On Saturday 26th May 2012, Birmingham City Ladies made history by winning their first ever FA Womens Cup, beating Chelsea at Bristol City's Ashton Gate 3-2 on penalties, after drawing 2-2 after extra time. Welsh international Helen Lander looked to have won the cup for the London Blues, turning exquisitely before slotting the ball past Rebecca Spencer in the Birmingham goal, but after a terrific goal line clearance from Chelsea's Claire Rafferty denied Jodie Taylor an equaliser on the stroke of 90 minutes, the resulting corner eventually found its way to Rachel Williams who, through a crowded penalty area, managed to stroke the ball accurately past the despairing Chelsea back line to send the tie into extra time.
The heat inside Ashton Gate was searing, and the 30 minutes of extra time saw alot of the girls from both sides stretching tense muscles, and trying to run off cramp or niggles, but still the quality did not wane. Chelsea went back into the lead before half time in extra time, a slight lack of communication between Spencer and captain Laura Bassett allowed Kate Longhurst a sight at goal, which she took with aplomb, a beautiful curling finish into the bottom corner, and again the majority of the 8,000 plus crowd in attendance must have predicted it to be a monumental task for the Midlands outfit to get back into the game, but one thing that has been evident over the past year and a half is that Birmingham City Ladies are not a team to write off easily, and once again their spirit, fight and determination to win was on show, as with 8 minutes left of extra time, Karen Carney took a quick free kick and bent it into the top corner of Carly Telford's goal.
And so to the penalty shoot out. The penalties were taken in front of the Atyeo Stand, which held the fans behind the goal, and Chelsea were to take first. Katie Sherwood was the first to take a spot kick, and she dispatched it well, despite Spencer going the right way. Rachel Williams took Birmingham's first penalty, and despite hitting it low, it was too close to Telford, and the England stopper saved well. Chelsea sub Drew Spence was next up, but much like Williams' effort, her shot was too close to Spencer and the Birmingham keeper parried the penalty away with a superb save down to her left. It was then the turn of England international Rachel Unitt, who stepped up and confidently dispatched her penalty to Telford's left into the bottom corner to level things up after 2 penalties each.
Another England international was next up to take for Chelsea, Claire Rafferty, who had missed a penalty for England in last year's world cup against France, and again it was heartache for her, as her penalty was struck with a lot of power, but went wide of the post. Striker Jodie Taylor was next up for Birmingham, and she followed up her player of the match winning perfomance with a calm, confident penalty, sending Telford the wrong way to give Birmingham the lead for the very first time in the whole tie. Midfielder Dani Buet walked up to take Chelsea's fourth penalty, and if there were any nerves she did not show them, placing her penalty to her left into the top corner, Spencer going the wrong way. Birmingham's fourth penalty was taken by hometown girl Karen Carney, and there was no way she was going to miss after taking her side into the shoot out with her brilliant free kick, and she duly obliged with her spot kick, arguably the best of the shoot out, stroking the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the net, sending Telford the wrong way and putting her side 3-2 up with one penalty left for each side.
Centre half Gemma Bonner, renowned for her penalty taking abilities, stepped up for Chelsea's fifth, but despite her previous history of successful penalties for club and country, sometimes pressure does horrible things to players, and as with Rafferty, her penalty had plenty of power but not the required accuracy, and her shot went over the bar to hand Birmingham Ladies their first ever FA Womens Cup.
As is quite apparent with the content of this blog, we are Birmingham Ladies fans, but we do try and write in an impartial format, but we will not apologise for making an exception in this instance.
Chelsea played their part in a tremendous final, and it is never nice to lose on penalties, especially as they were so close to winning in normal time and in extra time, and they deserve great credit for their efforts, but if ever there was a side that deserved a trophy for their efforts over a period of time, it is Birmingham City Ladies. They were outstanding all last season, but ended up runners up in both the FAWSL and the Continental Cup, and again this season they have worked so hard and they have been excellent in all areas of the pitch, and were once again in the final. This win was for everyone at the club, players, management, staff, fans, everyone.
