Rich Laverty looks at why change is needed within divisions following the news the FA Women’s National League will be declared null and void for second season in a row.
The news that for a second season in a row the FA Women’s National League will be declared null and void was met with an outpouring of frustration and sadness by those who have once again lost a year of their careers.
It’s not difficult to sympathise with the endless amount of players, managers, coaches and volunteers who not only make up Tiers 3-6 of the women’s football pyramid, but make it tick.
As a writer, it’s my job to look at things without that emotion, and I can imagine it wasn’t an easy decision for the FA to take to cancel a second successive season.
While the FA perhaps should have prepared better for this eventuality second time around, it was not their decision which means the teams below the FA Women’s Championship cannot legally even resume training until the end of March, leaving only April and May before the regular scheduled season should have ended.
In what is a 22-game season in most of those divisions, some sides have only played three, yes, three. Tier 3 has had slightly more success, with some teams playing as many as eight games, but still leaving them 14 to go.
In Tier 4 though, the picture is bleaker. In the northern league, Liverpool Feds, Newcastle United, Chorley and Bolton Wanderers are just a few of the teams around the various regional divisions to have played just the three league games so far this season.
The FA has at least confirmed it is now looking at the possibility of opening up movement between divisions for those who have earned it over the past two years, but there’s no reason it can’t go further than that.
The FA Women’s Championship currently only has 11 teams, leaving the predicament of one team sitting each gameweek out. With it looking likely a team will still be relegated this season, there’s no reason not to open up a couple of licences for teams to bring in some freshness to the league next season.
While current northern league leaders Huddersfield Town have already confirmed they wouldn’t apply, many other clubs will have already submitted bids, as is required by the January deadline by those who feel they have a realistic chance of promotion.
In the southern league, Watford are particularly deserving of those licences being opened up given they are top this season and sat second with games in hand when last season’s competition was also halted and declared null and void.
In Tier 4, Wolves are top of the midlands league with six wins from six and also sat top last season, with Ipswich Town in the same situation in the south east league, it is now bordering on ridiculous to expect these teams to sit in the same leagues they have virtually dominated without reward for the last two years.
Not only would it breathe new life into every division, as well as the Championship, it will give those who want to move up the opportunity to do so and eventually potentially those finding themselves financially hamstrung by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic the chance to either stay where they are or drop down if they want to do so.
They could go further still but it looks like there are no plans just yet to open up the FA Women’s Super League, which continuously looks counter-productive given the strength of the second tier, and it will only grow stronger next season.
I don’t just say this as someone who works for one of the clubs who has been in the promotion hunt two years in a row, but the league is now far too strong for one promotion spot and next season would be a great opportunity to offer two or even three spots in order to expand the FA WSL going into a new season off the back of the nation’s home European Championship.
Leicester’s win at Durham now makes them hefty favourites for promotion, but the Championship next season will still have a full-time Liverpool, strong Durham and Sheffield United sides and a team coming down from the FA WSL.
Beyond that, Charlton Athletic, Lewes and Coventry United all have plans to go full-time either next season or the season after, meaning there could be as many as five, six or seven teams looking for an FA WSL spot, with only one place open, which again seems very counter-productive.
Whatever happens at the very top of the pyramid, it is clear though that the time is now here for major changes further down after another season has been declared over before its time.
Follow Rich on Twitter at @RichJLaverty