Sensational young right back Ellie Carpenter would replace Lucy Bronze at Lyon after the Lioness opted to re-sign for former club Manchester City. Kyah Simon joined PSV Eindhoven, Elise Kellond-Knight went to Sweden’s Kristianstads DFF, and Aivi Luik signed for Sevilla in Spain.

West Ham United’s young attacking starlet Jacynta Galabadaarachchi, who incidentally joined West Ham United before any of the others took the leap, went to Italian side Napoli on a season-long loan.

2. Ingle all the way… Goal of the Year

Short but sweet this one. So just enjoy it. (Watch on YouTube)

Watch on YouTube: A very special goal – D2B’s most memorable of 2020, Sophie Ingle for Chelsea vs Arsenal…

Sophie Ingle’s half volley at Arsenal was simply ‘out of this world’.

The Welsh international is not known for her goal scoring prowess but she set an extremely high bar at the beginning of 2020.

Is this the best goal of the year? Er… well, there were some notably good efforts that followed at all levels of the women’s game – trawl around for a couple of hours on Twitter #woso #womensfootball and you’ll find a ton of fantastic efforts.

But the judging panel at D2B Towers thought that Sophie’s goal was the most memorable. Why? Because we remembered it. And it was ages ago…

3. Go Biggs or go home – Tractor Girls give us an FA Cup Shocker

Teenage Striker Maddie Biggs – the smiling assassin…

The gulf between different levels of women’s football in England can be marked.  But last season Ipswich Town of the National League’s Division One South East went to Northern Premier League side Huddersfield Town and won 4-1 in the FA Cup. They became the first tier four team in the league structure to reach the fifth round of the competition.

At just 16-years old, forward Maddie Biggs had the game of her life, scoring a first half hat-trick and setting the Suffolk club on their way to a glamourous tie at Manchester City.

Little over sixty seconds had been played before Biggs took advantage of a mix up between goalkeeper and defender, ghosting past both before tapping into an empty net.

Moments later the teenager headed in her second for 2-0.

Natasha Thomas made it three beating the keeper to a cross from the right and then turned provider from the same wing when she chipped a neat diagonal to Biggs who took a touch before finishing casually off the outside of her right boot. At 4-0 the Tractor Girls were in dream land.

It’s a Maddie, Maddie World…

The hosts were playing their first game at the club’s John Smiths Stadium in front of a club-record 1,115 spectators. Terriers’ manager Ashley Vickers clearly needed to shake things up at half time and his team got on the score board within five minutes of the restart when Lucy Sowerby converted from close range. Was the come back on?

From this point on Ipswich would be on the back foot, but keeper Nikita Runnacles would have a second half every bit as inspired as Biggs’ first 45.

She pawed away Sarah Danby’s deflected effort before thwarting Sowerby with an exceptional reaction stop at point blank range.

More chances came and went but the Tractor Girls stood firm. Near the end Laura Elford headed over the bar, summing up Huddersfield’’s afternoon. They hadn’t done nearly enough to beat a side one level below them in the FAWNL structure.

Joe Sheehan’s Ipswich would go on to top their own division prior to the Football Association declaring all National League results null and void.

Oh, and that tie against Manchester City? Well, that was memorable for a whole different set of reasons. We’ll let you decide whether to look up that result. Just bear in mind there’s a reason we plumped for this match…

4. Introducing the Sinclair 185

On January 29th of this year Canadian striker Christine Sinclair finally took over as the all-time leading goal scorer in international football. Enjoy the living room commentary…

Come in number 185, you’re time is up…

The then-36-year-old scored her 184th goal from the penalty spot inside seven minutes of Canada’s Olympic qualifying match against St Kitts & Nevis to tie US striker Abby Wambach.

And 185 came around a quarter of an hour later when West Ham winger Adriana Leon crossed for Sinclair to slide home from six yards out.

The Portland Thorns star capped off 2020 in style when she was honoured at The Best FIFA Football Awards for hitting the magic 185.

She has since scored one additional goal and should continue to feature in the Canadian national team until (at least) the next summer Olympics which is scheduled for Tokyo in 2021.

Can she get to 200 before retirement? You wouldn’t put it past her…

“It’s a huge honor and an amazing accomplishment, but to be honest it was just a sigh of relief and a weight off my shoulders, because it was something that was coming for a number of years. It was ticking down, the goals were ticking away, and it was a sigh of relief – I’m not going to lie.”

Christine Sinclair talking to FIFA.com Website

5. Chelsea overcome tyred-ness to win first Conti Cup

Beth England scored a dramatic stoppage time winner to ensure Chelsea secured their first Women’s League Cup.

