This evening, the most recent incarnation of the Gas Girls play their first game at the Memorial Stadium when they take on their Forest Green Rovers counterparts.
For many supporters staying on to watch the Gas Girls in action, it might well be the first time they have seen women’s football played at the Mem. However, the original Gas Girls/Bristol Academy played no fewer than four FA Cup semi finals here and I thought that today might be a good time to take a look at those games.
In March 2001 the Gas Girls, or Bristol Rovers WFC to give them their correct title, took on Arsenal Ladies FC and were beaten 3-0.
This is what their manager, Dave Bell, had to say of that game; ‘Our great cup run finally ended but what a great day it was for the girls, who were not disgraced by the result.
‘For 65 minutes we defended superbly, though we rode our luck a little bit at times, though I am a great believer in making your own luck and the girls deserved their luck for all the hard work they put in, not only on the day but in the previous rounds as well, as well as the few days leading up to the semi final when we went away and practiced our defensive shape.
I was disappointed that, on the day, with our passing and so were the girls because we gave away the ball too easily at times, perhaps because of nerves.
‘I hope the experience of playing in the semis will make us a stronger team on and off the field, and the good habits we learned from a super Arsenal team will be taken into our league games.’
The programme for the game, which also covered the other semi final between Fulham Ladies and Southampton Saints WFC, tells us that; ‘Bristol Rovers Women’s Club has been formed as a Senior Women’s Club for three years.’
Unfortunately, I don’t know how the team lined up that day, though I can tell you that Michelle Peart, Stacey Smith and Stef Curtis all played, and the photo reproduced here shows Steph getting past her marker.
Two years later Fulham were the visitors to the Mem in semi final number two, and they ran out comfortable 7-2 winners in front of a crowd of 2,500.
Tony Ricketts was manager of the Gas Girls at this time and he had this to say afterwards; ‘We always knew it was going to be difficult, but the way we were dismantled in every department was a shock to our system.
‘We failed to produce the goods required on the day when it mattered, on Women’s Club Football’s biggest stage. Stage fright, nerves, physical strength, technical ability – call it what you want -everyone connected with the Gas Girls knew our performance was not to our usual standards.
‘Take nothing away from Fulham. On the day they were awesome, but some of the goals conceded amounted to what were schoolgirl errors, lacking concentration, which disappointed the coaching staff immensely.
‘Praise, according to the Girls, is something I am not good at, but I would like to congratulate Amy Anderson and Helen Done for their performances. Amy scored our first goal, while Helen never gave England’s most creative player, Rachel Yankey, a kick.’
This is how Rovers lined up for this match.
Sue Young, Kathy Morgan, Vanessa Leat, Louise Hutton, Michelle Peart, Marcia dean, Helen Done, Stef Curtis, Trudi Williams, Kelly Cripps, Stacey Smith.
Substitutes: Sam Pockett, Amy Anderson, Jo Parish, Claire O’Sullivan, Rebecca Rossiter
The team photo here was taken prior to kick off.
There was local interest in the Fulham side in the shape of Rachel McArthur. The Kingswood born former Bristol City Ladies player was the granddaughter of former Rovers player and physio Wally McArthur.
Twelve months on and Arsenal were again the semi final opponents in BS7 and they ran out 2-0 winners thanks to goals by Julie Fleeting and Faye White who scored in the 75th and 76th minutes respectively.
Tony Ricketts was again in charge of the side, but it was coach Gary Green who spoke afterwards: ‘The girls are all really disappointed, and there were a few tears in the dressing room after the match. They gave it their all and worked hard, but in the end Arsenal’s superior fitness told.
‘If you concede goals in the last 15 minutes it’s often down to tiredness and a loss of concentration , but fair play to Arsenal, they’re not a bad side and they came here and won in front of what was a very vocal home crowd.
‘At half time we thought we might have had a chance and had Stef’s (Curtis) first half chance gone in instead of just drifting wide of the upright, it might have made the later stages of the game very interesting.’
A crowd of 1,382 saw this team in action for Rovers: Toni-Anne Wayne, Vanessa Leat, Marcia Dean (Angela Green), Louise Hutton, Emma Jones, Claire O’Sullivan (Kate Widing), Michelle Green, Ayshea Martin, Trudi Williams, Stef Curtis, Helen Done (Nicola Rose).
The last semi final played at the Mem involving the Gas Girls was also against Arsenal and saw the Gunners again run out 2-0 winners on 18th March 2007.
Current BBC presenter Alex Scott, who had been included in the Arsenal squad in 2004, was again named in the programme for this tie three years later.
The Gunners’ first goal arrived on 27 minutes, courtesy of Katie Chapman, while Jayne Ludlow added the second nine minutes later.
Gary Green, by now manager of the Gas Girls, or Bristol Academy as they had become, said this after the game; ‘We had the better of the early exchanges and started well. They couldn’t get out of their half for quite some time, but for all our pressing, we didn’t really manage to threaten them in the final third.
‘We had a few shots, but they were all from 20 or 25 yards out and their goalkeeper didn’t have an awful lot to do, if I’m honest.
‘We were never completely out of it, but we gave away two soft goals in the first half and that was enough for Arsenal to win the game.
‘If we had defended better then it might have been a different story, especially if we had managed to grab a goal before half time. But credit to Arsenal, they were solid and once they got into the rhythm of their game, they made life very difficult for us.
‘They deserved their win, but we can be pleased with a lot of the things we did on the day and the players, especially the younger ones, can be proud of the way they applied themselves.’
The photo reproduced here shows Arsenal’s Kelly Smith taking on Kerrie Manley.
The girls lined up as follows; Siobhan Chamberlain, Marie O’Brien, Emma Jones, Kerrie Manley, Corinne Yorston, Shelley Cox, Stef Curtis (Hollie Loud), Michelle Green (Alex Windell), Justine Lorton, Grace McCatty, Kerry Bartlett (Nicky Watts).
Substitutes: Danni Ackerman, Claire Scanlan
The Mem has also hosted to women’s internationals; A crowd of 3,497 saw England beat Switzerland 1-0 in a UEFA Women’s Championship Qualifier on 13th May 2000 and on 19th August 2004 England were beaten 2-1 by Russia in front of a crowd of 1,439.
This evening, though, it’s all about the current Gas Girls side at the conclusion of a successful season that has seen them clinch the South West Women’s Regional League (Northern Division) title while the Development Squad are also title winners, having won the Gloucestershire County Women’s League (Division Two).