Friday 19th May
Norfolk Women’s County Cup Final
sponsored by Harrod Sport
Ending a busy week watching women’s football with another County Cup Final this time from Norfolk a trip to Carrow Road home of Norwich City FC to watch Mulbarton Belles Ladies v Norwich City Women play for the Women’s Cup sponsored by Harrod Sport.
Set to be a record crowd for this evening’s event, Mulbarton Belles Ladies reaching their 3rd consecutive county cup final, Norwich City Women dominating the competition in it’s early years looking to win the cup for the 7th time.
Mulbarton Belles Ladies formed just 3 season’s ago had played just 7 competitive games to reach their first county cup final back in 2021 that at the FDC against Norwich the County Cup returning after the upheaval caused by the Covid pandemic. Norwich with an early goal leading 3-0 at the break going on to win 7-0. The pair meeting again in last years competition drawn together at The Nest in the quarter finals, Mulbarton causing an upset knocking Norwich out on penalties after 2-2 draw. Going on to face an all conquering Wymondham Town Ladies in the final back at Carrow Road losing 2-0. Into the final once again Mulbarton face a different Norwich side this time around.
Mulbarton Belles Ladies have had another successful season a busy end to the campaign, in fact much to their chagrin have a league game on Sunday away to Caister FC Ladies despite playing on Friday evening. That said they’ve got the job done in successfully defending their Division One title won for the 2nd year in a row and have made it a league and cup double by winning the League Plate last Sunday, with a 6-0 over their new Development team. The club continuing to grow with ambitions to test themselves at a higher level, fully embraced by Mulbarton Wanderers FC with the bulk of the old Thorpe United Ladies first team following manager Martin Francis to the club. Captain Rebekah Lake their talisman in attack o often amongst the goals has 25 for the season with both Sophie Jermy and Francesca Catchpole on 15.
Norwich City Women now under the wing of Norwich City FC with the club taking on the day to day running of the club, ex-WSL player Flo Allen coming in as General Manager, the women’s side enjoying better support, coverage and sponsorship as they look to win promotion from the 4th tier where they had languished towards the wrong end of the table. Have had a marvellous season pushing the leaders for a while eventually clinching a 4th placed finish. A dream come true for the squad as Norwich City Women finally got their opportunity to play at Carrow Road in front of a record breaking crowd of over 7,000 winning against Ashford Town (Middlesex) Women. Defender, Ceri Flye has arguably been one of the best signings in the league too, coming in form Cambridge City Ladies ha been a consist performer at the back for Norwich. Also bringing in midfield duo Rebecca Russell and Katie Knights from Wymondham’s treble winning side, Knights becoming a fans favourite. Natasha Snelling top scorer with 14 goals this campaign. Will be manager Shaun Howes last game in charge of the women’s team as he steps down from the role at the end of the season.
Road to the Final
Norwich City Women amongst the seeded teams in the County Cup along with Wroxham Women and King’s Lynn. Cup holders Wymondham should have been there too but very sadly after their historic season were to fold. Mulbarton beginning their county cup campaign away to fellow Division One side Caister FC Ladies, hitting the ground running Mulbarton went on to rack up a double figure win with both Rebekah Lake and Ellie Hunter netting a hat-trick. Eloise Peek scoring twice with goas from Molly Ryan, Lucy Lincoln and Francesca Catchpole in an 11-1 win.
Progress to then for Mulbarton all the way to the quarter finals, a bye in the 2nd Round and an A-W awarded in the 3rd Round. Were at home to another Division One side in the quarter finals taking on Thetford Town Ladies, Rebekah Lake once again amongst the goals with a brace, Emma Farmer and Francesca Catchpole also on target in a 4-0 win. Norwich drawn at home to King’s Lynn Town Ladies in the quarter finals struggling in the ERWFL Premier Division, Norwich took a 1-0 lead into the break courtesy of Ellie Smith. Katie Knights doubling the lead on the hour before Norwich rattled in 3 more goals at the end with Ella Gambell making it 3-0. Megan Todd with a late late brace 5-0 the final score.