Chelsea’s late, late show at the City Ground delivered Emma Hayes her first League Cup…

No two ways about it: this one was an absolute classic – a great advert for the women’s game. And the fun got going early with England putting the Blues ahead inside eight minutes.

Despite a stoic rear guard action by the South West Londoners, including a player of the match performance by Blues keeper Ann-Katrin Berger, Arsenal’s Leah Willamson equalised for the Gunners in the 85th minute.

As the match was headed for extra time England arrived to convert Maren Mjelde’s cross to seal her brace and take the trophy back to Kingsmeadow for the first time, giving manager Emma Hayes the full domestic set.

So, why pick this one over, say, the 2019 Wembley FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Everton later in the year? Well, this one had a crowd for starters. A record 6,743 for the league cup attended the City Ground in Nottingham (it was previously 5,028) and, frankly, they were treated to a more competitive and exciting game over 90+ minutes.

England put Chelsea ahead early. Working the ball from right to left, Ji found Jonna Andersson out wide. Her cross was kept alive by Mjelde at the back post and England was quickest to the loose ball driving low past Zinsberger on the turn with her left foot. It was the striker’s 20th goal of the season in all competitions.

Arsenal’s response was excellent and they fashioned good first half chances for Louise Quinn, Jordan Nobbs and Vivianne Miedema, who were all denied by Berger.

The match swung from end to end in the second period. Sam Kerr missed a golden opportunity to grab Chelsea a killer goal; at the other end Miedema’s effort was parried at point blank range by the Blues’ stopper.

But Berger could do nothing about Leah Williamson’s equaliser on 85 minutes from a corner. It needed two attempts, but the central defender retained her composure and slid the ball into the keeper’s left-hand corner to send the Arsenal fans into raptures.

Momentum had swung. Surely now the Gunners would go on and win. Nobbs dug out a cross that Berger couldn’t deal with, but Quinn lashed her effort over the bar.

Into stoppage time. Kerr and Schnaderbeck find themselves contesting a percentage ball down the right. The Australian cleverly cut inside, stumbled but kept her feet, fed Maren Mjelde arriving in the box and the Norwegian captain skipped a challenge and crossed for England all alone at the back post to send Chelsea into dream land.

“To win here is childhood-dream stuff here today – managing at the ground of the legend Brian Clough. The best team didn’t win the game, the most resilient team won the game with a goalkeeper who had a tremendous performance. I always felt this was going to be a really tough final, but that resilient performance is why we’ve come away with the trophy.”

Emma Hayes, Chelsea Manager

6. Baird Moon Rising

Not a Baird, er, bad first six months given all the challenges of COVID-19…

The announcements had all been done in January and February. Head honcho Amanda Duffy was leaving the NWSL for Orlando Pride. Lisa Baird would become the League’s Commissioner on March 10th 2020. She was walking into a COVID-19 nightmare which would first see pre-season cancelled, then the league postponed, and finally the whole thing cancelled.

So, to find a way to get not just one but TWO brand new competitions completed by the early autumn (or Fall as the Americans say) was some feat of engineering. 

The first of these – the Utah 2020 Challenge Cup – ensured that women’s football was the first team sport back in business in North America. Staged across two Utah locations (Herriman and Sandy) in June / July all nine NWSL teams would be represented and play a round robin of four games each to decide quarter final seedings with just one knocked out. Well that was the theory.

Despite the Orlando Pride having to drop out when six players tested COVID-positive, and several prominent National Team Players dropping out, the Challenge Cup was considered a success.

The tournament was won by Houston Dash who beat the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 in the Final.  England’s very own Rachel Daly won the Golden Boot and the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

The Utah 2020 Challenge Cup Final – Houston win their first NWSL honours…

In addition, Baird had secured sponsorships from communications giant Verizon, Procter & Gamble and Secret, plus a partnership with Google and international broadcasting coverage via Twitch. The opening and closing games of the Challenge Cup aired on major television network CBS, with their All Access pay channel offering all other fixtures.

Later in the Summer, the NWSL Fall Series was announced. The nine teams (yes, Orlando made this one) were divided into three regional divisions of three teams and would play each other twice; home and away. The overall winners would win the Verizon Community Shield, as determined through a normal league table. 

Portland Thorns won the title along with a grant of $25,000 for their chosen community partner. Houston followed up their Challenge Cup win with 2nd place and $15,000 in prize money. Washington Spirit collected $10,000 to donate for third.

