After a long break due to the Pandemic, the Panthers couldn't wait to get back out on the pitch, and we're thrilled that our first major date in this season's schedule was the return of the GFSN Summer get-together in Blackpool!
The tournament was split into 5 round robin groups of 8 teams. The points teams accrued in their groups would determine which knockout tournament they would enter at the end of the day. With 40 teams down to compete, we knew we had our work cut out for us after so long not playing competitively!
So it proved in our first match against good friends Brighton BLAGSS Football. Brighton used their strong passing skills to good effect, picking up a 2-0 victory while Panthers found their shape. That early loss proved galvanising, however, in our next game against Village Manchester FC. The goals flowed in a 4-2 victory for the Panthers, with a hat trick for Steven and a goal for Sammy.
That set us on course for a good run of form in our next games, when goals from Borja and Steven dispatched Nottingham Lions. We then went on to take on Soho FC on the slightly larger 6 a side pitch. The strong defensive work from Ross, Pete, JD, Alsop, Tom and Olly came into their own in helping goalkeeper Rob keep another clean sheet. Sammy scored a hat trick in that game, sparking fierce competition with Steven and Borja for the team's golden boot!
Mersey were up next, and their attacking mentality forced some great saves from Rob. A goal from Borja kept the Panthers winning streak alive. We then moved onto Cardiff Dragons FC which was a cagier affair. A strong start from Ross, Olly, Pete and Sammy put us 1-0 ahead, but when we switched the outfield team for the second half, Cardiff pulled one back. JD, Borja, Steven and Alsop kept their cool and scored 2 more to emerge with the win.
After a break for lunch (and a team selfie), we faced our old friends East End Phoenix in our final group game. Things started off well with Steven scoring a blistering strike into the top corner. Phoenix managed to fire back to draw things level. Rob, who had been such a presence in goal for the Panthers, managed to block a powerful strike from Phoenix and immediately dropped down injured. The injury to his hand forced an emergency substitution, with Sammy who had been so influential at the other end of the pitch donning the clubs. She pulled off some incredible saves but an unfortunate rebound off the backboard saw the ball cross the line, giving Phoenix the 2-1 win.
Panthers finished the group stage in 10th in the competition, and prepared to face Charlton Invicta in the 2nd tier knockout competition. The game started off strong, with Panthers taking an early 1-0 lead thanks to a goal from Sammy. Before the game finished, however, the tournament organisers came over to stop the game to explain there had been an error in the fixtures. The match was abandoned and we were thrown straight into a match with Village Manchester. Unfortunately, the dual fixture proved too much. Despite a valliant effort from the Panthers, Manchester managed to score a goal and the Panthers couldn't respond.
We ended the game disappointed not to have been able to capitalise on the strong run of form, but more than anything it was so good to get back out on the football pitch (and onto the dancefloor!) with other GFSN teams. Here's to a 2021-2 season of great football and good times!