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FA Dispatch: Pizza, Agents, and 21 Teams

Tidbits from the England Women’s National Team, the FA Women’s Super Leagues (FA WSL), and behind-the-scenes looks into women’s football in England, both on and off the field.

Domino Effect

Don’t ever let it be said things don’t go wrong in the wonderful world of women’s football! It’s the one thing I’ve grown to love in my years working in the game; the lack of money and the added human aspect means sometimes things go wrong.

A few weeks ago at Sheffield FC’s FA WSL 2 game against Watford, the postmatch food hadn’t been prepared as usual by the pub located right next to the main stand of their Dronfield-based home. I chuckled to myself as volunteers and staff alike scrambled around for ideas which eventually ended in General Manager Helen Mitchell ringing the local Domino’s for eight pizzas to be delivered as soon as possible.

Injury to Ellie Mason right at the death allowed enough time for the delivery man to be walking into the temporary porter cabin used as a player’s lounge just as I walking out to interview Sheffield’s Hannah Cain, and I had the delight of informing manager Zoe Johnson that eight full-sized pizzas awaited her and her giddy bunch of players after the game!

It’s Funny How Things Turn Out

I never intended on stumbling into working in women’s football. It was never on TV, there was very little on the Internet, but five years on I’m glad I did. Working with the Leeds United side after Carnegie had pulled their funding… your ignorance allows you to believe you’ll never hear of these players again.

The structure wasn’t there and nobody knew just how big the FA WSL would be in five years or foresee the huge improvement of the national team. That Leeds team consisted of Doncaster Belles’ boss Emma Coates, who I knew briefly at the time, and Sky Blue FC forward Leah Galton, who along with Amy Turner has now received a call-up to the England squad.

Chelsea Ladies midfielder Millie Bright was on loan from Belles whilst there are a whole host of the squad currently playing for Sheffield. Emma Lipman, Emma Johnson, Juliana Draycott, and Billie Murphy all now play their football at the Home of Football.

I remember players complaining they couldn’t quite win the FA WPL (FA Women’s Premiere League) title due to a Sunderland side that had a fantastic young striker who appeared to score week in, week out to keep them ahead of Leeds. Her name was Beth Mead.

St. George’s Park

It’s always a pleasure to spend a full day in good company at such an incredible facility. With England women’s senior team training there along with the new Next Gen side and the U-19 team, there were more than a few familiar faces around on the day. It was good to see the likes of Gemma Bonner and Jemma Rose strolling around St. George’s Park and players now being welcomed back into the international setup due to the recent changes.

Next Gen players such as Millie Bright had joined in first team training on the Tuesday whilst there were a whole host involved on Wednesday with many senior players sitting out the session. Karen Bardsley, Siobhan Chamberlain, Gilly Flaherty, Jill Scott, Jo Potter, Fara Williams, and Jordan Nobbs all sat out as Beth England, Mel Lawley, Hannah Blundell, and goalkeepers Mary Earps and Danielle Gibbons trained with the first team. (Beth Mead and others came to watch from the sidelines and may have been involved at some point.)

England and Lawley in particular received plenty of praise from Mark Sampson as they each stuck the ball in the back of the net during a training match. Spirits were high with Euro 2017 qualification secured; with Sampson playing referee he showed an imaginary yellow to Ellen White for blocking a goal kick and others sitting out the session happily mingled with the media and coaching staff.

Given there is no game coming up, media attention was high. Talksport and Sky Sports were both there to record features with certain players as the sun shone down on the pitch. Post-training, players headed for a coffee while one or two disappeared for an hour or two. I caught up with Leah Williamson and Carly Telford who were both there receiving treatment on similar injuries before the first team headed into a meeting with the coaching staff.

Agents Already at Work

I don’t mind helping agents abroad who are trying to find a good home for their players in the FA WSL. Last year I worked closely with 2-3 different agents, helping them with contacts at clubs and speaking to their players about the pros of playing in England and how our league is developing.

Agents abroad are already looking into the possibility of bringing their players here, not necessarily big names or even names people would recognize but England is now seen as an attractive option for players. Clubs are looking too; one FA WSL club dropped me an email last week saying they had room for two players on European passports and wanted to know whether the agents I knew were looking to bring anybody over.

It’s only August but wheels are already being put in motion for 2017 and I’m sure there are bigger moves being planned with budgets growing across the division.

Going on 21

The 2017/2018 FA WSL season will kick off with odd numbers with one more team joining Brighton from the FA WPL at the end of their 2016/2017 season. While there were some rumors one team from each regional division would come up to ensure even numbers, 10 teams will compete in FA WSL 1 and 11 in FA WSL 2 when the season starts next September.

In terms of the transfer windows, nothing has been confirmed but several people I’ve spoke to believe the first will run from January through the Spring Series with another shorter window after the Euros until the full season starts in September. At the end of the 2017/2018 season there could be a chance for teams outside the FA WSL to apply for a license with a couple of FA WSL 2 clubs potentially dropping out when the time comes. AFC Fylde could certainly be one of those sides looking at making the jump, they have a budget bigger than most FA WSL sides and a stadium only matched by Manchester City’s CFA.