Despite the Coronavirus pandemic and there being virtually no US Women’s internationals all year, Lisa Baird has been able to find ways to get the NWSL out to TV and online audiences.

While a handful of top American international stars have since headed to European clubs, the NWSL will continue to expand in 2021 with the arrival of Racing Louisville.

Arguably the best match of the Challenge Cup – Houston Dash v Utah Royals which was re-streamed on Twitch only last night…

Another franchise, Angel City, is set to join in 2022 and will be majority owned by a group of highly influential women including former US soccer stars Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Julie Foudy.  

7. AsOne gets it done…

We’ve got it! The Australian Delegation celebrate securing the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

“The granting of co-hosting rights to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 was a watershed moment for Australian football.  The announcement united the entire nation around the game and galvanized the Australian football community behind a common cause, demonstrating the power and potential of women’s football in Australia.”

Chris Nikou, Chairman, Football Federation Australia

“When the bid expanded to 32 teams it became a compelling proposition to go together. It was always going to be a huge challenge, even for Australia, to go alone, and absolutely for us. We didn’t have the infrastructure. I think we brought a lot to the table and Australia recognized that. It’s been a really fluid conversation over the last few months but at the end of the day both parties realized it was the right thing to do.”

Andrew Pragnell, CEO of the NZF, via New Zealand Herald

Australia and New Zealand found out in June that they had been jointly successful in their bid to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

Known as the AsOne bid, the Football Federation Australia (FFA) and New Zealand Football (NZF) announced their intention to work together in December of 2019, following a year-long period when Australia had been bidding solo.

They edged out Colombia by 22 votes to 13 in the final reckoning even though the technical evaluation of their bid rated 4.1 out of five compared to Colombia’s 2.8.

Japan had also scored well but pulled out of the race with a week to go.

Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and a joint Korean proposal had also been in the original running.

The 2023 Women’s World Cup – the first to feature 32 teams – will be staged across 13 stadia in 12 cities (7 AUS, 5 NZL). The opening match will take place at Eden Park in Auckland. The final is scheduled for Sydney. The eight groups of four teams will be split evenly across the two countries.

8. Sarina Wiegman – Lioness takes over Lionesses

There were 142 applications, according to the Football Association, but Sarina Wiegman was appointed the next England Manager on a four-year contract which will take her to Euro 2025.

Coming to a Stadium near you in 2021/22… assuming you live in England.

“England is the cradle of football and the major developments in women’s football globally over recent years have been led by the [English] FA. I’m very much looking forward to contributing my experience and expertise to this ambitious team. The ride with the ‘Oranje Lionesses’ has been amazing so far, but we haven’t reached our final destination yet. There are two more goals: qualifying for the UEFA Women’s EURO in 2022 and challenging at the Olympics next summer. That would be a fitting completion for me of everything we’ve strived to achieve in women’s football in my home country.”

Sarina Wiegman, England Manager Elect, via 90min.com

The current Netherlands Head Coach will take over from Phil Neville once her Dutch squad has finished competing at the Tokyo Olympics in summer 2021.

Since taking charge of the Oranje Leeuwinnen (yep, Orange Lionesses) Wiegman has won a European Championships – as host nation in 2017 – and finished as runner-up to the USA at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. As a player Wiegman became the first woman to receive over a century of caps for the Netherlands.

Arguably the current England set-up has a commensurate level of talent, quality and experience to the Dutch side, so it will come down to how Sarina and the players are able to work together to push on to the next level and maybe contest a final. England have been beaten Semi-Finalists in the last three major tournaments.

Her first tournament with the Lionesses will be the rescheduled Euro 2022 Championship which England is hosting.

Wiegman was on D2B’s wish list for the England Manager’s role, so we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed that she can mastermind some significant improvement over Neville’s recent record, which since the Women’s World Cup has seen results and performance slump game by game.

9. Lyon’s Made it Five in a Row

Five in a row for French Champions Lyon. They are the best, but how much longer can their dominance last?

The UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL) was suspended during [what we thought was] the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, but managed to hold out until August when the competition reconvened at the quarter finals stage in a short, sharp knockout format.

All single-leg ties would be played in the bubble of a single location – San Sebastien, Spain – to protect the players from contracting COVID-19.

From the UK, Arsenal and Glasgow City had made it but would go no further – eliminated by PSG and Wolfsburg respectively.

PSG were beaten by their French League rivals Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon) and Wolfsburg had just enough to edge out Barcelona. It would be the third time in five years that these teams had met in the final.

But any thoughts (or hopes) that Wolfsburg could reverse a recent trend of Lyon domination were in tatters by half time.  

