Having beaten Everton in the quarter-final, it was West Ham who now stood in the way of Manchester City’s bid to complete a domestic cup double. Honours were even in the clubs’ WSL meetings this season, with both sides winning their away fixture 2-0, so the Hammers fans at Dagenham & Redbridge’s stadium would be justified in dreaming of a trip to Wembley.
Match day cook and West Ham fan Jane, posing above with her boss outside the kitchen on a tin of cooking oil, said: “I love working at the women’s games. It can be challenging at times but it’s really good. They [the fans] are a lot different to the Dagenham & Redbridge games, but it’s fun, it’s all fun, all banter, we do have a laugh. Ooh, it’s going to be a tough one, I hope the Hammers win. I reckon it will be about 3-1.”
John Chapman, who runs the programme and memorabilia shop at Dagenham & Redbridge as a volunteer, said: “We see what we can do to assist the club financially and provide a service to supporters. We choose to open here prior to the game and have donations here from lots of fans including items for the West Ham women and men’s games. We have shirts and photographs, loads and loads of programmes and other West Ham memorabilia. Shirts are always popular there’s no doubt about that! England and West Ham shirts. We have a variety of others – Spanish, Brazilian and even non-league clubs are popular because they’re unusual and they’re rare.”
Jo Bailey, who is co-chair of Pride of Irons, the official LGBTQIA+ sports group for West Ham United, Pride in Football Women’s officer and part of West Ham’s Women’s supporter’s board said: “We are here for every home game and as many away games as we can. It’s the new ground here. It feels like the very first season even though we’ve been here for two seasons as the fans are just starting to come back. It’s getting a really good feel. It’s hugely exciting to have them all back. The club are working so hard with Dagenham & Redbridge as it’s not our club here, but it is starting to feel like our own ground. Next season the main entrance will be full of West Ham signage and branding. As a women’s club we’ve got to evolve – if we’d have stayed at Rush Green then we wouldn’t have evolved.”
Asked if women’s games create a better environment for LGBTQIA+ groups, she replied: “It is inclusive, but I always say you can’t be complacent. I don’t want to get too deep on this, but the more people you get in, the more likely you are to get people from the men’s game and you could risk examples of micro-misogyny and homophobia coming in, but that’s the only negative. As it is now, it is a safe space for everyone and West Ham work so hard with especially pride of Irons and Inclusive Hammers to ensure it’s a safe space for everyone.”
The home side started brightly in front of their biggest crowd of the season with Manchester City keeper Ellie Roebuck (below) being called into action to thwart the Hammers on a number of occasions.
However, it was the visitors who struck first in the 22nd minute when a thunderous drive from Keira Walsh thumped against the underside of the crossbar and Ellen White reacted first to stoop and head in the opening goal.
City stepped up a gear and a quarter of an hour later doubled their lead when Chloe Kelly (below), making her first start since May 2021 following an ACL injury, pounced on a loose pass from West Ham’s Gilly Flaherty and slotted the ball home.
The home side got back into the game just before half-time courtesy of a Lisa Evans goal. A great piece of play from Adriana Leon allowed Evans behind the City back line. Coming in from the right, Evans got to the ball ahead of City keeper Roebuck and kept her composure to slot the ball into an unguarded net.
West Ham fan Kelly, pictured above with Molly and Vicky, said: “We ended the first half strong, really strong. It dipped in the middle, but I don’t think the atmosphere was quite right – it got very quiet in the stadium. I think we were a bit nervous after the two City goals went in. The way the crowd picked up as the players were going into the tunnel – they’ll come out strong again hopefully and get going in the second half.”
Despite the setback at the end of the first half, Gareth Taylor’s side were on top again after the restart and Ellen White thought she’d restored City’s two goal lead when heading in Keira Walsh’s floated cross but was denied by an offside flag.
Not long after the hour mark Lauren Hemp put City in full control again with her 50th club goal when the winger slalomed her way through the Hammers defence before firing neatly across goal and into the bottom corner.
During stoppage time Hemp combined with substitute Georgia Stanway before finding the net in clinical fashion for a second time. City deserved it for their second-half display, whereas West Ham just ran out of steam.
The 4-1 win meant City have now reached the FA Cup final four times in the last six seasons and having won every final they have been in, Gareth Taylor’s side will be confident of continuing their 100% record. After being beaten 3-1 by City in March’s League Cup final, Emma Hayes’ Chelsea will be looking for revenge, as well as a domestic double after winning the WSL title last weekend. Sunday’s final should be humdinger.
Click here to see the picture essays from previous rounds.