The FA Women’s Super League continues to have several issues that urgently need looking into. The majority of the offseason was spent talking largely about the schedule — particularly scrutinized at the FA WSL 1 level.
Manchester City currently hold what on paper looks like a healthy six-point lead over champions Chelsea, but there’s a catch: City has played two more games than Emma Hayes’ side already and the season is only two months old.
But another age-old argument has reared its ugly head over the past few weeks — 3G pitches. Only one WSL 1 team currently uses artificial turf: Liverpool Ladies (who share the stadium with Everton Ladies). Some WSL players will be used to such pitches and the challenges that come hand in hand with them, and any England player who went to Canada last summer will have experienced a much greater quality of turf than the one currently on show in Widnes.
PFA Player of the Year 2016 Izzy Christiansen picked up an injury in the FA Cup this season when she appeared to get her foot caught in the turf, albeit she didn’t blame the pitch for her injury. The injury picked up by Sunderland defender Kylla Sjoman, however, appeared to be much more serious as she landed awkwardly on the pitch a few weeks ago. This prompted teammate Lucy Staniforth to take to Twitter, slamming the state of Liverpool’s pitch.
The standard of the pitch today was absolutely abysmal. It affects the game quality and is a serious injury risk #re-think
— lucy staniforth (@lstan37) April 23, 2016
The issue escalated when Chelsea defender and England international Claire Rafferty announced she pulled out of the recent game against Liverpool because she was worried about picking up another serious injury due to the state of the pitch.
I didn’t play today because the pitch at Liverpool is too much of an injury risk for me…❌ ???????? 3G. https://t.co/4Oof4UIzxF
— Claire Rafferty (@clrafferty1) April 27, 2016
Given the ever-growing fears over the state of the 3G pitch at the Select Security Stadium, I spoke to several high-profile names across the WSL, including Rafferty, to get their feelings on the situation. Liverpool was asked to comment but so far have decided not to.
“It shouldn’t get to a point where I’m having to sit out games because of the pitch,” said the Chelsea Ladies and England defender.
“When we go up against Liverpool this weekend [the match was on April 27, and Chelsea won, 2-1] I won’t have played a game for a few weeks now and that disturbs my season – these kinds of things just shouldn’t be happening.
“The quality of 3G pitches we used in Canada were fine because they were purpose made for football, we’ve already had one ACL injury on the pitch this season and Izzy [Christiansen] injured herself too. It’s not good.”
Another to pour scorn on the state of the Widnes pitch was Sheffield FC’s midfielder Carla Ward, a veteran of the WSL.
“I’ve no idea how it’s FA-regulated; you’d be better off playing on a school playground to be honest! It shouldn’t get to a point where big players are avoiding playing there” Ward said.
England international Carly Telford was also unimpressed with the state of the pitch during Notts County’s last visit to Widnes. “If its good condition there’s an argument for them but the one at Liverpool is just brutal – it’s really bad.
“It’s a scary thought that we’ll just have to go with it until Liverpool can agree [on] a deal somewhere else, I don’t think anything will get done, you agree a deal for a certain amount of time so and we’re not in a situation in the FA WSL yet where you can just move grounds.”
Others were less scathing, Reading Women striker Helen Ward says that 3G pitches are fine if the quality is sustainable.
“I think it all depends on the quality of the pitch. We played on an artificial pitch in Norway back in September and it was immaculate – I’d have no problems playing on it again.”
But she went on to add that she believes Liverpool needs to bring its up to standard.
“However, there are pitches in this country that aren’t up to scratch and I would probably include Liverpool’s in that. I think there needs to be higher standards set for games to be played at this level on 3G pitches.”
Doncaster Rovers Belles striker Courtney Sweetman-Kirk echoed Ward’s thoughts although admits she’s unimpressed with Liverpool’s pitch.
“It depends on the quality of the pitch. For example, you look at the pitch at Widnes and it is terrible. We sometimes train on one at Doncaster and it’s very new, it looks and feels completely different.”
Bristol City Women boss Willie Kirk says he’s also happy to play on 3G pitches if the quality is up to a greater standard than the one on show in Widnes.
“I don’t have a problem with 3G surfaces if they are the best available, which obviously Liverpool-Everton’s isn’t. The men’s Champions League can use them, so for me, they are okay to use.
“If you can get a good grass pitch, then that wins every day. The problem is, you can’t always get a good enough standard.
“The Watford pitch last week was a disgrace… I would rather we had played at Widnes!”
Some were less worried about the situation and feel there’s not a great deal they can do about the situation.
“I don’t have too much of an opinion on it to be honest, I don’t mind what surface we play on,” said Birmingham City Ladies defender Kerys Harrop.
With some players quite scathing of the standard of the pitch at Widnes and some happy to play on 3G if the quality is right, it’ll be interesting to see what happens when Liverpool’s current agreement to play at the Select Security Stadium comes to an end.