Two tier 7 sides into the county cup semi-finals, Mulbarton at home taking on ERWFL Premier Division side Wroxham Women. Had to dig in at times Wroxham unable to find a goal however with Molly Ryan striking to put Mulbarton into the lead proved to be the difference at Mulbarton held out to reach their 3rd successive final. Norwich at home to then Division One leaders Dussindale & Hellesdon Rovers FC Women, again proved to be stubborn opposition with Ellie Smith’s 10 minute goal the difference right up till the final 20 minutes, Freya Symonds making it 2-0 before another strong finish seeing 3 more goals rattled in with both Smith and Symonds netting again along with Olivia Cook 5-0 the winning margin as Norwich won through to a final at Carrow Road for the first time.
Carrow Road the venue once again for the Women’s County Cup Final the Geoffrey Watling Stand housing the supports overlooking the dugouts. The pitch a carpet as you’d expect offering plenty of width. The two sides out early to have a wander on the pitch, take it all in Mulbarton once again in the home dressing room. Up in the press box once again getting a great view of the action not in my usual spot with a pigeon (who are notoriously poor nest builders) situated on one of the security cameras above. Another warm and sunny day the weather set fair for the final with the crowd building nicely.
Mulbarton Belles Ladies starting XI – Jo Hooper, Melissa Belsey, Olivia Smith, Lucy Lincoln, Megan Belsey, Alice Smith, Laura Hedtke, Ellie Hunter, Sophie Jermy, Molly Ryan & Rebekah Lake (C). Subs – Olivia Mungham-Grey, Aneliese Smith, Francesca Catchpole, Alice Ladbrooke & Emma Farmer.
Norwich City Women starting XI – Bryony Williams, Alice Parker, Anna Larkins (C), Ceri Flye, Mary Croft, Rebecca Russell, Katie Knights, Ellie Smith, Megan Todd, Kathryn Stanley & Natasha Snelling. Subs – Millie Daviss, Freya Symonds, Ella Gambell, Olivia Cook & Eloise Morgan.
(roll on roll off substitutes)
Norfolk FA doing a great job to put on a showpiece event for their county Cup finals, the two sides walking out with their mascots lining up before the crowd, posing for squad pictures before joining together in front of the Norfolk and Waveney Mind charity banner, during Mental Health Awareness week.
Jo Hooper in goal for Mulbarton with first choice keeper Cara Anderson struggling with a foot injury unable to play. Hooper goalkeeper for Mulbarton’s double winning 7’s side. Mulbarton with a bust schedule playing 5 times in the past fortnight, whereas Norwich a 19 day break since their season ended. A minutes applause before kick-off in appreciation to all those who have passed in the Norfolk footballing community. Mulbarton to get the 2023 final underway wearing blue and black vertical striped shirts with blue shorts and socks. Norwich lined up in their traditional yellow and green. The ball played long out to the right with Molly Ryan the target, Norwich full back Alice Parker can see the ball out safely for a throw.
Norwich get on the attack the ball fed into Ellie Smith moving left spins inside to lift wide to Megan Todd getting on down the right, held up by Mulbarton’s Olivia Smith lays the ball back to captain Anna Larkins getting forwards from right back to swing a deep cross into the are, the ball caught cleanly by Jo Hooper in the Mulbarton goal. Parker on the left inside for Rebecca Russell, prodded on for Ellie Smith, driving for the box tackled by Mulbarton centre back, Megan Belsey. Parker down after the attack a cause for concern, but after treatment is up back on her feet.
Alice Smith clipping a long ball forwards aiming for captain Rebekah Lake in attack, Ceri Flye winning the ball for Norwich at the back headed on for Russell in midfielder opens up her body to thread the ball on into the area, Hooper with the call coming out behind her defence to claim the ball. Parker getting forwards on the left well for Norwich pushing Mulbarton back her cross cut out by Megan Belsey in the box, back out to Parker, Ryan closing her down the ball gone for a throw.
Parker pushing on down the left, Melissa Belsey coming to close her down tackling to win the back for Mulbarton, cleared don’t keep in for long with Ellie Smith snapping ack to regain possession for Norwich. Megan Todd taking over on the right bringing the ball inside, Oliva Smith and Lucy Lincoln blocking the shooting opportunity, knocked back to Russell to put low into the box, right side as Ellie Smith looks to steal in behind, a little too much on the ball runs out of play.
