The Women’s Super League: it’s come a long way, but improvements must be made

By Dan Miller. The expansion of the WSL has already reaped numerous rewards. The days of Arsenal Ladies thrashing all that came before them belong to a bygone era. Other women’s teams are benefiting from increased investment and exposure. 

Liverpool Ladies, Bristol Academy and Notts County Ladies are all examples of teams that have been transformed during the WSL era into well-structured football clubs, full of both domestic and foreign talent, pushing for top spot in the table. Manchester City Women were the most talked about team during pre-season, making it very clear that they had the financial backing necessary to make marquee signings.

The new Womens team walks out on the pitch

In anticipation of their first WSL season, Manchester City began a complete renovation of the playing squad, signing a number of England internationals and promising players

The success and progress of the WSL is reflected by the influx of international stars, this year and last. Arsenal’s acquisition of two Japanese World Cup winners Shinobu Ohno and Yukari Kinga caught the headlines in February this year; whilst they may not have had the immediate impact that ex-Arsenal boss Shelley Kerr would have hoped for, they have shown glimpses of their proven skill and experience. Other recent international arrivals include New Zealand international Betsy Hassett who signed for Manchester City, and Canadian international Desiree Scott who joined Notts County.

The second tier of the WSL has also had its share of success stories since its recent inception. In an interview with Arsenal.com, the then Arsenal manager Shelley Kerr noted that all teams were capable of beating one another, such was the competitiveness of the WSL. Those words returned to haunt her as her team was beaten this month by WSL 2 side Reading.

As far as recent success is concerned, Arsenal have not enjoyed even a glimmer in the league. With only one point after four games, they currently sit bottom of the WSL 1 table. To compound their disjointed start to the season, Shelly Kerr confirmed her intention to resign as the Gunners boss following their upcoming FA Cup final against Everton after growing increasingly frustrated by the restrictions set in place by the club’s hierarchy.

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In spite of all their recent success, Arsenal currently find themselves bottom of WSL

Whilst many have heaped deserved praise on the progress of the women’s football to date, it is important not to get carried away; there are key issues to be addressed. Attendance to this month’s Arsenal v Man City game – a clash between two of the leading names in the WSL – was a mere 829 people. Compare this to the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in America, a younger organisation than its English counterpart, albeit with a more established base, and attendance for a recent Seattle Reign game against Western New York Flash was 4,018. A telling contrast is exposed.

Attracting larger crowds is a prerequisite for the success and sustainability of any sporting league, and WSL organisers will realise that attendance numbers need to be boosted for the sake of the longevity and respectability of the English women’s game.

As the women’s game grows in England, observers and players have voiced concerns over what the influx of foreign players means for young English players coming through the ranks. There have of course been breakthroughs for a small handful of youngsters in the WSL this season, most notably for England U19s Natasha Flint and Leah Williamson of Manchester City and Arsenal respectively. However, gone are the days when large numbers of young English players were able to benefit from a lack of foreign players, and therefore regular first team experience in their teenage years. This was a tradition that saw the likes of Rachel Yankey and Eni Aluko become the stars of women’s football today.

England Women v Japan Women - Women's International Match

England Women have won six games in a row in their World Cup 2015 qualifying campaign

The mood amongst young players in WSL clubs is one of scepticism, especially in teams such as Chelsea who made numerous off-season signings, meaning the process of progression into the first team is that much slower. Beneficiaries of this trend are WSL 2 clubs, such as Reading and London Bees, who have benefited immensely from signing young English players who became disillusioned with a lack of first team football, something five or ten years ago, (already a different era in women’s football) they may have had. Perhaps a required number of English players registered in the squad rather than a cap on foreign players would be suitable, as the quality and diversity that players such as Katrin Omarsdottir (Liverpool) and Yuki Ogimi (Chelsea) have already brought to the WSL is maintained.

The WSL has helped propel women’s football in England to new heights, however, lessons are to be learned from not only the successes of the NWSL, but also the failures of previous women’s leagues in America, which started brightly, yet failed to be self- sufficient, due to dwindling attendance and organisational foresight.

What changes would you make to WSL? Or do you think it is great as it is? Will Arsenal bounce back this weekend in the FA Cup final?

Follow @FCwomensfooty

3 Comments on The Women’s Super League: it’s come a long way, but improvements must be made

  1. phil Elliott // May 30, 2014 at 12:28 pm // Reply

    Until and unless the WSL introduces promotion/relegation from lower leagues it will lack credibility amongst the majority of womens supporters and clubs. An exclusive club will inevitably implode.

  2. WSL need to break the cycle of current extremely limited press coverage meaning new audiences are not reached. I am not sure how this is done but it is frustrating. We see Zero column inches on a regular basis, as though there is a new boycott.
    Example – No mention of Women’ FA Cup in key newspapers today versus 10 pages + on England V Peru Friendly
    Example – on telling friends and colleagues that I had tickets to see England women v Ukraine at Shrewsbury many responded that they did not know they were playing!
    More proactive coverage in all media’s will attract more viewers and some will turn in to ticket purchasers. Also I am sure there could be more done to get local schools involved, and this does not always mean getting girls to play but deals on local matches and more family focused marketing by WSL, Clubs and FA
    Seeing the profile of today’s top players (feminine sporty types) makes it a much more appealing sport for girls than in years gone by and more would get involved with just a little more exposure

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