Football: Lionesses bring pride to Millwall

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The Independent Online
Millwall Lionesses 1 Wembley 0

Millwall's anthem of mournful defiance - "No One Likes Us, We Don't Care" - sounded out at Upton Park yesterday. The sentiments were hardly borne out by the facts, however.

By far the majority of the 3,015 spectators who turned up for the Women's FA Cup final were there in support of Millwall Lionesses, who seemed to be very well liked indeed.

As the victors cavorted in joy - a pride of Lionesses indeed - the gruff voices from the back of the stand were joined by the shriller song of the players themselves. "No One Likes Us..." followed by "Let Them All Come Down The Den". It was Millwall golden classics time, a curiously intimate moment of celebration and acceptance.

Among those in the male voice choir was Steve Anderson, a steward at the New Den, who had travelled back from Bury the previous day after seeing Millwall lose 2-0.

"The women are a damn sight better than the men," he said. "They have been challenging for four cups this season. I could be 300 years old before Millwall would manage that."

The match proved something of a triumph for Wembley, even in defeat. They had reached their first FA Cup final with a result of Chesterfield- like proportion in defeating the Premier League leaders Arsenal 1-0 in the semi-final. And their progress had been achieved despite losing six leading players, first and by no means least the England winger Kelly Smith.

Wembley, whose defence was superbly marshalled by Carol Harwood, lacked a forward threat. Despite the efforts of Tracy Koch, a 32-year-old Royal Mail manager, and Naz Ball, a 35-year-old RAF stewardess who has returned from retirement at the age of 35, they never managed a serious threat to the Millwall and England keeper Pauline Cope.

For all that, they held the favourites until the 51st minute of a closely fought, absorbing game when a corner from Justine Lortin was turned in at the near post by Lou Waller, a 27-year-old worker in the Millwall Community Sports project.

Waller, who along with Cope played in Millwall's previous FA Cup win six years ago, had coached many of her teammates, including 14-year-old full back Katie Chapman.

The Millwall manager, Jim Hicks, maintains the hardest thing in women's football is to keep a team together.

"You can't offer any financial incentives," he said. "You just rely on players having loyalty for the club." The immediate risk of Millwall defections seemed low. "My players enjoyed today," Hicks added, "and I think they will continue to enjoy it for the next 24 hours at least."

Goal: Waller (51) 1-0.

Millwall Lionesses (3-5-2): Cope; Walsh, Phillip, K Chapman (Fletcher, 87); Lindsay, Murphy, Waller, Osborn, Lortin; Buckley, Ede (Bedzrah, 88). Substitutes not used: Knowler, Downham, S Chapman.

Wembley (3-2-3-2): Higgs; Hewitson, Harwood, Frampton; Melia, Burns; Darby, Lee (Jones, 85), Calinan (Fidler, 70); Ball, Koch. Substitutes not used: LIran, Lippiatt, Harrell.

Referee: C Wilkes (Gloucester).

Woman of the match: Harwood. Attendance: 3,015.