Eugénie Le Sommer and Saki Kumagai scored in the 25th and 44th minutes respectively to cap a dominant first period. Both goals were largely created by player of the match, winger Delphine Cascarino.

Wolfsburg had their best spell after the break and Alexandra Popp got one back just before the hour mark. The German side kept their energy high pushing for an equaliser but couldn’t seriously trouble Sarah Bouhaddi again.

With their opponents running out of steam, Lyon scored two minutes before the end when former Wolfsburg midfielder Sara Gunnarsdóttir redirected a Le Sommer’s shot with a clever flick. The Icelandic international player was later awarded a winners medal and a runners up medal having played sufficient minutes for both teams in the competition during the season.

One to note down for future pub quizzes. When we’re allowed back in pubs of course…

10. Underneath the Arch – EPL and WSL Unite for Community Shield

Chelsea edge out Manchester City in the 2020 Community Shield.

The 2020 Women’s FA Community Shield wasn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination. But the fact that it was played at Wembley Stadium as part of a double header with the men’s equivalent made it suitably memorable to end up in this recap.

As a curtain raiser to the 2020/21 season, both sides looked rusty in fairness following months of COVID-19 measures.

Chelsea striker Sam Kerr possibly put her boots on the wrong feet, missing a host of chances that she would have finished for fun in the NWSL.

City had some good first half moments. Georgia Stanway brought a good stop from Ann-Katrin Berger, and only the assistant referee’s flag prevented Janine Beckie putting them ahead after new signing Chloe Kelly had danced through the entire Chelsea back line.

Stanway brought another good parry out of Berger and Kelly drilled the rebound against the upright.

But City’s task was made far more difficult against the WSL Champions when midfielder Jill Scott was sent off for a second bookable offence in the second half.

Four minutes later central defender Millie Bright got Chelsea in front with a 30-yard drive that swerved and dipped over keeper Ellie Roebuck.

Chelsea pushed on for a killer second and eventually got it in stoppage time when Ellen Cuthbert arrived in the right place to fire home from ten yards and seal victory.

While it was something of a confidence booster for Chelsea the occasion seemed more important than the result.

11. Lions and Lionesses get the same, and have done for ages…

“The FA pays its women’s players exactly the same as their male counterparts for representing England, both in terms of match fees and match bonuses. This parity has been in place since January 2020.”

FA Statement, via independent.co.uk

It came to light that the English FA had been paying the Lionesses the same salary and match fees as their male counterparts since January 2020.  This announcement was made by the association hard on the heels of news that Brazil’s federation had adopted the same approach for their international players from March.

Previously Norway, Australia and New Zealand had moved to ensure pay equality for male and female players which makes perfect sense, if you think it through, as they do exactly the same job at exactly the same elite level for exactly the same organisation.

Many players donate their fees to charities.

While attention remains focused on persuading other national federations to move in the same direction, there are also calls for FIFA and the Confederations (UEFA, CONMEBOL, CAF, etc.) to close the massive gap that exists between men and women in terms of prize money on offer to players that win, participate in and qualify for their tournaments. 

12. Half Century up for Viv

There was a time when this phrase had a very different meaning, specifically to cricket fans of a certain vintage. Now it relates entirely to women’s football and one outstanding, world class goal scoring machine. (Watch on YouTube)

Watch on YouTube: How Vivianne Miedema became the WSL’s best ever striker…

Arsenal super striker Vivianne Miedema became the first player to notch up 50 goals in the Women’s Super League when she scored the first of her three goals against North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Still only 24-years old, the Dutch international took her tally to 52 goals in 50 league matches as the Gunners ran riot with a 6-1 victory at Meadow Park.

Miedema moved past Nikita Parris’s previous goal scoring record, and it wouldn’t be too long before she passed the former Manchester City forward’s record for total goal ‘involvements’ as well.

Her club-based accomplishments nestle squarely alongside her international scoring achievements. Miedema has scored 70 goals in 91 appearances for the Netherlands which is more than any other player has tallied – male or female.

So there you have it. D2B’s most memorable and enjoyable moments of 2020. You may have others that you feel are more worthy of mention. Feel free to leave your choices in the comments section. In the meantime we’d like to wish you a very Happy New Year and all the best for 2021…

Earlier this year, we charted on the Feedspot Top 40 list of Women’s football blogs. No one was more surprised than us here at D2B Towers; there’s so much other good stuff out there. Anyhoo, check out the link above or our new Links page, there’s a heap of great blogs and websites written by people who really know their stuff and have an infectious passion for the women’s game…

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