Megan Belsey helping her twin sister Melissa out as Parker bursts on form the left looking to force her way into the box. Laura Hedtke bringing down Ellie Smith as she drives on central the free-kick given to the left of the circle, flighted into the near post area, Hooper getting up well to catch the ball. Ryan trying to get forwards on the right when she can to support Lake in attack, Alice Smith sending a diagonal pass out into the wing, Mary Croft another ex-Wymondham player joining Norwich this season across from centre back to clear for a throw. The throw back to Melissa Belsey plays a high ball in from the right towards the top of the box won by Flye falls to Ellie Smith turns looking to spring a counter attack, runs into Alice Smith.
Norwich pushing on Mulbarton camped in their box as Todd right side lays it back to Russell her low strike in through bodies cross the keeper, batted down by Hooper loose for a moment the defence rush to scramble it clear. Mulbarton penned back, Norwich coming on at will at time the full backs able to overload the flanks. Russell coming across to the left overlapping Parker to whip a dangerous ball into the area, Sophie Jermy up well against Natasha Snelling to win the ball.
Pressing down the right Norwich win a corner, put in near side defended knocked behind for a 2nd corner, in higher this time near side met by Kathryn Stanley urns her header wide of the post. A frantic opening 15 minutes Norwich setting their stall out early pushing players on looking to score a high ball into the box from the right sees Stanley send her header over at the far post. Russell putting the ball on for Ellie Smith left channel has Stanley inside the area, the ball onto her feet moves inside, Melissa Belsey with the blocking tackle the ball cleared out to the left a strike rattled in from distance wide past the left post.
Norwich break on the left Parker racing forwards with the ball, Ellie Smith tracking out into the wing taking the ball on down the line, using the outside of her boot to wrong foot her marker sending a cross in dangerously across goal, Hooper with an instinctive arm gloving the ball behind the onrushing Snelling then getting down to smother the loose ball. The pace of the game in relentless Norwich going for it Mulbarton with few opportunities to get forwards under the cosh, Ryan up with Lake on the right exchange passes with Ryan heading for the by-line, Croft pressing the cross sent behind.
The ball cleared by the Norwich defence falls to Hedtke lining up a strike from distance, Ellie Smith rushing in to charge the ball for Norwich. Stanley and Ellie Smith combining for Norwich in the final third the ball out to Snelling corner of the area her shot on the angle to the near post claimed by Hooper. A free-kick for Mulbarton on half way the ball towards Ryan right of the area looks to head it down across the D into Lake, Croft getting to the ball to clear for Norwich. Russell intercepting the ball for Norwich putting it through for Ellie Smith into the left channel, Megan Belsey in to block top of the area.
Larkins putting the cross in form deep on the right sees the ball deflected across the six yard box, Melissa Belsey under pressure from Ellie Smith clearing the ball. Stanley left 25 yards out sending a shoot away fired wide past the far post. Norwich quickly back onto the ball Knights out to Parker bombing on down the left her cross lifted in across the face of goal Todd rising to head the ball looks a certain goal the crowd up but dismayed as it crashes against the bar. Melissa Belsey deflecting the ball behind for a Norwich corner as Parker and Snelling come to the by-line trying to work the ball into the box.
Players forwards from the back as the corner is fired into the six yard box Flye attacking it, Hooper with the faintest of touches knocking it down into the floor, players scrambling to get to the ball Todd puts it wide taking a knick off a defender for a corner on the right. Flye with her head in her hands with a great chance to open her Norwich account.
The 2nd corner put high into the area headed out dropping to Stanley her shrike is charged down by Hedtke. The ball put straight back into the area sees Flye bursting in clear in front of goal one on one with the keeper, Hooper down making a blocking save the ball running on behind her as Flye hurdles the keeper looking to get to the ball, so close but can’t wrap her boot around it as it trickles narrowly wide of the post.
