So, the much debated Super League eight have been officially announced. We thought we’d spout a little about it….
In case you were on the pop and felt fuzzy headed this morning or have had a hectic day at school/college/work and have missed it, here is the list of the ‘chosen ones’:
- Arsenal Ladies FC
- Birmingham City Ladies FC
- Bristol Academy Women’s FC
- Chelsea Ladies FC
- Doncaster Rovers Belles
- Lincoln Ladies FC
- Liverpool Ladies FC
Congratulations to the successful clubs. Also, big props to the teams of people who worked so hard on their bids and have been rewarded with invitations to apply for licenses, to be a part of the Super League in its inaugural season, in 2011. Commiserations also to the many other people who, undoubtedly, also worked extremely hard to put together bids for their clubs but who missed out.
Since the time/date for submission of bids (5pm, 18th Dec), there has been limited official information released. There has, however, been a lot talk and speculation, as well as chinese whispers and chat within the game about who would be in and who deserved it and why. Once teams were informed their bid had been unsuccessful, some chose to go public with the fact that they had ‘failed’, while others kept their disappointment quiet. There has been – because officials and players chat to each other – awareness for some weeks, via a process of simple elimination, of the basic make-up of the eight (and a possible standby club).
A few weeks back, before the release of cold, hard facts, we were led to believe that Doncaster Rovers Belles may not have made the cut. This would have been terribly wrong. It’s fair enough that the league’s initial requirements for entrance are based more on ‘off-the-field’ criteria than on-field sucess/achievements but the ommission of the Belles – a club with valuable history and tradition within the women’s game in England - could have rendered it a little too soulless to bear.
There is a danger of getting overly sentimental, however. This is a new start and a new opening for the women’s game. The underlying urgency for implementing such a league is the real possibility that the success of England’s women in sports such as cricket, rugby and the competitiveness of the Netball Super League, for example, could see football lose its dominance as the premier team sport, for women and girls, in the country. It could perhaps see them lose out to major commercial investment too.
There’s also a temptation to flag up the potential pitfalls and concentrate on the negatives, before the league even has a chance to introduce its plans, name or identity. It’s easier to ‘knock something’, especially if you don’t know much about it or feel involved in it. This is a key point. Many apparently already in the ‘naysayers’ camp are there most likely because they feel there has been a lack of transparency concerning the Super League. For there to be widespread ‘buy-in’, even in these early days, the fan-base and women’s football family need there to be a clear sense of ‘inclusiveness’ to prevent a ‘them and us’ situation. Having said that, our online poll on the fgmag.com site a year or so showed a pleasingly positive response from readers about summer footie in an elite league and no-one knew much at all, at that stage.
To recap, we acknowledge it’s early days and that clubs are there on the merit of their plans; we are aware that we need to get behind this initiative for the good of the game; that it’s easy to be negative; and, I’m prepared to accept that my outlook is more than partly tempered by the fact that I live nowhere near any of the ‘chosen’ clubs (hence the ‘Sour Grapes’ in the title – I meant it tongue in cheek).
However, here comes the ‘but’ that you’ve been probably been waiting for.
A glance at the map, indicates a major flaw (though once the decision was made to allow clubs to bid, rather than impose regional franchises, then this was always, unavoidably, going to be a sore point). Whereas it will be great for players within the hinterland of a Super League club, many of the country’s Centres of Excellence, to a certain extent, will be dislocated from the player pathway, due to geography. Players who attend these centres, and their parents, may turn their sporting talents elsewhere. It won’t be the national death knell of the women’s game, but it could determine hotbeds for the game and cut off other areas, almost over night, just as the player pathway was hitting its stride, across the nation.
The role of the current Premier League is yet to be decided (it should be closer to being decided after a meeting this weekend) but could prove crucial in allaying such concerns.
There are also enough pig-headed people (and I can relate to this because I fight against it and I know it’s immature but at least I’m being honest) that make up the ‘target market’, who will look at the club names and decide against supporting their ‘local’ clubs because of their allegiances in the men’s game. Will dads who love the Villa, scurry along with the kids to see Blues play? When it could have been a side for all of the West Midlands to roar on? It won’t make or break anything (and it hopefully won’t matter a jot in a few years) but it’s a missed opportunity. Of course, there are plenty of people whose reactions will be positive, for the same reason – it’s the double edge sword of aligning with the men’s game – although that’s without considering the whims and insecurities of men’s club’s ownership and direction.*
In response to (now ‘Ex) FA Chief Exec Ian Watmore’s comments (and it’s great that he is behind this league. EDIT: Oh! Make that ‘was’. I hope it wasn’t something I said! Only kidding.)…
“…it’s vital we have a competitive, well structured and commercially sustainable league at the top of the women’s game.”
- Ironically, due to the lure of the WPS in the U.S., is the current FAWPL not now more competitive than it has been in over a decade? Will there be measures in place to ensure competitiveness in the new leagues?
- Aside from a few struggling clubs on the slide and promising ambitious clubs on the rise, is the women’s football pyramid not starting to establish itself and is the FAWPL not extremely well-structured?
- Will a league, in which its clubs are expected to pay £20-32,000 to up to 4 ‘marquee’ players, plus pay other playing staff, be more commercially sustainable than the current league would be, with the fraction of the Super League investment?
This is an additional and related (and maybe controversial) question, up for debate, are there actually that many players of sufficient quality still in England – given the current financial climate and overall ‘wealth’ or lack thereof in the women’s game - to deserve this level of payment? Aside from the central contracts, that is, which were a great step forward.
These were just a few thoughts, off the top of our dizzy heads, and we haven’t even touched on the ‘summer’ bit yet! Now we’ve got those off our chest (they must have fallen off the top of our heads and onto our chests?!) we can get back to trying to be reasonable and look forward to finding out more about the league in the coming months…
We’re sure you have many more thoughts and much more sensible, intelligent ones at that….so fire away…
*We know the women’s clubs are to ‘stand alone’ from the men’s clubs but in most cases it’s surely not a massive assumption to make, that the main financial contributions will come from the men’s club or companies associated with it.
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