Carrying on the theme of the stories that have happened to me while watching women’s football, here are my Cyprus Cup stories.
France used to go regularly to the Cyprus Cup as they were not invited to the Algarve Cup and back in 2009, I went to watch France v England. Prior to the game we arrived at the ground and went to have a look at the stadium and then met one of the England staff who had the England team sheet.
It was quite funny because he acted like a schoolboy, “I am not giving you our team until you give us yours“. Frankly it was a bizarre attitude. At the time the tournament rules stipulated that the teams had to keep the same numbers for the whole tournament and France did so. But England did not and had changed all the players’ numbers from the previous game.
Hence an almighty scramble among the French coaches, who had pre-planned the England line-up and set pieces with wrong numbers, and yours truly indicating the probable England system in 4-4-1-1 with Emily Westwood as the number 10 behind Kelly Smith. I actually predicted as well that Westwood would start in the number 10 position, move to number 8 and end up at number 6 in front of the defense and it did happen. That’s how predictable some of Hope Powell’s choices were at the time.
The year after as I returned to the tournament and followed the team, I was invited to come on the France team bus and off we went to training. The training ground has six or more pitches and many teams train at the same time, as there are up to 12 teams playing in the tournament. In the middle of the pitches, there is a small kind of hut that contains a toilet.
So I went in there once training has started, did the job and… could not unlock the door. As the hut is relatively far from the pitches, I shouted to no avail to have someone to release me. I tried to get out of a small window of the side of the toilets but it was way too small. I was worried that the team bus would go without me after training or that they would look out for me and would be annoyed to have wasted some time looking for me.
The hotels were miles away from the training pitches with nothing around for miles, so I would have been in trouble if I had got stuck in there for hours. So with about 10 minutes remaining before the end of the training session, I texted my friend in France, who in turn called the France team’s press officer who came and managed to unlock the door from the outside. The press officer was finding it funny and was laughing when he got me out.
Then in 2011, another unusual moment happened, I went to watch France v New Zealand which France won 5-2 and then stayed behind with the coaching staff as England were playing Canada in the same ground. It was very interesting to see the France manager and his assistants plus the video analyst all taking notes on the Canada team, as they would meet them later that year at the World Cup in Germany. I remember Diana Matheson the midfield dynamo being very impressive on that day.
So after the England v Canada game, we were stranded as the team bus had gone with the France players earlier, and we were wondering how to get back to the hotel, when the organisers kindly put us in the referees mini-bus. You can imagine the scene, a 12 seater minibus, four referees, the whole France coaching staff and me. Now I was not expecting something like this at all especially as it was one of the well-known world-class referees on the bus with us. The bus dropped them first to their hotel and then we got back to ours. Another strange but interesting encounter.
And for the final story, I will debunk the myth about players exchanging shirts. Well they do not do it on the pitch like the men, they do it after the game in the changing room or in the corridor outside the changing room.
Back in 2014, I was doing press this time for a French website and we were in the area between the dressing room and entrance as France had just beaten England 2-0 in the Cyprus Cup final. My colleague and myself were waiting for Mark Sampson and Phillipe Bergeroo to do the usual mixed zone reaction, when the players came out and went to the team buses.
I clearly remember saying hello to ex-Arsenal player Gemma Davison and seeing how happy she was to be back with England after years of being ignored by Hope Powell. Then something funny happened, some French players wanted to exchange shirts and English players wanted to do the same. But the French girls around there did not speak any English and the English players did not speak any French either. It was kind of funny seeing them struggle to understand each other with some wanted some different shirt numbers.
So I stepped in and started to translate the bits that needed to be translated, like one of the England goalies wanted a goalie shirt, but the French goalies were still inside the dressing room, so she asked if she could get there and swap shirts. The French players said yes so I told her it was ok to go there and off she went.
Obviously most players from both teams knew who I was, so trusted me to translate properly and not tell porkies. It is nice to be trusted by people you have loyally followed for years and years.
These days, France and England play in the SheBelieves Cup in the USA, so there is no way the players would be so accessible as they were in Cyprus, which is a shame but it is quite obvious that security must be taken seriously.
I had many years covering the Cyprus Cup and it is definitely one of the most friendly tournaments organised in women’s football.