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Hey guys 🤠

Welcome back to another episode of 31/7. The sun's out, it's getting warm, and the end of the season is delivering sumptuously unpredictable drama, headloss and, most importantly, plenty of things to write and read about.

I had a few ideas ready to bang in the oven this Thursday. Whatever has happened to Vivianne Miedema? Look! Manchester City are hacking body language. Those twins that play for Everton? That's a bit of fun.

Sorry if any of those things sound cool because, as of Wednesday night, I've had to throw my list in the bin. I was quite looking forward to writing about something other than Emma Hayes today, but Emma Hayes keeps coming up like word vomit.

If you're not as fascinated as me, don't worry, as this newsletter also contains:
  • a butt-hurt Chelsea fan insulting the face of Aitana Bonmatí
  • a 35-year-old man posting '#inbreds' on Facebook
  • a slight on the bogstandardness of Gareth Taylor
  • a glimpse into the future
I hope you enjoy reading it and that, if you do, you may consider providing as magnificent an assist as Ceri Holland's by sharing my newsletter with a friend. If you are reading me for the first time, I encourage you to do more of that by clicking on the dolphin of discovery >🐬

Flora xx

My Strange Addiction

“I think the title is done,” Hayes said on Wednesday night after Chelsea’s 4-3 defeat to Liverpool put the fate of the Women’s Super League trophy firmly in Manchester City’s grasp.

Poems, twee tales from motherhood, rolling over and admitting defeat? This is not the ferocious mentality monster which US Soccer sought to restore a winning culture to their ailing women’s national team! I’d be asking for my money back.
Chelsea FC have absolutely lost it. When the Blues bossed the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Barcelona, I imagined that maybe Hayes had put all her eggs in one basket, happy to throw their performances against Arsenal and Manchester United in the league and FA Cup in the name of claiming the most coveted, missing piece of her trophy cabinet.

But Kadeisha Buchanan’s red card in the second leg looks to have completely finished them off. Frankly, their performance wasn’t hugely convincing before the sending off — but the ref’s rash decision to weaken a team which was already somewhat on the backfoot must only have confirmed Chelsea’s sense that shit was spinning out of their control.

Winners are in charge. Amid all the madness of the back-and-forth scoring between Liverpool and Chelsea on Wednesday night, the Reds exuded a kind of assured confidence that is all but absent from Emma Hayes’ players. It would be too easy to say that this comes with having nothing to play for. In just their second season back in the top flight, Liverpool are proving capable of disrupting the ‘top four’. And why shouldn’t pushing Marc Skinner’s Man Utd even further away from last season’s second-placed finish be as worthy an ambition as claiming a title at a club that you’re about to abandon, anyway?

Liverpool looked feisty and inventive and played to their strengths. They are very good at corners, while Chelsea looked feckless. I only started watching at 1-1 and thought that it was a shame that Millie Bright, returning from injury, had to leave the field early as she would have been a tall, strong figure in the face of Marie Höbinger’s expert deliveries. Imagine my surprise, watching the highlights this morning, and there's Bright, leaping redundantly in the six yard box as Sophie Román Haug nodded home the first equaliser of the night.
Three equalisers. Three! And a three-minute period in which the result changed three times. These sorts of games only come around every so often — the collapse of Leeds United’s automatic promotion bid gave me cause to reminisce about the ridiculous semi-final which ensued from their last one, in 2019 — but in the Women’s Super League, it has virtually no precedent. The forty second half minutes I tuned into last night were crackers, the stuff that makes you glad to be a sports fan. However, in spite of it being a fantastic contest, in spite of the fact that Niamh Charles looked knackered and Erin Cuthbert shed devastating tears, all of the post-match chat was about Emma Hayes.

And here I am, the morning after, thinking about Emma Hayes. I suppose this is somewhat without precedent, too; Hayes is one of women’s football’s first major protagonists — a complicated character, if you will!— and so we’re really dining out while we still can. As it stands, with Hayes departing for the States, next season will consist of the odd whinge from Marc Skinner (if we’re lucky, and Man Utd fans are very unlucky), Jonas Eidevall being nice and, well don't ask me about Gareth Taylor. What can I say about Gareth Taylor? He’s just a normal man, isn’t he?

Grace in Defeat

Oh dear, Chelsea fans really went from the promise of everything to the reality of nothing all in the space of one very sad April — but the good news is, they're taking it well. This was one supporter's very normal response to the Blues' exit from the Champions League.
In case it isn't clear, @bleupolz is referring to Aitana Bonmatí, who is apparently more deviant than her sweet face suggests. Bonmatí was one of 'Las 15' who took strike action against the treatment of the women's team by the Spanish Football Federation but crossed the picket line in order to compete at the World Cup, where her performance earned her the tournament Golden Ball and, later, the Ballon d'Or.

