Opinion: United Women kept the red flag flying high

Monday 15 May 2023 16:20

It was difficult to leave Wembley Stadium and not feel anything but immense pride after attending Manchester United Women’s first-ever FA Cup final on Sunday afternoon.

While the Reds were ultimately beaten by a Chelsea side that has very much become serial winners under Emma Hayes, it was a day that was about much more than the result.

From a United perspective, it was always going to be that way, win or lose. A first appearance in the showpiece event at the national stadium was an indicator of our women’s team’s progress since reforming in 2018, and, at the same time, it created an outing for our supporters to remember as we move into the concluding weeks of an enrapturing campaign.

Those of us who were lucky enough to be at Wembley also played their part in history, as the crowd of 77,390 broke the attendance records for both the Women's FA Cup final and for domestic matches in women's football anywhere in the world.

It was a day our supporters can look back on with great pride, even if the result didn't go our way.
Fittingly, later this month we’ll mark the five-year anniversary of United Women’s reformation, and while Sunday’s game showed just how far we’ve come in that time, you never got the sense that Marc Skinner and his side were satisified with just being involved in the final.

The boss reiterated to reporters in his pre-match press conference last week that the Reds were there to win, and that objective was evident throughout the afternoon under the arch.

The United players never looked overwhelmed or out of place, despite it being the team's maiden Wembley appearance, and that’s certainly a testament to the culture and the mentality that has been developed within the squad, day in, day out.

It can be of little coincidence that a first major final for this team has come as we challenge for the Women's Super League title, while being on the verge of securing a Champions League place. The upward trajectory is clear to see.

And I can’t help but think that United will naturally become even stronger following yesterday’s experience. While there are lessons to learn, the hurt can become fuel for future success, as Skinner explained post-match.

It was notable the way that the Reds watched Chelsea go up the Wembley steps to collect the FA Cup. For me, that showed us everything we need to know about how hungry this team is to win silverware.

Taking in that sight will have ignited that extra bit of fire inside everyone involved, as our quest to lift a trophy adorned in red ribbons rolls on to the next target.

Highlights: Chelsea v United Women Video

Highlights: Chelsea v United Women

Watch the best action from United Women's first-ever FA Cup final, against Chelsea at Wembley...

Rachel Williams told club media at full-time that there was a “one per cent” difference in the contest at Wembley, and I wonder if that extra determination garnered from the sinking feeling of watching our opponents celebrate could be the marginal gain we need, as attentions turn back to the WSL title race.

With the destiny of that silverware being very much in Chelsea’s hands, we’ll of course need a favour or two from elsewhere, but it’s vitally important that we give ourselves every chance of pouncing on a slip-up from the Blues by winning our last two matches.

A home derby with Manchester City and an away trip to Liverpool on the final day are fixtures that no extra motivation is needed for. Like the red flags on the Wembley terraces yesterday, our heads should be held high as we proudly go into those games.

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.