- The case of Liverpool is fascinating and instructive. As mentioned they finished bottom of the WSL in 2011 and 2012 but a large investment by the Men’s Club led to them becoming Champions in 2013, a position they maintained in 2014. Thereafter there was a steady reduction in investment, and consequently results, which culminated in their being relegated at the end of the truncated 2019/20 season. It is highly unlikely that they will be even close to getting promoted back to the WSL in 2020/21. This trajectory demonstrates in a vivid way how reliance on financing by the Men’s Club can be a two-edged sword.
- A determination of this claim in the FA’s terms would depend on an in-depth knowledge of other national leagues (US/Germany/France etc.) which I do not possess. In any case, my argument is with the FA’s terms themselves.
- The great symbol, with very real repercussions for fans, of this was when the WSL converted from being a summer to a winter league. I cannot recall any fans being in favour of this. The arguments advanced in favour of this switch, which were to do with the National team, seemed absurd at the time, and certainly had nothing to do with the good of the league itself. To be blindingly obvious the long summer holidays were an ideal time to build a family-friendly experience. The change entirely negated this and put the women’s game in much more direct competition (in terms of vying for attention etc.) with the men’s game.
- One of the many omissions from these pieces is any consideration of the long and courageous struggle by the pioneers of Women’s football (often in the face of vigorous opposition from the game’s authorities). This omission is determined by the limits of my subject and knowledge.
- This is an appropriate place to note another gaping omission – that of racism in Women’s football. As a white male, I am supremely unqualified to write about this. There have been well publicised and high profile controversies at a national level. However, I would tend to think that because the Women’s game is of necessity anti-sexist, and because it is infinitely easier to be an out lesbian within the women’s game than to be an out gay man in the men’s game, it is to be hoped that there is real awareness and understanding of racism. But to confirm (or deny) this one would have to talk to BAME players. And that does point to a problem. Anyone who views the Premier League and WSL on television would be very quickly aware that there is a hugely higher percentage of BAME players in the Men’s game. For once I will say that the FA has acknowledged this and there are wider issues (the uneven development of the women’s game worldwide is one) involved. But it remains a very visible issue.
- This was why Arsenal dominated the first couple of seasons of the WSL (as they had done pre-WSL). However, if it is only 1 team with superior resources they do at least labour under the disadvantage that they are the team whom every other club wants to beat every time they play them.
- It has long been a contention of BCW fans that the FA is biased against Birmingham (and other ‘smaller’ clubs). Classic examples include the League Cup Final against Manchester City played at Manchester City! and much more recently the way in which requests for postponements have been handled. The fact is I do think the FA is (consciously or unconsciously) biased. On the one hand, it is in thrall to the biggest teams, on the other clubs like BCW and Bristol do not fit into the ‘best league in the world’ strategy. This is especially true of Birmingham where the men’s club is an organisational mess and a financial disaster area. If the club gained a new multi-billionaire owner the attitude would change overnight – it is not personal!
- As far as fan experience is concerned the issue of grounds is absolutely central, especially for those who follow their teams all around the country. When I look at the 11 teams who started in 2011 there is not a ground which I disliked going to. The one impersonal stadium ground (Doncaster) was mitigated by the friendliness of the welcome. In those days Liverpool played at Skelmersdale which was practically falling down but certainly had a peculiar charm. The current WSL is almost the polar opposite (and I include BCW in this as Solihull has none of the beauty of Stratford). Clubs move fixtures to Men’s stadiums (never a good thing!). Some of the grounds used now very much remind me of why I stopped going to men’s football in the first place. The ‘fan experience’ at these sort of grounds is homogenized and plastic; with a lot of regimentation and security.
In the process of writing these blogs, I realise that the basic analysis advanced has some relation to two feminist formulations. Perhaps it is a trivial example and it certainly simplifies complex arguments but it is too striking for me to ignore.
So we can say that the original rhetoric of the WSL, focussed on difference, on a distinct model for women’s football centred on creating a friendly welcoming and supportive atmosphere, is a reflection of the kind of feminism that stresses the need to build alternative, different practices at every level of society. To challenge the patriarchy by being an alternative.
Perhaps this is a stretch but to say that the rhetoric and strategy from 2014 follow the model of seeking a greater degree of parity and equality within existing male structures seems very appropriate. This is the type of feminism that in the wider world seeks to get women into positions of power (Boardrooms/Parliament etc. etc.) without challenging or suggesting any alternative to those structures. In fact, as I have argued, the end result has been that the WSL mirrors and mimics the Premier League.
I hope I do not need to say where my sympathies lie in this debate!