Arsenal have been the dominant club of the Women’s FA Cup. The Gunners have won the trophy on 14 occasions since its inception in 1971; only Southampton with eight wins, and Doncaster Belles with six, come anywhere close. They’ve won eight of the last 11 finals, including the one last year in which Danielle Carter saw off Chelsea.
They won’t be adding to that total this year, though. In the quarter finals, the holders came up against Birmingham City. Blues defender Marisa Ewers whistled one into the top corner, Ann-Katrin Berger made a string of stunning saves, and the holders were out. Birmingham went on to beat 2015 winners Chelsea in the semis on penalty kicks – Berger again the hero of the hour – and now they have a chance to win the FA Cup for the second time in their history.
Birmingham’s first triumph, in 2012 against Chelsea at the Keepmoat in Doncaster, was one for the ages. Helen Lander will forever wonder how she didn’t win the match for Chelsea. She forced a full-length save out of Rebecca Spencer with a rasper heading for the bottom right; clattered the right-hand post with another pearler; then nutmegged Laura Bassett on the turn before ripping a shot into the top right. What a goal! What a performance! But it wasn’t enough.
Jade Moore nearly equalised late on for Birmingham with an adroit backflick, but her effort was cleared off the line by Claire Rafferty. Chelsea crept towards victory, and were seconds away when Rachel Williams guided a deft volley through a crowded area and into the bottom right. Extra time, in which Chelsea’s Kate Longhurst bombed down the inside-right to thrash a glorious diagonal shot into the bottom left, and City’s Karen Carney whipped a free kick past a dithering Carly Telford. Birmingham won the resulting penalty shoot-out, and with it their first-ever trophy.
If we get a final as good as that today, we’ll be doing pretty well. Birmingham’s 2017 vintage will be full of confidence after knocking out Arsenal and Chelsea, and will name a team boasting England striker Ellen White and defender Jess Carter, the players’ young player of the year. They can also call on two survivors of the 2012 cup-winning side in captain Kerys Harrop and Emily Westwood.
Only problem is, Manchester City won’t be short of belief either. They’re the reigning English champions, beat Birmingham in last season’s League Cup final, and their side will star England captain Steph Houghton, the brilliant full-back Lucy Bronze, and two-time World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd, who has already won big at Wembley, having beaten Japan to Olympic gold with the USA in 2012. They’re looking to become the first team to hold all three of English football’s major trophies at the same time. No biggie, then, Birmingham.
Still, anything can happen in a final. Manchester City may be favourites, but they’ve yet to win the FA Cup, a state of affairs which will bring a little pressure to bear, while the last two league meetings between these sides have ended in draws. Throw in the fact that neither club has ever played at the national stadium before, and good luck confidently picking a winner. It’s the showpiece occasion of the English season! It’s the FA Cup final! It’s on!
Kick off: 5.15pm.