FA WSL Dispatch: Time to Raise the Level across the Board

One year ago this week, England walked out for a historic occasion against Japan in Edmonton, Canada in a semifinal match during the 2015 World Cup. Whatever was to happen would surely leave an indelible mark on the history of women’s football in England. Sadly, the final few moments will now always be remembered for the wrong reasons but it has still become a huge part in the history of the game in England.

It was also the catalyst for Mark Sampson’s side to go on and grab a World Cup bronze medal just over 48 hours later in a game that will certainly go down in history for all the right reasons. It should have been the start of the rise of women’s football in England, a chance to hit home how much potential the sport has, and while viewing figures and attendance have steadily grown, the lack of professionalism from within has been staggering during the 2016 FA Women’s Super League season.

What I must add first of all is that absolutely everyone I have ever come across in women’s football has been nothing but kind, helpful, and passionate about the sport itself. It’s a very close-knit community that stretches from the media to the fans and to the volunteers who give up countless hours to help their local clubs.

But public relations has been a big talking point across the last month, the way in which Birmingham City handled the prolonged departures of Jade Moore and Jo Potter and how Doncaster Rovers Belles allowed a situation in which a BBC journalist broke the news of Glen Harris’s sacking before the club did. Most people who work as press officers in the WSL are either voluntary or part-time and most will receive no special training in order to be fully prepared for the demands of the role, and this is something the FA should be helping with.

 

 

Just this week, Sunderland only managed to announce to their supporters that their weekend Continental Cup clash at the Belles would actually be held at Sheffield FC — the announcement only came after they were prompted by me and several other fans on social media. Surely any club should know announcing a change of away venue to their fans is a crucial aspect of any job and breaking that news the Monday before a game is unacceptable?

They aren’t the only ones. Just over a week before the FA WSL returned to action last weekend, Arsenal announced out of the blue — 10 days’ notice — their home game against the Mackems would be held on Saturday 25 as opposed to Sunday 26, ensuring several regular fans could no longer attend or change plans at such short notice. The league’s schedule has always been an issue and some of the decisions are beyond baffling: the biggest game of the season (at the time) between Arsenal and Chelsea was re-scheduled for 6pm on a Thursday night so fans could double up and also watch the men’s game at the Emirates at 8pm – a decision that backfired spectacularly after seeing the reaction from fans of both sets of clubs.

 

The latest FA Cup schedule, which was announced last week, was a breaking point for many. The fifth and sixth rounds will be played just a week apart in 2017, and the final will no longer be played on a Saturday in which the Premier League is not in action. Instead, the final will take place on the same day as the penultimate round of Premier League fixtures where fans from the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City could be preoccupied elsewhere. There can’t be any puzzled looks among those in charge should the attendance drop well below the record-breaking figure secured at Wembley last month.

The National Women’s Soccer League are a step ahead to get around scheduling issues; all games are streamed live on YouTube, an idea which seems lost on any league in England (male or female). While the BBC’s commitment to women’s football is admirable, it would be nice to see league games shown on free-to-air TV or at least streamed for people to watch as they please. Albeit, showing Women’s Football Show on at 12:30am on a weeknight probably isn’t the best way of making highlights accessible to fans. Putting our only professional league’s live matches on a pay TV channel isn’t going to help anyone, even if BT Sport do an equally good job with its coverage. That’s before you even tackle the fact the FA WSL runs through the summer while the FA WPL and FA Cup run through the winter — makes sense, right? There are issues online too. For example, finding information about players and their statistics is difficult. How many goals have they scored? Assists? Appearances? Even finding the dates of birth for some players is a chore…

These are the bigger issues but there are constant niggles that appear at every game. I was at one match earlier this season where several squad numbers were read out alongside the wrong players, a small issue to some but another sign that most who volunteer their time to the WSL aren’t properly trained for the jobs. While the likes of Catherine Stewart and Glenn Lavery at the FA do a superb job of promoting England and events surrounding the national team, the organization as a whole, along with the FA WSL, should be doing more to ensure that every member of staff behind the scenes can follow in the footsteps of the players and become full-time in their specific roles.

It shouldn’t stop there. Referees also need more backing to stop the constant flow of poor performances that affect results throughout the leagues on a weekly basis. Like club staff, most officials are also part-time and receive a fraction of the training and support allowed to the top referees in the men’s game.

The lack of media coverage is also frustrating. She Kicks is a fantastic outlets and I admire the Football League Paper for their commitment to the women’s game every week. At the FA WSL launch in March there were tons of media from all kinds of TV channels and national newspapers but quite honestly I’ve seen few of them since. One Guardian journalist attended Manchester City’s opening match against Notts County and unless I missed it, the Guardian haven’t been back since either. Though money is tight, it would be refreshing to see the nationals pushing coverage with the European Championships just a year away and England having a realistic chance of going all the way.

 

Although the FA weren’t to blame for poor American broadcasting during the SheBelieves Cup, it was hard not to want to curl up into a ball as the graphics shown on TV when England faced the United States at the start of the year brought up the wrong managers and claimed Clint Dempsey had received a booking in the 19th minute. I wondered what first-time fans I’d persuaded to tune in and watch our Lionesses must have thought: Why would they come back to something so unprofessional, so laughable? In a year where attracting new fans was an open goal, why have we missed the target all together?

Fortunately, the ever-improving quality on the field is helping momentum shift the right way and more than 2,000 fans turned out to see league leaders Manchester City take on Liverpool on Sunday. All is well on that side of things, apart from the fact the leaders and potential champions don’t play on the final day of the season. Oh.

 

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  • Michael Scoates

    Great article thanks! (@JacquiOatley RT’d it into my Twitter feed). The infrastructures in most aspects of men’s/women’s football are still vastly unequal (except, perhaps, in terms of the quality of coaching/back room staff?). Ideally a huge cash injection from the FA to equalise things might be the quick albeit unlikely solution, but it’s great that areas in need of so much improvement are highlighted here.

    Perhaps the WSL could have it’s own central media team organising match coverage and to act as a liason to the press and handle communications, maybe working through or alongside @FAWSL (not sure how the @NWSL do it but they do a great job with streaming matches) and as a follower of Orlando Pride I can say they set a great example of how to run a Twitter account (See @ORLPride).

    Regardless, hopefully the FA will take note and act.