She also scored a brilliant goal in the second leg of Barcelona's semi-final against Chelsea, but that won't matter to @bleupolz. I think the issue at hand (putting aside the hurt of the Blues' exit) is that Bonmatí called Chelsea's game management when leading in the first leg 'dirty', then fell like a sack of potatoes to earn Barça the hammer-blow penalty which put the second leg well out of reach for ten-man Chelsea.

With her crimes now laid bare, I invite you to consider the tweet again. Reasonable? Who cares! It's a work of art. So, here's another first for women's football. It was only so long before the sweet inclusive WoSo community was gripped by the dual scourges of painful defeats and the internet.

Most of all, though, it's comforting to know that, even though Emma Hayes is leaving and taking her batshit behaviour with her, her most loyal followers seem willing to carry on her legacy.

The Great Shithole in the Sky

If you're an old hand at this footie business, you'll greet some of the most insane content of this newsletter with a smile. If you're a bit more new to this, though, you might wonder to what end all this madness converges?

Fortunately, the end of the season sends the already-unhinged even more barmy, and a jilted League Two journeyman has supplied the perfect answer, going to extreme lengths (he claims) to settle a long-held grudge.
Stoke City fans were a bit miffed when, back in 2018, fans of their Stoke-on-Trent rivals Port Vale celebrated the Potters' relegation from the Premier League by commissioning a plane to fly over the city bearing the slogan 'We stood there laughing PVFC', in reference to lyrics from Stoke City's anthem, Tom Jones' Delilah.

When Port Vale's relegation from League One was confirmed a couple of weeks ago, City supporters naturally saw an opportunity to get their own back, sending a plane over Stoke with a banner which read 'She stood there laughing - N40' (N40 is the name of a Potters' hooligan firm).

Pretty standard fare in the football world. The less inventive the better. An eye for an eye.

However, what made this run-of-the-mill end-of-season incident a little less conventional is that the N40 plane was allegedly flown by former Port Vale midfielder Ryan Burge, who fell out with the club in March 2013 when he failed to show up for a team meal ahead of Vale's game against Bristol Rovers and was consequently pulled from the matchday squad.

Worse than his tardiness, though, was his decision to provide his side of the story on Twitter, blaming the club for failing to pick him up from a service station as arranged or respond to his numerous calls and texts.

The club were furious. Burge was furious. They went their separate ways, though Burge's fury didn't prevent him from applying to manage Port Vale when the vacancy came up four years later. He didn't get it.

Fast forward to 2024, and here was the perfect opportunity for him to get his own back, by learning how to fly in order to publicly mock his former club's relegation. After having the last laugh, Burge shared this moving account of his experience on Facebook.

Things I dig this week

Coming Up

  • Sunday — the Women's Super League
    • With Bristol City relegated and Arsenal's place in next year's Champions League confirmed, it's all eyes on the title for the remaining fixtures, because IT'S NOT OVER YET!
    • Chelsea's confidence is ebbing, but they'll surely be able to put a decent dent in their goal difference deficit when they play down-and-out Bristol City, though the Robins do have something to fight for — avoiding a record-low points score.
    • Man City face a sterner challenge in Arsenal, but on the back of 14 successive league wins, can anything stop them now?
  • Sunday — West Riding County First Division
      • My team, Leeds Hyde Park, have fumbled promotion, but that doesn't mean we can't have a jolly good lark on the final day of the season. I scored one of my favourite goals from this season against Hepworth United so I will welcome them to our home pitch with open arms. Hopefully! Thanks to some top fingers-out-of-arses action by Leeds City Council, the pitch looked like a carpet at training on Tuesday exceptforthatonepatchatthefarendwhichwedon'ttalkabout so I'm hopeful that we can finish the campaign in style on the 'home' pitch I've not set foot on since November. UTFP.
    • May 17 — Unprecedented FIFA transparency
      • FIFA will finally announce the hosts of the 2027 Women's World Cup, decided for the first time by an OPEN VOTE, in Bangkok later this month.
      • The US and Mexico have withdrawn their joint bid to hold the tournament, leaving the FIFA congress to choose between Brazil or Germany, Belgium and Holland.

    More at The Square Ball

    Sarah Danby on the ball for Leeds United Women in front of the big stand at Garforth

    The Keys To The Pitch

    by Flora Snelson

    Who is at home? In women's football, writes Flora Snelson, home advantage often comes second to just having anywhere to play at all.
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