Alice Smith brings down Stanley conceding a free-kick in an inviting position central 30 yards out. Russell over the ball curls her effort past the wall in on goal but lacks the height or pace to trouble the keeper as Hooper comes across her goal to take it on the bounce. Lake coming deep to win the ball gets on the move through the middle, Ellie Smith quick to close her down tackle and set off another Norwich counter the ball finding Todd running on down the right her cross whipped into the area through everybody.
At times Norwich have everyone bar the keeper inside the Mulbarton half, Flye joining the action bringing the ball on, Mulbarton with everyone bar lake back to defend their area scrapping to hold on. Hunter lunging in to deny Parker as she turns infield. Melissa Belsey out to tackle Parker before she is tripped by Ryan giving away the free-kick wide of the area 25 out, Parker over it herself striking the ball over.
Remains goalless after half and hour despite Norwich’s onslaught, overloading the wide area Larkins on for Todd her cross in towards Ellie Smith outside six yard box, Megan Belsey winning the challenge. Ellie Smith getting across the pitch popping up on the left and right over with Todd on the right the pair exchanging passes up the line before Todd tees up Russell central 20 yards out smashes her shot over.
Knights bringing the ball in central for Norwich picks out Todd inside the left channel going one way turns back to send a cross into the far post dropping, Snelling racing in meeting it on the volley sends the attempt over. Norwich all over Mulbarton, Lincoln in to block Todd as she comes inside form the right. A high ball put into the box from 25 yards out dropping to Ellie Smith right of goal, Megan Belsey blocking her shot the deflect the ball away for a corner. The corner goes long retrieved by Croft on the left down to Snelling on the by-line fires the cross into the six yard box Todd powering a header down towards goal at the far post, Hooper with a magnificent save diving to her left to push the ball wide.
A rare attack for Mulbarton as Jermy breaks from a corner putting the ball on for Alice Smith the midfielder looking to send Lake through to attack, Bryony Williams largely a spectator for the first half racing out to the top of her area to clear the ball. Melissa Belsey doing well inside her six yard box defending on Snelling as the ball comes into her from deep. Hooper catching a deflected shot from Todd as she pulls the trigger following a run across the area.
Flye at the back defending a cross from Melissa Belsey from the right, Norwich springing a counter attack, Knights to Todd right her cross flashed in across the face of goal out to the left gathered by Stanley on the left up the line to Parker plays the ball in towards Ellie Smith 10 yards out, down to meet the ball attempts to place a cushioned header inside the near post a good attempt but wide.
Norwich with a corner on the right as the 1st half moves into stoppage time, in close to Hooper knocked out to the left Croft back to Knights her cross in cleared by Hedtke. Parker left flashing a cross into the box towards Snelling, Melissa Belsey in to block. The half ending with Hooper claiming another curling shot from outside the box. Mulbarton with their backs to the wall going in level with Norwich at the break.
Half-time Mulbarton Belles Ladies 0-0 Norwich City Women
Quite how is another matter Norwich have been relentless going forwards creating chance after chance, the Mulbarton defence with an epic first half performance along with Hooper in goal. Norwich able to pour players forwards have been camped in the Mulbarton half and will be in the changing room wondering how they’re not in front. Penned back however Mulbarton have been able to offer nothing in attack Lake an isolated figure up top a big ask to keep it up 2nd half.
Norwich making a double change at half-time bringing on Freya Symonds and Ella Gambell to replace Todd and Stanley on the flanks. Norwich to get the 2nd half underway the ball lifted out to the right for Symonds, Olivia Smith defending for Mulbarton out for a throw, Norwich push up the throw into Ellie Smith back to Symonds tries to get in back into Smith heading for the by-line Mulbarton turn it behind for a corner.
GOAL! Larkins to send the corner into the mix across the Mulbarton goal Flye getting her foot up to turn the ball through the defence into the back of the net finally open her Norwich account 1-0 mobbed by her joyous teammates before running over to the bench to celebrate.
The break through coming at the start of the 2nd half Norwich getting the goal they had been hunting for the Mulbarton resistance finally broken. Mulbarton respond by getting straight on the attack Jermy putting the ball out to Ryan on the right turns inside top of the area to strike the shot runs wide past the far post. Mulbarton press up a throw won high on the right, Croft defending seeing the ball out for a corner kick. Taken short up the line the shot curled in to the far post cleared by Knights.
