Standing in my usual spot on the terraces, I’m watching the league champions score another great goal as they look to retain their title. No, not a throwback to 1972 but 2019. Borehamwood. Arsenal women.
I’m torn over Meadow Park. Watching Arsenal players, full internationals amongst them, enter the pitch from what appears to be a shed, acknowledging the applause of a motley few thousand supporters, seems unbefitting to players who have performed on the world stage and to massive crowds. Yet there’s a certain magic of this throwback ground, more familiar with the likes of Solihull Moors than Spurs, more Maidenhead United than Manchester United.
What’s the attraction of ‘The Wood’? You can buy a more than half decent coffee and burger from the cabins in the corner. There was even someone walking round selling ice cream and water during a match on hot Sunday afternoon. Best of all, you’re right beside the pitch whether you choose to sit or stand (your choice) offering a close up view of what it takes to be a professional footballer. And believe me, these Arsenal players are professional in the best interpretation of the word – skilful, quick, nimble, alert, well-coached – and if you enjoy flowing, attacking football yet assured defending – a joy to watch.
There’s something else unique about playing here. At the end of the match – having played for 90 minutes, team members head to one end and pose for selfies and sign autographs. It feels like supporters are welcome, we’re all part of the same Arsenal family.
The pitch itself could be the Emirates, even down to the nozzles poking through the lush and green turf to water the surface at half time. And the stands have been remodelled so there’s covering on three sides..
Yet while this is an above average, high quality Vanarama National League stadium, it’s not the home of The Arsenal.
When AISA raised with the club that it’s difficult to support a team who play ‘away’ and that supporters don’t have the same connection with the women players as the men they see at the club’s ‘real’ home, Ivan Gazidis promised we’d see women’s football at the Emirates. Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs have since set some Women’s Super League fixtures for their main stadia. Yet, as Joe Montemurro, Arsenal women’s manager, cautions, you can’t expect crowds of tens of thousands every week, and playing in a soulless, sparsely filled Emirates would help no-one. The club policy seems to be to build up support and see what happens. Mind, packing out Meadow Park is not easy when ‘home’ fixtures for the men and women are scheduled (by rival TV companies) to be played at more or less the same time, making it one or the other.
So until something changes, for the foreseeable it looks like Borehamwood is where the women will be kicking off their home matches. But on reflection, it isn’t all bad. In fact it’s very good. Better than that. Great. I said I’m torn! Try it and see.
Richard Smith, AISA committee