Well, a momentous day for the Women's National League to kick off the 2023-24 season. Nick Hayhoe visits the home of Gainsborough to see Norwich scamper away with three points left to cool on Sudbury's window sill.
Bandwagon jumper I am (just give me the ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirt now), I’m not majorly familiar with the women’s squad just yet as I’ve only seen them live once before (at Carrow Road last season) – so forgive my lack of proper assessment. However, this was near enough the team’s strongest XI if everyone is fit. With the new players starting.
This wasn’t a great performance by Norwich by any stretch, and as the game entered a long period of stoppage time, the crowd were scenting blood with Sudbury well on top. It was with a Norwich breakaway that a last ditch clumsy challenge gave us a lifeline with a free kick right in Mario Vrancic territory.
And so it was left to Freymar Jr (Freya Symonds) to whip a free kick into the bottom corner, where you could hear the precise moment the Sudbury fans’ hearts broke in half as it hit the back of the net. Just as that famous Vrancic goal, I had edged towards the exit ready to break away before the crowd and was, as Jimmy Armfield used to say…right behind it. Incredible strike.
I ‘m certainly not going to boo moment Sudbury’s goal. It was a fantastic, historic, goal for a club that is punching way above its weight in all sorts of departments, cross-squad. The sort of club that’s the central nervous system of English football out in market towns and suburbs, from Berwick to Penzance. Proud parents and babes in arms, replica-shirted board members and little girls from the junior team down the road. All together for one thing.
Instead the boo moment occurred long before kickoff, when Spain went and ruined our collective day by playing well. BOOOOO!!
Hero of the match
Sarah Quantrill, fresh out of the box labeled ‘new goalkeeper’, not only made an outstanding double save in the second half, but was extremely comfortable with her feet to the extent she provided another genuine outlet ball from the back. This was no small job considering the odd bounce and roll that a 4G pitch can sometimes provide. A superb performance.
Special mention to the Sudbury number seven (Holly Kennard – I think, Sudbury’s lack of squad numbers made things a bit confusing), who struck the fear of god into the Norwich defensive left on a number of occasions with some lightning pace that threatened to rip the 4G pitch straight off the ground.
This was Sudbury’s first match at FAWNL level and an incredible crowd of more than 200 turned up. While the World Cup result initially caused something of a system shock and threatened to put the dampener on things, good old-fashioned enjoyment took over as things got going. I would say, though, that the fact that Sudbury fans also shout “come on you yellows!” was extremely discombobulating.
Also saw a couple of dogs enjoying the match. Just thought I’d make a note of that.
Our post-match takeaway
There were some glum Sudbury faces as I sloped away to get out of the carpark as quick as possible (like many non-league grounds, it’s a bit of a free-for-all). A steward muttered “talk about daylight robbery” as I walked through the gate, and quite frankly I’m still not entirely sure how Norwich got three points out of that one. Still, as people keep saying when Man City win 1-0 away somewhere thanks to a dodgy penalty decision, winning while not playing well is a good habit to get into. So let’s see where it takes us this season.