Getting their goal Norwich have settled back into a regular shape no longer pouring players on Symonds on the right finding Ellie Smith down in the corner shifting the ball inside bursts into the area tracking across the goal, from distance appears to be pulled down the crowd certainly think so however little signs of an appeal form Norwich as referee signals play on. Ellie Smith cutting into the box winning a corner for Norwich on the right the initial ball defended by Lincoln comes back to the corner taker for a 2nd attempt at the cross long past the far post Gambell headers over.
An injury concern for Mulbarton, Melissa Belsey down inside the box, needing treatment looks uncomfortable as she rises to her feet. Ellie Smith surging on to the by-line right, Lincoln getting hold of the ball to clear for Mulbarton. The Norwich crowd giving the Mulbarton subs some grief as they warm up. Belsey can’t continue needs to come off, Mulbarton bringing on Emma Farmer at left back. Megan Belsey clearing on the line as Ellie Smith stealing onto the ball inside the box drives to the by-line wide right to shoot. Norwich making a change bringing Eloise Morgan.
Straight into the action defending on the Jermy in the corner left as Mulbarton win a throw the ball off Jermy for a goal kick. With Norwich sitting back after scoring Mulbarton can get players on to support the attacks Alice Smith on for Lake outside the box to the right knocks it down into Jermy central, coming inside turns down the opportunity to strike the ball instead attempting to dink it into Lake’s path as she moves towards goal herself the ball snatched up by Williams. An injury concern for Norwich now with Croft down inside the box. Smith lifting the ball into Gambell breaking on down the left her cross whipped into the box claimed well by Hooper. Croft can’t play on, taken off Norwich send on club captain, Millie Daviss only recently returned to the squad after a long injury lay off.
Gambell nipping into the box after the ball after a mis cue from Farmer, luckily Lincoln able to get to it first to clear. Knights finding room in the middle plays the ball into Symonds 20 out right of the area fires her shot wide across goal. Ellie Smith continues to pop up all over the place darting to the left looking for Gambell, played on, Farmer getting back at her well for Mulbarton. Olivia Smith on the opposite side tackling Symonds as Larkins lifts the ball on. Snelling onto the ball for Norwich left inside the area puts the cross in low to the far post Symonds onto it looks to be in the clear shooting on the angle drags the effort wide across the face of goal.
GOAL! 70 minutes on the clock Norwich pounce for their 2nd goal Ellie Smith top of the area playing a one two with Symonds inside the area right of goal on the angle sends the ball racing across goal out to the far side on a plate for Knights running in unchallenged to smash the ball home from close range wheeling away in joy runs over to manager Shaun Howes to celebrate 0-2
Doubling the lead Norwich looking comfortable as Flye sends the ball into Symonds on the right her cross squared into the box cut out by Megan Belsey. Hunter bringing the ball on for Mulbarton on for Alice Smith looks up to pass as Lake spins away into the left channel, Flye seeing the pass all the way intercepting bringing the ball down off her chest. Megan Belsey getting her head on the ball to win it against Snelling inside the six yard box as Symonds delivers the cross from the right. Norwich taking Snelling off bringing on Olivia Cook.
Knights with the ball out to Symonds wide right her cross in taken well by Hooper rising to claim with two runners bearing down on her. Gambell moving with the ball left to right winning Norwich a corner. Flye again attacking it inside the box, defended knocked outside, Morgan running onto the shot hitting it from all of 35 yards drilled wide of the right post. Norwich press through the right channel Ellie Smith tacking the ball on tackled by Olivia Smith outside the box.
Lake seeing the ball across her turns to drive into the left channel threatening to get away from Flye the defender sticks out a foot to take the ball away from her out for a throw. Olivia Smith in to tackle Symonds on the right the ball cleared Morgan soon winning it back for Norwich into the final 15 minutes players tiring alot of effort put in. Olivia Smith being kept on her toes by Symonds winning the ball cleared into the middle helped on to Ryan on the right, Flye across to tackle halting the attack.
