“if my legs give out, i’ll play with my heart” – emma bentley previews leeds ladies vs guiseleyBack
Leeds Ladies take on Guiseley Vixens in the FA Cup this Sunday in a clash that will reignite a short-fused city rivalry that exploded into life at the start of this season.
“The FA Cup isn’t on our list of ambitions this season,” says Leeds Ladies captain Emma Bentley. “But there is no way on this earth that I am going to treat this as an early round game in a cup we don’t aim to win. This is a local derby, an opportunity for us to prove that we’re the best team in Leeds. It’s about personal pride and bragging rights over the city.”
The two teams had already played each other twice in the league before the First Round draw put them together in the cup, and the league games have been two of the most memorable of Leeds Ladies’ historic first season. Guiseley won 6–3 in the first match, but left the ground that night looking shellshocked by the force of Leeds’ second half comeback; that was nothing compared to the performance Leeds put in for the second game, when a full-blooded, 10/10 performance from every single player gave them a 3–1 win.
“The rivalry between us has hotted up quickly and quite fiercely,” says Emma. “I think that’s partly to do with the history between the players, but also the fans have done a good job of bigging up the fixtures.
“Guiseley had some very vocal support on social media before the first game, and some people were looking forward to seeing Guiseley demolish us 10–0. It’s funny because, even though they did beat us 6–3 and quite rightly celebrated the win, nobody was bragging about it too much after the game.
“I think our fans ramped up the rivalry before the return fixture. They had the feeling that Guiseley weren’t anything to be scared of anymore and they were out for revenge. As players, I think we approached the game quite calmly and quietly. Inside we were fired up like anything, but we kept it under control until we stepped on to the pitch.
“The culmination of all that build up was explosive, and while that game probably wasn’t our best footballing performance this season, it sticks out in my mind as a game when every single player stood up and was counted. I still get goosebumps when I remember it!”
The rivalry looked set to end there for the time being, with a win apiece and the memory of Leeds’ dominant win in the second game destined to last – until the FA Cup brought the clubs together a third time.
“I was happy to let things settle with one win each and leave it at that,” says Emma, “Even though I was secretly thinking, ‘but we beat you more convincingly’. But now we’ve been pitted together again it feels a bit like a ‘next goal winner’ contest. You know when someone yells ‘next goal winner’ that things just got serious! We need to step up to the plate now and prove that our win at Bracken Edge wasn’t a one off.
“This season has been all about how far we’ve come in such a short time, and we’ve developed so much as a side even in the two months since the second Guiseley fixture. We have always had fight – that has been evident since the Stockport game at the start of the season – and there hasn’t been a moment when I’ve questioned anybody’s commitment to this team. But we have come a long way as a footballing side now as well. Certainly in our recent games against Tranmere, Morecambe and Mossley Hill we have proven that we are capable of good passing football and movement that tears teams apart.
“I think Guiseley are about to find out what happens when you mix a team like that with a set of players who have the hearts of lions, who will fight for each other until the very last drop.”
Part of what made Leeds’ performances against Guiseley so impressive this season is that Guiseley are a team with no shortage of fight of their own, instilled by manager and former Leeds United Ladies player Julie Grundy.
“I first met Julie Grundy when I was eight years old,” says Emma. “My mum and dad had seen an advert in the paper for a ‘girls football fun session with Leeds United Ladies’.
“I absolutely loved it! Grundy was there, and another player I remember nicknamed Jimmy because she worked at St James’s. We did little possession games and shooting drills, and they made me shoot from further back to give the poor little sod in goal a chance! I won a prize – a blue Puma jumper that was about seven sizes too big for me.
“After the session Grundy and Jimmy invited me to Thorp Arch to train with the U12s team – I signed when I was nine but that was the youngest age group they had.
“As I moved through the age groups Grundy was an established member of the first team, a left back who would kick lumps out of anyone who went near her; she played like a cross between Gary Kelly and David Batty. She was a big part of the team when I was growing up and she had scouted me and thought I was good – how cool did I feel?
“A few of us used to travel on the first team bus to away games; the first team players called me Rugrat and had me running around after them getting their coffees. I absolutely loved that, feeling part of a team with role models like them to look up to. Now I’m in that position, I just hope I’m making the same positive impression on the little ones around our team.”
Sometimes the little ones can come back to bite you, though, as Julie Grundy found out when Bentz scored the critical third goal against Guiseley in the game at Bracken Edge this season; but that wasn’t the first time Emma Bentley had left a mark on Julie Grundy.
“When I moved from U16s to open age we played a pre-season training game against the first team, to see what level we were at. I was so desperate to do well that when this player came running towards me, I just went for it – I absolutely clattered her and she hit the deck with a right thud. It was Julie Grundy… she got up and glared at me… I was terrified! But that’s the kind of team she has now with Guiseley – hard-hitting, tough and determined.”
The determination from both sides to win on Sunday promises to make Leeds v Guiseley the hardest fought match of the FA Cup First Round, and while an increasingly successful league campaign is the priority for Leeds, nobody can pretend their mind will be on the league at kick off.
“Part of me wants to say, ‘let’s be careful, let’s take it easy,’ because realistically the more important game comes next week in the return match against Mossley,” says Emma. “But let’s face it – we’re not going to go out there with our fairy wings on.
“I can talk all I like about not aiming to win the FA Cup, but there will be a small part of me glowing with pride at the thought of playing in that competition. But to be honest, I burst with pride every time I pull the armband on for Leeds Ladies. All that will be in my mind will be winning that game. On Sunday it could be any game, any league, any competition on the planet. Who cares? We will be going out with gritted teeth, fired up to beat our local rivals.
“I will do absolutely anything it takes to win that game. I will fight tooth and nail until my legs give out, and if my legs give out, I’ll play with my heart. That’s what the fans want to see, that’s what the manager wants to see, that’s what we as players want to achieve.
“It’s going to be great day for the fans and will produce what will no doubt be a classic game to watch. And let me tell you something – we’re ready for it.”
Leeds Ladies v Guiseley Vixens kicks off at 1pm on Sunday December 7th. The game has been moved to the Welfare Ground, home of AFC Emley; entry is £1 for adults and kids get in free. Visit LeedsLadiesFC.org.uk, or follow Leeds Ladies FC and the LLFC Supporters Club on Twitter for updates.