At just 24 years of age, Bristol Academy forward Jess Fishlock is already able to boast a hugely impressive CV. Over 40 Wales caps have seen a return of 15 goals, and she has twice won Dutch league title medals while playing for AZ Alkmaar.
This Saturday, she will take part in possibly the most prestigious game of her short but glittering career when her Bristol side take on Arsenal in the Women’s FA Cup Final.
Arsenal – the recent dominant force in the English women’s game – go into the match as favourites to claim their eleventh title, but Academy, playing in their first final, have proved to be more than a match for the Gunners in the two WSL fixtures between the clubs.
After a late goal saw Bristol narrowly beaten at Arsenal earlier in the season, last week’s reverse fixture saw a 2-2 draw, played in front of a crowd of over 1100 at Academy’s Stoke Gifford Stadium.
Fishlock says that the bumper attendance is indicative of the excitement around the club ahead of the final, which will be staged at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena.
“Our semi-final (against Liverpool) came very early in the season,” she said. “Since then a lot of excitement has built and is still building. It’s increased our morale and team spirit and it’s great to be a part of it.”
The Cardiff-born attacker played for her home town club before joining Bristol in 2007, where her performances attracted the attention of AZ Alkmaar. After three seasons in the Netherlands, she returned home earlier this year as one of Academy’s recruits ahead of the formation of the WSL.
Despite being yet to register a league goal this campaign, she has four F.A Cup goals to her name, including one in the Vixens 3-0 semi-final victory over Liverpool, a performance from which Fishlock says her side can take huge belief.
“We started really fast and sharp against Liverpool,” she added. “We knew it was a big game, the biggest in the club’s history, but I don’t think anyone felt much pressure.”
“We just had belief in each other and ourselves and we knew that if we played the way we had been training, we would be okay.”
That confidence and big game experience is likely to stand Academy in good stead, for both the final – which is to be televised live on Sky Sports – and for next season, when they will play in the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.
Due to the irregular start time of the WSL, both of England’s European places were awarded to the FA Cup finalists, and, as one of the few Bristol players with Champions League experience, Fishlock admits it is a huge step for Mark Sampson’s side.
“Getting into the Champions League is huge for any club, but fo Bristol it’s monumental,” she explained. “We have come a long way in a very short space of time. Hopefully, our success in getting into the cup final and the Champions League will attract players.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play in the Champions League for a few years and I know how good the experience is – not much beats it.”
The prospect of a team from Bristol playing Champions League football is, as Fishlock says ‘monumental’, but for now, her focus is on adding an FA Cup winners medal to her already well-stocked trophy cabinet.Tags: arsenal, Bristol Academy, FA Cup, Jess Fishlock, Women's Football