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Women's Football News
Patrick Higgins gives us his views on the year which has just passed...........
It is an overworked cliche to describe 2012 as having been 'momentous' in a sporting sense in this country but in so many ways the word does fit events in women's football.
A world class tournament right in our own backyard, the national team qualified for Sweden 2013 and a blueprint for the game's future laid out for all to ponder over...and that was just in the second half of the year.
Sadly, the euphoria of a victory over Brazil at Wembley did not lead to a medal for Team GB as it was swiftly followed by a let down in the quarter final at the less exalted Ricoh Arena. Canada proved later that they were a highly effective unit but, even so, Team GB's exit was a bitter disappointment and a chance missed.
The wonderful matches in the semi finals and final were hopefully a boost for the status of the game amongst the wider public, even without the hosts. The great sporting attitude of the Japanese players was a joy to see as was the delightful French flair and the sheer determination of the Americans to avenge their World Cup final defeat to Japan the previous year.
The WSL entered its second season with the collapse of the American WPS leading to the return of several England internationals to the competition. Arsenal were the chief beneficiaries and they duly cruised their way to a second title with an unbeaten record. A new attendance record of 5,052 at the Emirates Stadium was set which allowed claims that average attendances had risen for the 56 matches of the second campaign.
The Gunners' exit at the semi final stage of the FA Women's Cup to Chelsea set up a final worthy of a far larger attendance than the 8,000 that witnessed Birmingham's shootout triumph. Not that the Sky Sports television audience were aware of the final outcome as the broadcast was apparently confined to the 'red button' in favour of pre-match chat for a men's match.
ESPN did a fine job with the WSL and the BBC increased their coverage of the England team at the climax of their qualification campaign to build on their successful Olympic coverage of Team GB. This will be continued with the recently announced coverage of Sweden 2013. There were so nearly two home nations qualified as Scotland were cruelly denied a deserved chance at the Finals by the last kick of a dramatic play-off in Spain. Surely their time will come.
Arsenal matched domestic dominance with a historic first Champions League victory over German opposition and must have a chance of contesting the Final on home soil in May.
And what of the future? Summer football seems to be flavour and the 'Game Changer' document lays out a vision of an elite 20-club set up with pathways clearly laid out in support of player progress towards national team needs. The future of the 98 per cent of participants who do not meet elite standards are far from clear. Clubs continue to fold at an alarming rate all the way down the Pyramid for a variety of reasons and most others struggle to survive financially.
Hopefully performances on the field rather than marketing and money will be the driving force for the new vision. If so, Sunderland have a cast iron case for inclusion as they remain head and shoulders above the rest in the winter game - with an honorable mention for the amazing 2012 enjoyed by Watford, with just one League defeat all year.
Personally, my matches of the season were the Olympic and FA Cup Finals but for sheer drama the Portsmouth-Plymouth match at a muddy and rain-soaked Winchester in April was their equal. A very unfortunate late own goal sent Argyle down to the Combination and lifted Pompey into the National Division after years of near misses. All the raw emotion of the game was just as present at the Denplan Stadium in front of 70 as at Wembley in front of 70-80,000 people.
For all the people who give time and money to playing, coaching, supporting and publicising the game at all levels, let us hope that the 'legacy' of 2012 is that we can ALL continue to enjoy the game in the future.
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