A double change for both sides Stanley and Russell back on for Norwich replacing Ellie Smith and Knights. Mulbarton bringing of Hedtke and Hunter sending on Francesca Catchpole and Alice Ladbrooke with the game heading into the final 5 minutes of regular play. Gambell up with Morgan right winning a corner the ball flashing in across goal very nearly deflected into the net for an own goal, Hopper getting a hand to the ball to save turn wide for another corner. Put in from the left cleared out central picked up by Parker taking the ball right turns to shoot on the angle fired over the bar.
Mulbarton with another double change bringing on Olivia Mungham-Grey and Aneliese Smith replacing Ryan and Olivia Smith. Catchpole joining Lake in the attack looking to get on with the ball, Flye on half way coming to close her down. The ball into Lake right outside the box sends it inside to Catchpole tracking in central moving inside looking to shoot, Daviss throws herself in to block the ball. Jermy blocking up the other end inside the box as Gambell looks to get onto the end of Symonds cross from the right. Parker coming off for Norwich, Todd back on as 8 minutes of additional time are signalled.
Daviss putting the ball into Gambell in the left channel driving forwards can’t force her way through on goal. The game stretched Mulbarton giving it a go late on Flye out to force Lake wide clear the ball Norwich counter the ball up through the middle Hopper out of her box to clear.
GOAL! Mulbarton losing possession from a free-kick the ball sent out to Symonds away on the right wing players breaking forwards to get into the box the cross comes in along the face of goal Cook arriving to turn it into the back of the net to seal the win 0-3.
Cook up with Symonds on the right in attack, Mungham-Grey winning the ball for Mulbarton cleared, Catchpole giving away a cynical foul to earn herself a yellow card. The free-kick right of the circle into the top of the area cleared by Lincoln falls to Russell central her strike from range isn’t too far over the bar. Cook striking across the ball from the top of the area right side, Hooper getting her gloves to the ball, barely manages to claim it.
Full time Mulbarton Belles Ladies 0-3 Norwich City Women
Norwich City Women win their 7th Norfolk Women’s County Cup, a victory for Shaun Howes in his final game in charge in front of a county cup record crowd of 2690 at Carrow Road too. After a relentless first half where they did everything but score, Norwich struck early in the 2nd half from a corner with Ceri Flye netting her 1st goal for the club to put them into the lead. Mulbarton’s stubborn resistance finally broken they continued to work hard in defence to keep the score down, with Norwich settling back a little Mulbarton had a few opportunities to get forwards the 2nd goal coming with 20 minutes left Norwich in control settling the game in stoppage time with a 3rd goal from Olivia Cook.
Women’s Football East – Player of the Match
Onto the Women’s Football East – Player of the Match, can hardly go against the popular opinion on this one but first to mention a few of the stand out performers. Credit to the entire Mulbarton side for a battling defensive display particularly the defence, Lucy Lincoln, Olivia Smith at left back and a phenomenal display from the Belsey twins Megan and Melissa winning the ball, coming to block and dealing with the intensity of the game. Ceri Flye getting that all important first goal for Norwich excellent in defence too. Alice Parker getting on up the left to support the attack. Katie Knights with some great passes scoring too. Megan Todd attacking from the right getting into some good positions. Freya Symonds taking over on the right doing a great job too 2nd half, Ellie Smith was just everywhere causing no end of problems with her movement getting into some fantastic positions. The award tough goes to Mulbarton goalkeeper Jo Hooper. A magnificent performance goalkeeping inside a packed box with players in close giving you little tie to react pulled of some wonderful saves.
Congratulations to Norwich City Women on winning this season’s Norfolk Women’s County Cup will mean so much more to win it at Carrow Road.
The 4th game in 4 nights over 18,000 words written, two county cup finals both featuring a 7th tier side, who did themselves proud. Two contrasting grassroots league games two but enjoyed them all as happy standing at the side of a playing field pitch as I am up in the press box of a Championship stadium. Norfolk FA putting on another great occasion, my thanks for all their help and for allowing me to cover the game. An evening off now before we do it all again on Sunday with another cup final double bill… season’s almost done.
by Darren Gilham