Amid the furore over comedian Reginald D Hunter’s controversial set, the ground-breaking aspect of this year’s Professional Footballers’ Association dinner was ignored.
After 39 years of honouring the best male footballers the players’ union, for the first time, recognised a female as well. The inaugural Women’s Player of the Year was Kim Little, of Scotland and Arsenal.
The attacking midfielder was a good choice. Capped by Scotland at 16, she moved south to join Arsenal a year later and has since been involved in five title-winning teams, eight cup successes and a trio of Champions League semi-finals. Not bad for a 23-year-old.
Little hopes to acquire more silverware on Friday when she plays for Arsenal Ladies against Lincoln Ladies in the Continental Cup final. It is the last domestic match of the season and a chance to remind the new champions Liverpool that Arsenal, deposed after a decade of success, are not going away.
“It was disappointing for us not to retain the title,” says Little, who combines playing for Arsenal with coaching and working in their community programme.
“We want to win everything, but it is good for the women’s game that the league is more competitive and others can win the title. Credit to Liverpool. They have strengthened a lot, been the most consistent and deserved to win it.”
Since losing 4-0 to Liverpool at the Emirates in May, Arsenal have gone 17 matches unbeaten – winning 14 – and start firm favourites against a Lincoln side who won two league games all season.
“Yes, but we have played Lincoln three times this season and not won once,” Little points out. Lincoln have England players between the sticks (Karen Bardsley) and at centre-back (national captain Casey Stoney and Sophie Bradley) and conceded just twice in those three games, all of which were drawn. “Their game plan has worked very well and we have struggled to break them down,” Little adds.
For Lincoln this will be the last game they play under their present guise. After 18 years in the area the Lady Imps are moving to Nottingham where they will become Notts County Ladies. The move, made in agreement with the FA as part of the franchise’s application for next season’s revamped WSL, has inevitably caused dissent in their hometown with moves to create a phoenix club.
It follows a mediocre season during which early optimism swiftly evaporated but, said captain Megan Harris, tonight is a chance to leave on a high. “It’s our first and last ever cup final as Lincoln so we want to go out on a high. It’s what dreams are made of. I’m a Lincoln girl. I’ve played for Lincoln ever since we started in 1995 and I’ve gone through the ranks. It’s a perfect way to end the Lincoln story.”
Arsenal also face a trip to Kazakhstan for Wednesday’s Women’s Champions League first-leg tie. The competition is down to the last 32 and, having finished third in WSL, Arsenal must win it to qualify for next season.
That is followed, for Little, by a pair of World Cup qualifiers. Scotland hope to build on a good start in which they won 7-2 and 7-0. The latter success, over Bosnia, was marred by an extraordinary article in a leading Scottish paper suggesting Motherwell’s Fir Park should be burnt down to “cleanse” it after the women had played there. The author later said the piece, which included the “joke” that “a couple of women footballers… were two of the nicest blokes I’ve met”, and suggested it was time to “chuck” the sport in, was tongue-in-cheek.
Little, who began football with her brother and father, countered: “It is one man’s opinion and he has since apologised for some of the comments. Women’s football is getting better and we want to focus on that, not the negatives.”
It was a reminder that, though Little’s PFA award underlined that the game is more accepting, some attitudes have a long way to go.
Continental Cup final (Friday Oct 4, The Hive, Barnet, kick-off 7.30, fanzone from 5.30). Tickets £5 (concessions £2.50).