A Commitment Made Good (Partly)

9th September 2021

I reported last year (“Unfinished Business at Petershill Park”, 22nd August 2020) that the 2019-20 UEFA Women’s Champions League quarter-final between Glasgow City and VfL Wolfsburg, which had originally been scheduled as a conventional two-legged affair the previous March, had been an early casualty of the coronavirus in the sports spectating itinerary that I had planned for 2020. (The match was eventually played 5 months later as a one-off fixture in San Sebastian, which the German side won 9-1). As its title suggested, I ended that particular blog with the acknowledgement that I had some unfinished business with the Glasgow City club and the hope that, at some future date, I could take in a match at its home ground at Petershill Park in Springburn.

I have now – partly at least – made good on that commitment. This season, Glasgow City have been playing their European fixtures at the Broadwood Stadium in Cumbernauld and yesterday afternoon I attended the club’s 2nd round 2nd leg tie against the Swiss side, Servette FCCF (Servette FC Chênois Féminin).

From my starting point in Milngavie, it knew from a previous visit – for the Clyde versus Stirling Albion fixture in the Scottish Professional Football League 2 in May 2016 (recorded in Still An Ordinary Spectator) – that it would be a train journey and then a bus ride to get to the stadium. The latter was provided at no cost to me, thanks to the largesse of the Scottish Government (and the UK taxpayer). Moreover, in order to attract a sizeable home support, the Glasgow City club had decided on a free entry policy for the tie. I was reasonably confident, therefore, that the afternoon’s spectating would provide good value for money.

It was a very hot day and I was glad to take my place in the shade at the back of the main stand. The view beyond the stand on the opposite side of the ground gave me a sliver of Broadwood Loch to the left and, in the sun-drenched middle distance to the right, a lengthy stretch of the Kilsyth Hills.

To reach this stage, Glasgow City had had to play two first round matches – against Birkirkara FC of Malta and BIIL Shymkent of Kazakhstan – though the travel requirements had been relatively light: both matches were played at Broadwood last month.

There was all to play for in the Servette tie. The first leg had finished 1-1 and the reward for the winner would be a place in the group stage of the tournament’s last 16. As Glasgow City are number 16 in the UEFA rankings, they would have been the favourites, given that Servette are at 71, though the latter rank is perhaps distorted by the Geneva-based side’s relatively recent appearance on the European stage.

In the event, it was clear from an early stage that these were two evenly matched sides. In the first quarter of an hour, both teams kept their defensive shape and there was a competitive edge in midfield. It was something of a surprise, therefore, when a long clearance down the middle by the City goalkeeper, Lee Alexander, was flicked on by Niamh Farrelly and Priscila Chinchilla was able to take advantage of a clear run on the Servette goal and coolly register the first goal. “Route 1” it might have been, but with some skill attached.

The match was decided in the ten minutes on either side of half-time. Just before the break, Alexander – who otherwise had a fine game – lost concentration for a moment and picked up what the Dutch referee judged (correctly, in my view) was a back-pass from one of her defenders. The result was an indirect free-kick to Servette on the line of Glasgow City’s six-yard box.

The whole of the City team took their places on the goal-line as the Servette players, Sandy Maendly and Jade Boho Sayo (who is generally known as Jade), stood over the ball. After one false start, in which a couple of City defenders prematurely charged from their line, Maendly tapped the ball forward and Jade drove it emphatically into the roof of the net. My immediate reaction was that this had been a well-rehearsed routine: the two Servette players had not rushed the opportunity, but had kept their cool and taken full advantage of the lifeline presented to their side.

The second – and decisive – Servette goal came three minutes after half time. After chasing what looked to have been a fairly innocuous-looking clearance down the right wing, the centre-forward Marta Peiró Giménez won the ball and released Amandine Soulard into space from which she delivered a cross to the far post, where it was attacked by Daina Bourma. Alexander made an excellent save but, unfortunately for City, the ball rebounded from the crossbar to the supporting Maendly, who headed it home.

These Servette players all gave impressive performances: Giménez played a tireless striker’s role, on several occasions skilfully holding the ball up for her supporting colleagues; the right-back Soulard was a feisty competitor who, in front of her goal in the second half, produced a couple of timely defensive headers from threatening City crosses; in the midfield, Maendly delivered a series of well-weighted passes and, with one exception, a number of dangerous in-swinging corners from Servette’s right-hand side, which the City defence consistently found difficult to deal with. Maendly would probably have been my choice as player-of-the-match, though it would have been a close-run contest with Chinchilla who, in addition to her well-taken goal, was a continual threat to the Servette defence with her close control and sharp acceleration.

The draining conditions did not prevent both sides from demonstrating the speed of their counter-attack. In the first half, after the visitors had made a hash of a short corner, Chinchilla won the ball and released the pacy Ode Fulutudilu for a long run on the Servette goal. It was defence-to-attack in a matter of seconds. It took a smart save from the goalkeeper, Ines Pereira, to prevent the scoreline reaching 2-0: a decisive moment, one feels, in retrospect. Near to the end, the roles were reversed and a run and pass by Jade led to Elodie Nakkach squandering a chance in front of a near-open goal. I had expected that the demanding conditions would mean that the overall pace of the game would slow dramatically in the second half, but this was not the case: a tribute to the players’ fitness and the timing of their coaches’ substitutions.

As with the men’s counterpart, the players in the UEFA Women’s Champions League are drawn from around the world. By my calculations, 15 different nationalities were represented in yesterday’s two match-day squads. From the Glasgow City team, Chinchilla and Fulutudilu are Costa Rican and South African internationals, for example, whilst their opponents Pereira and Jade have represented Portugal and Equatorial Guinea, respectively. There was still room for domestically produced talent, however, with 4 Scots and 3 Swiss in the starting XIs.

One obvious area in which the men’s and women’s tournaments differ, of course, is in the financial rewards. The Herald reported yesterday that the winner of the Glasgow City-Servette tie could look forward to £345,000 in prizemoney for reaching the group stage. This might represent less than a week’s wages for Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United, but it would have been a sizeable windfall for the budget of Glasgow City FC.

It was a very good afternoon’s entertainment. The crowd – a few hundred perhaps – supported their team to the end, recognising the efforts and skills on show. We were a mixed group – male and female, of all ages – with a sufficient number of young girls for one to be confident that the groundwork is being laid for the next generation of women players. I also have to say – at the risk of appearing unduly prim and proper – that it was nice to attend a professional football match that was not accompanied, in the stand, by the usual tribalism, foul language and lack of respect for the opposition.

The focus of Glasgow City will now be on the domestic agenda and the attempt to qualify for next season’s European competition. For these matches in the Scottish Women’s Premier League, it will be back to Petershill Park.

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