Sunday 4th April 2021 – 12pm KO – FA Women’s Championship – Prenton Park, Tranmere Rovers FC
It is a privilege to be able to attend games when others can’t and I never take that for granted. Which is just as well as when I arrived at Prenton Park, “home” of Liverpool Women FC at 11:45am on Easter Sunday, after a 4 1/2 hour drive north, I quickly had to swap my comfy seat for a place on a windy TV gantry, trying to film the game with an iPad taped to a tripod.
Let’s just remind ourselves of the situation. Lewes FC are playing Liverpool FC. That statement in itself takes some believing but here we are, not in Liverpool but across the Mersey on The Wirral. Liverpool FC don’t play their women’s games at Anfield – not sure why but then let’s remember that Man Utd and Spurs have only just allowed their Women’s teams to play at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane Stadium for the first time very recently. But there’s no complaints about Prenton Park, home of Tranmere Rovers. Superb stadium, fantastic pitch and very friendly staff.
But they aren’t playing, Liverpool are. And whilst virtually every other team in the Women’s Championship will stream their games for fans who cannot attend due to the Covid-19 restrictions, Liverpool can’t because the media team are covering another game. But, if we want to stream the game, we can and so we bring the equipment with us.
So when we find out that we cannot access any reliable WiFi signal, we would have hoped there was someone from Liverpool FC on hand to help – after all, we offered to stream the game for both sets of fans. Alas, it doesn’t appear so. The Rooks team have 30 minutes to fashion a solution. Of course, we could just put our hands up and admit defeat but that would have meant disappointing everyone who wanted to watch the game. So in true NASA mission control style, a solution was fashioned.
We went live seconds before kick off. An iPad, borrowed from one of the Lewes players, tethered to one of the coach’s mobile phone 4G signal and held in place by an accessory picked up from a garage down the road that is used to lock steering wheels and duct tape. Plenty of duct tape.
There’s no replays, no zooming in on the action. To move the “camera”, I have to lift the tripod slightly so the tape bonding doesn’t snap. I cannot see the middle part of the screen as the tripod is in the way, whilst to get a shot of the action on the touchline below I have to tip the tripod onto one leg.
Commentator Ben Jacobs brings me in to talk about the build up to Liverpool’s opening goal, scored in the 7th minute after the referee seems to be the only person (including his assistant) to see the last touch come off a Lewes player and gives a corner. I forget to move the camera whilst I am talking to him from the end Lewes are defending whilst they are attacking at the other end.
Lewes come back into the game and just before half-time appear to have a clear cut penalty when a corner isn’t cleared and after three legitimate blocks, the fourth appears to hit a Liverpool hand. If only we had a closer view or a replay? Blame the cameraman.
Half-time and we have a chance to try to correct the iPad camera angle so viewers don’t have to tilt their head by 45 degrees. More duct tape is applied and we see that there is only 30% battery left. We tell each other it will be “OK” and start to think about contingencies (a mobile tethered to another mobile that I hand pan to follow the action).
Liverpool take a smart free-kick and when the ball comes over, it is headed home. Ben looks at me unsure who the scorer was. “I think it was Roberts”, he says. “I think it was Hodson” I say. The Stadium announcer tells us it was Moore.
Lewes never look out of the game and had they taken a few more opportunities to test Foster in the Liverpool goal may have got themselves back into the game. But Liverpool managed the game well, wound down the clock and probably on the balance of play, deserved the three points.
I could now have my packet of Salt ‘n’ Vinegar Discs (surely the most salty and vinegary of crisps ever produced) without a fear of 275 stream watchers hearing me munch on those. I was also desperate for the gents, which involved a trek across the stadium and not possible during the game.
But we did it. I hadn’t set off at 6.30am in the knowledge of watching the game through 2/3rds of a iPad screen but I didn’t mind. I was one of the lucky ones that got to be “there” and hopefully we were able to bring some entertainment to a few hundred other fans who would have almost certainly all done exactly as I had if they would have been asked.
Huge kudos to Hannah, Maggie and Ben for everything they did to get the camera, network and the stream working. We may not have got any points, but we proved that where there is a will, there is a way.
Another job ticked off my list of Football To Do’s.