Advantage Arsenal as they hunt down Liverpool

It is amazing what a week’s break can do for the
sanity of a football fan. 3 crucial victories and strong performances from the
boys have soothed our troubles at least while the transfer window sagas play
out over the course of the next few days.

In the mean
time, the Arsenal Ladies have gone about their job in a thorough and
professional manner. Their recent 6-0 triumph over Doncaster marked 6 wins on
the trot since the 3-2 victory versus Bristol Academy back in May.

It also means
that they are now 2nd in the WSL table, 2 points behind the leaders
Liverpool, with 0a game in hand. Following the 3-0 vs Liverpool in the first
week back after the summer break, the Ladies had successive wins at Meadow Park
against Everton Ladies – a 4-0 that ensured their place in the Continental Cup
final for the third year in a row, and a 5-0 win in the WSL – a 3-1 vs
Birmingham City Ladies and the 6-0 rout of Doncaster Rovers Belles.

These consistent
performances see a return to the kind of fine form that has been characteristic
of the club over their hugely successful history. A win against Chelsea Ladies
tonight will see Arsenal regain the top spot in the Women’s Super League and
put them in the driver’s seat to dictate the pace of the rest of the season. A
pace that was set early by the Matt Beard managed Liverpool this season.
Arsenal face another packed month [Doncaster Rovers (September 1), Lincoln Ladies
(September 5), Bristol Academy (September 8) and more] before playing Lincoln
Ladies on October 4 to defend their FA WSL Continental Cup trophy. It won’t be
easy with the current top three separated by less than 3 points making even a
minor slip-up potentially costly. But as long as they continue to play the way
they have of late – scoring goals and keeping clean sheets for the most part –
Arsenal will be in pole position to win their 3rd successive WSL trophy.

The extra
competitiveness evident this season is something both the Arsenal and Liverpool
managers have commented on, urging their squads to keep focused and avoid
complacency (with Beard also hoping for some luck).

“We can do
nothing about that (Arsenal’s form), we just have to hope that other teams do
us a favour — and they’ve got a tough run-in with games against the likes of
Chelsea and Bristol Academy to come …” (Matt Beard).

“We’re building
up at the right time although we’re not getting too far in front of ourselves.
We take each game at a time. We’re very respectful to the other teams in this
league and every game is difficult. You have to earn the right to win games …”
(Shelley Kerr)

Two weeks ago, I
wrote
about the Frauen Bundesliga and promised to write about the current state of
affairs in England with regards to the same. In Germany, the women’s league is
a fully professional league funded by the DFB (Deutscher Fussball Bund). The
female football leagues (as yet semi-professional) in the United Kingdom still
have a way to go to catch up with the Germans, but the FA has undertaken many
proactive measures over the last 2 years, starting with the formation of the
Women’s Super League in 2011 and the formulation of the 5 Year Plan.

From being known
as a ‘combative sport which is fundamentally foreign to the nature of women,
where the body and soul would inevitably suffer damage and further violate etiquette
and decency’, women’s football has come a long way when we discuss a possible
professionalism of the sport in the United Kingdom. Mohamed Fayed’s Fulham were
the only team to turn pro back in 2002, following which they comprehensively
won the 2003 title. But it was a short-lived unsustainable success that led to
the club resorting back to semi-professionalism, folding twice and cutting all
affiliations with their men’s club.

Arsenal’s Kim
Little gave her thoughts on the future of the game in England in an exclusive
interview with Arseblog a few months ago after she was named the inaugural PFA
women’s footballer of the year.

‘…
I think the Olympics has really pushed the profile of the game up and the F.A.
have done some great work to try and capitalise on that. Crowds are going up,
coverage is increasing. It’s great to have the backing of the media and the
associations. The game is moving towards professionalism slowly and I think it
could happen quite soon.’

With television
coverage deals being struck with ESPN and the BBC for the WSL last year as well
as international matches, it isn’t an unimaginable scenario at all. Something
that Megan Harris agrees with. The Lincoln Ladies midfielder and general
manager won the FAWSL’s goal of the season award and is delighted about the
PFA’s decision to allow female members from next year. It was announced on
March 8, 2013 (coincidentally also International Women’s Day) and Harris hopes
it will prove to be a watershed moment.

 ‘The recognition and support is what elite
female players deserve and will allow the professionalism of the game to grow
even more …’

In this scenario, the news about BT
Sport
is all the more encouraging and
exciting. BT Sport has acquired rights for the FA WSL, the England Women’s
Senior Team and the Women’s FA Cup with exclusive broadcasting rights for the
WSL live matches throughout the season. Considering that women’s football was
banned in the UK by the FA from 1922 to the mid-60s because they feared it was
getting too popular (over
50,000 turned up for a match at Goodison Park with more than 10,000 locked out
),
it is heartening to see the sport getting bigger, with more focused efforts for
expansion, development in quality and quantity and real growth.

However, comparing it to the men’s side
of the game is not only silly but also highly unfair to the players since being
a male or like men isn’t the required skill set here. Just like men aren’t
judged by their ability to be women, the inverse is equally true. Women’s
football is a different sort of game to that of the men’s, and it’s a fact that
should be accepted if you are to ever like it or follow it seriously. John
Nicholson makes a few very valid points in this context.

‘I just enjoy it
for what it is. Like all football, sometimes it’s superb, sometimes it’s
rubbish, mostly it’s somewhere in between … There is no rolling around
play-acting, no feigning injury or trying to get opposition players booked. The
women leave acting like spoilt little girls to the men. The pace of the game
allows skilful players to flourish and most games are really competitive.’

There is certainly a vast commercial
potential in women’s football in an otherwise saturated market, one that hasn’t
escaped the notice of those in charge. Scotland
is one of only five other countries who were selected by the UEFA in a branding
and marketing project designed to raise the profile of elite women’s leagues
across Europe. However commercialisation requires funds, a dedicated and
growing fanbase that will regularly watch matches and really ‘follow’ the
teams, and a sustainable long-term plan with specific goals.

As part of the FA’s 5 Year Plan, no more
than 4 players from one team can earn above £20,000 a year, saving those funds
for investments in facilities, marketing and commercial revenue growth. This
plan has also seen the establishment of around 30 Centres of Excellence (CoEs)
across the United Kingdom where the elite junior players can enroll. While this
set-up promotes various new facilities to support and nurture young talent
following the disbanding of the youth set-ups of the women’s clubs, it also
needs further evolving. Since these CoEs operate in their own cocoon with no
connection or affiliation with the grassroots leagues/clubs, there isn’t a
scouting system or further development teams and options for the enrolled
players.

But the future is definitely promising
and specific efforts are being undertaken to ensure continued successful
growth. A good case in point is Liverpool. While Arsenal Ladies have always had
the backing of its men’s club and subsequent resources, something that shows in
their domination of the women’s game, they still train only twice a week as
compared to the Liverpool Ladies who have been training 5 nights a week since
the sizeable investment into the women’s team by the parent club. It is a step
towards a potential fully-professional set-up.

“We’ve had great
backing from the men’s club. The girls we’ve brought in from abroad have added
quality and professionalism to the squad and since we’ve been training five
nights the team has improved massively.”

There is much to look forward to and I
urge all of you to do whatever little is in your power to support and encourage
women’s football. See you next week, when we hopefully have a derby win and a
few quality players to welcome into our squad.

Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.

Anushree
Nande


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