In March 2018, Manchester United announced their intentions to reintroduce a Women’s football team. Manchester United Women Football Club were founded on 28 May 2018, following the club’s successful application. It marked the club’s return to women’s football after a thirteen-year absence, based at Leigh Sports Village.
Ever since the announcement, we all have been waiting to see them playing at The Theatre of Dreams, to see Casey Stoney leading out her army at a jam packed Old Trafford, to see the record for crowd at a women’s game get smashed and most importantly to make the players realize what playing for the biggest club in the world meant. Well it didn’t turn out the way we thought it would, but 27th March, 2021 will certainly go down in history as the debut of Manchester United Women’s team at Old Trafford.
United entered into the game having lost to Arsenal in a crucial encounter just a few days ago. This meant that the qualification for the most prestigious competition in Europe, The Champions League was out of our hand. United now not only have to win all their games but also expect Arsenal to drop points to qualify for the European Competition for the first time in the club’s small history. It was important to stay focused and not get overwhelmed by the occasion of playing at Old Trafford which Casey Stoney bullishly pointed out before the match.
“We haven’t got any crowds, so, at the moment, we can’t sell out. So if I’m offered the opportunity to play here, I’m going to take it. I thought it [playing at Old Trafford] would lift the players, if I’m honest. I think it’s a good occasion. It also means that we’ve played here now, so it’s kind of, ‘Tick!’, and people can just leave us alone. If I’m honest, I’ve got sick of the questions. I’m like, ‘Let’s get it out the way, and we can move forward because it’s a grass pitch, two goals and 11 v 11’.”
Stoney made one change and brought in the new signing Maria Thorisdottir into the starting 11.
United were dominant against the WSL’s bottom club West Ham but could not make it count early on. Their 75% possession in the first half yielded just one shot on target, a 13th-minute strike from Lauren James from the edge of the penalty area. The hammers, in contrast, had two shots on target. The scoreline remained 0-0. However, United were a different team all together in the second half. They had no problems dealing with West Ham’s press and players looked to be playing for each other. United were rewarded and scored their 1st goal at Old Trafford.
From a corner on 49 minutes, Millie Turner met the ball and it looped up to Maria Thorisdottir, who flicked it forward into the path of the wonderkid Lauren James. The Reds attacker got the slightest of touches on the ball and just knocked it into the back of the net and, in doing so, became the first United Women’s player to score at Old Trafford.
On 55 minutes, United doubled the lead. Jackie Groenen, who was arguably the player of the match weaved through West Ham’s defense before slipping the ball into Christen Press who smashed into the Hammers goal to make it 2-0. United had many chances too make it 3-0 but were denied by goalkeeping heroics.
In the end, it turned out to be a pretty good day for Manchester United. A lot of wonderful future memories for the players, staff and the fans and a crucial win in the quest for Champions League football next season. Casey Stoney appeared to be in a good mood after the game and praised Lauren James.
“The out of possession stuff here is nonnegotiable [because of] the way I want to play, the way I want to press, the way I want to go and get the ball back. She [James] knows if she wants to play she’s got to do that, that’s a choice for her now and she’s making that choice more often than not. She’s physically in a good place which enables her to do that. She showed real desire today to want to work for the team. I’m glad people are picking up on the work rate because we all know that talent she’s got.”
So, Manchester United Women’s Team’s first game at Old Trafford was a success. It not only gave the team a morale boost for the remaining games but also answered a lot of questions. More importantly, it was confirmation by one of the biggest clubs in the world that the women’s game matters.