Arsenal Ladies take on Bristol Academy in the FA Women’s Cup final on Sunday afternoon, aiming to lift the trophy for the 12th time.
Having largely dominated the competition since winning it for the first time in 1993, the Ladies had to endure a disappointment when they were beaten by Chelsea in last season’s semi-final.
It was a defeat which hurt the team but one that has motivated Shelley Kerr’s side this year.
Having advanced past Nottingham Forest in the last 16, the Ladies produced a clinical performance against Birmingham City in the quarter-finals, winning 6-0 with Gemma Davison and Ellen White both excelling.
A tough semi-final against much-improved Liverpool at Anfield followed. White was again on target before Natasha Dowie equalised on the stroke of half-time. But it was Arsenal who prevailed, Kim Little slotting home the winner to book the Ladies’ place in the final at the Keepmoat Stadium this weekend.
When you knew that you were going to get a big crowd and that the game would be shown live, it made the game extra specialFaye White
Recently-retired captain Faye White is used to cup success, having won the competition on nine occasions between 1998 and 2011.
Speaking to Arsenal.com, White talked about the final’s increased media coverage, how it feels to lift the trophy and why Bristol will be tough opponents.
Faye, you won the FA Cup nine times while at Arsenal. How did you find the typical lead-up to the big day?
You’ve always got it in the back of your mind from as soon as you win the semi-final really. You know it’s coming and you try to focus on your other games but once the last game before the cup final is out of the way, your mind returns to it in the week leading up. As captain, I’d have to do quite a few interviews. There was always a lot more interest around the FA Cup than any other game and during the week, you’d start to feel nervous with excitement. There was a lot of anticipation leading up to the game. In the week before the game, you’d focus on the team you were playing before travelling up to a hotel the night before.
It was the showpiece event of the domestic women’s game wasn’t it? There wasn’t as much media coverage around the game a decade or so ago but it was regularly shown on TV.
It was always the game that you knew was going to be live. My first two finals weren’t like that actually. I remember my first one in 1998, we beat Croydon 3-2 but that one wasn’t shown. The BBC covered it for a while after that and once you became aware that the game was to be televised, it just added another degree of excitement knowing that more people would be watching. The girls are used to live cameras more now. It’s still exciting though. The FA Cup is special. The atmosphere at the games was always great.
How did you manage to get the cup final out of your mind in the games leading up to it?
You just have to think about other games and stay focused on that. You have it in the back of your mind though. You just hope that you don’t pick up a knock before and that you’ll be fit for the game. It’s important to train well in the week before the match. The first few times the game was televised, there was a real feeling of needing to show the game in a good light. You hope that you can perform well as a team to make it a good spectacle for people to watch.
What were your feelings like on the day of the game? Were you more nervous or excited?
I’d always go to bed the night before thinking about it and would always try to get a good night’s sleep. We’d tend to wake up and have breakfast as a team, then have a meeting and go for a walk, just to get away from the hotel for a bit before getting on the team coach.
You were on the winning side in nine cup finals. Which ones stick in your mind?
The first one was great. It was great to get a winner’s medal and lift the trophy for the first time. But in finals after that, the attendance grew a lot bigger and we had almost 25,000 watch us at the City Ground one year. When you knew that you were going to get a big crowd and that the game would be shown live, it made the game extra special. I remember beating Fulham in 2001 too. They were professional at the time and we beat them 1-0 to seal the treble. It was the only time in a cup final where I experienced being the underdog. Usually we’d be used to being the favourites because the other teams didn’t have as much experience of playing in big games, like when we beat Bristol in 2011. As a team, we learnt to deal with the pressure and nerves that came with big games, which I think was a big advantage. Having that experience of winning the trophy definitely helps.
Having played in and won so many finals, there must have been some great celebrations. What was the funniest thing that you remember happening?
It’s not really a celebration but I remember one year a streaker ran on the pitch! It was at Nottingham and it was a woman. With the game being on the telly, they probably wanted a bit of coverage. She came over to me to shake my hand and I was like ‘oh no!’ - a steward quickly came and took her away. We all laughed about it afterwards and couldn’t believe that it had happened in a women’s game. In a strange way, I think that incident showed how the game was developing. We had a big crowd and the game had quite a lot of media coverage around it. Someone obviously wanted their five minutes of fame.
Did you enjoy lifting the trophy even more when you were captain?
I think 2004 was the first time I lifted the cup as captain. Julie Fleeting scored a hat-trick and it was chucking it down all game. The pitch got cut up and we all looked like drowned rats. As soon as the final whistle went and we went to lift the trophy, the sun came out. It’s special to lift the trophy anyway but to be captain made it an extra good moment. I’m really fortunate to have been able to do it on a few occasions.
Let’s look ahead to Sunday. You get the sense that it’s going to be really difficult for Arsenal because of Bristol’s continued improvement.
The girls beat Birmingham 6-0 in the quarters too so they’ve really laid a marker down from the startFaye White
Bristol have had a cracking start to the season. They’ve taken nine points from three league games and have beaten Everton 4-3 and 3-2 already, as well as Chelsea. They won’t fear us on Sunday. I think two years ago, they were really seen as the underdog and went into the game more with the mindset of enjoying the day and seeing what happened. But I think they will believe they can beat us now. The girls will have to step up and prove their ability to make sure that doesn’t happen.
A lot of the Ladies have spoken about their disappointment at being knocked out at the semi-final stage next year. Do you think that setback will act as motivation on Sunday?
I think it already helped in the semi-finals against Liverpool. The girls beat Birmingham 6-0 in the quarters too so they’ve really laid a marker down from the start. It hurt losing against Chelsea last year. We were disappointed with our performance. The younger girls and even players like Steph Houghton, who has only won it once I think, will be wanting to get their hands on the trophy again. They will be desperate to win it.Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source