It was for the two goalkeepers: Rebecca Spencer, who left Arsenal at the beginning of the season to gain more first team football, and has been a more than welcome addition to the squad, and made important saves in the final, culminating in saving Drew Spence's penalty to get Blues back into the shoot out, and for Marie Hourihan, who was the number one last season and has played her part in this season's promising start to the season too.
It was for Rachel Unitt, who has brought a wealth of experience into the back four and been a fantastic acquisition, who has shown her value to the side in the defensive and attacking departments, and who scored the second penalty in the shoot out.
For Chelsea Weston and Emily Westwood, who have been regulars in the side this season and last, and have been integral members of the side, and for the inspirational captain Laura Bassett, back skippering the Blues for a second time in her career, and who deserved more than anyone to lift the trophy.
It must have meant the world to Birmingham girl Karen Carney, whose contributions to the final in particular are an example of what the England winger means to the club, and in turn what the club means to her. Her free kick and penalty successes were followed by evident shows of emotion, and this displayed how much she wanted this success with her hometown club.
It was for the superb midfield duo of Jade Moore and Jo Potter, who time and time again have shown class in abundence on the ball, and their workrate in the soaring Bristol heat was inspirational to watch, Jade Moore's battle with fellow midfielder Dani Buet was particularly grueling, and Potter was again the source of calmness in possession, always happy to receive the ball and never rushed, dictating the flow of the game and bringing team mates into play, always looking to set the strikers away and dominating the midfield with her England team mate Moore.
For Kerys Harrop, who was brilliant last season whilst playing at left full back, and also this season in a more attacking role in front of Unitt, and she has made that position her own this season, scoring goals as well as her natural defensive qualities to assist Unitt.
It was for strikers Rachel Williams and Jodie Taylor, who worked tirelessly and chased balls all afternoon, often without fruition, but never gave up. Williams was clearly suffering with an injury for a large portion of the second half and all of extra time, but she did not stop running, chasing balls over the top, closing down the Chelsea players in possession, and of course, not for the first time, scoring the goal when Blues desperately needed it, forcing extra time with her stoppage time equaliser, and Taylor was given the Sky TV player of the match award, and no one can argue with that, she had a perfectly good goal ruled out incorrectly for offside in the first half, and on another day she could have had a hat trick, her effort at the end of normal time being cleared off the line, and she continuously ran her socks off for the team, and she also scored one of the penalties in the shoot out.
It was for the subs, and squad members, Eni Aluko who came on in the final and looked very sharp and threatening, which she has since she arrived back this year, and for the subs who didn't get on, Izzy Christiansen, Marie Ballard and Christina Torkildsen, who have all played their part in the progress of the club, and have contributed to it's recent success.
For David Parker, and all the backroom staff and management, and for the fans that have followed the club regularly, and for everyone involved with the club, 26th May 2012 was a day that will never be forgotten, and all the players deserve their winners medals and the accolades that will follow.
The home league fixture vs Chelsea on Thursday is now free admission for supporters to come and show their appreciation to the players that have bought this trophy back to Birmingham, and to see them embark upon another charge towards success this season, and we will be there again, and our pride for the girls that wear the clubs shirt that was so affluent on Saturday will be displayed again.
Birmingham: Spencer, Weston, Bassett (c), Westwood, Unitt, Carney, Moore, Potter, Harrop (Aluko 63), Williams, Taylor
Subs not used: Hourihan, Ballard, Christiansen, Torkildsen
Chelsea: Telford (c), Fay (Perry 70), Bonner, Ingle, Rafferty, Susi, Buet, Coombs (Spence 58), Sherwood, Bleazard, Lander (Longhurst 76)
Subs not used: Quantrill, Hincks
Photographs by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/17181772@N00/with/7278675298/
Check out this for all the latest bclfc photographs.. great photographs!