Why this could be the biggest season for women’s game
Sept. 06, 2019
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If this summer’s Women’s World Cup did not produce the long-awaited watershed moment for the English game, the Lionesses certainly won hearts, minds and viewers on the way to another semi-final, with the defeat to the USA the most-watched British TV event of the year.
The challenge for the FA Women’s Super League, which gets underway tomorrow, is to capitalise on that groundswell and maintain the momentum ahead of next summer’s Olympic Games and Euro 2021 on home soil.
Increasing attendances is the top priority, with last season’s average WSL crowd below 1,000. Significantly, the new campaign begins with two derbies at Premier League grounds, as Chelsea host Tottenham at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and Manchester United travel to the Etihad Stadium tomorrow.
Premier League clubs are sensing an opportunity — the Blues hope to fill their 41,631-capacity home — although with tickets free, critics claim “one-off” crowds are not a sustainable way of growing the game.
Kelly Simmons, the FA director of the women’s professional game, has forecast double-headers alongside Premier League matches, although none have been scheduled and there is opposition from those who believe the quality of Europe’s only fully-professional women’s league will eventually attract punters.
Joe Montemurro’s Arsenal, who host West Ham on Sunday, remain the biggest draw after winning the league as ‘Invincibles’ last season. The return of Jordan Nobbs, who missed the World Cup through injury, is a boost for the Gunners and the summer captures of Manuela Zinsberger, Jill Roord and Leonie Maier from Bayern Munich underline WSL’s strength.
Chelsea missed out on Champions League football after a third-place finish, but their lack of European commitments should aid a fresh push for domestic honours.
Karen Carney has retired but Blues boss Emma Hayes has kept the core of her squad together.
Manchester City, who were beaten just once in the league last season and won both domestic cups, have lost FWA Women’s Footballer of the Year Nikita Parris to Lyon, but they kept Keira Walsh and boast a rising star in Georgia Stanway, plus new signing Ellen White, the England forward.
Newly-promoted United and Tottenham are unlikely to upset the established top order but they add new rivalry and glamour to the WSL.
West Ham will aim to continue their progress after a solid summer in the transfer market. The Hammers troubled Arsenal as much as anyone last season, scoring five times against the Gunners in two meetings, making Sunday’s meeting an intriguing contest.
Frustrations, however, remain. England’s Jade Moore this week criticised the scheduling that meant the Lionesses played back-to-back friendlies days before the start of the season.
Europe’s women’s teams set the tone last season, with 60,739 watching Atletico Madrid against Barcelona. The WSL expects its own breakthrough this weekend, but consistency will be the key in this season of opportunity.
Man City v Man Utd (Saturday, 3pm) and Arsenal v West Ham (Sunday, 2.30pm), are both live on BT Sport