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2015...That was the year that was
 Women's Football News 31 Dec 2015
Patrick Higgins looks back on the year that is coming to a close..... 
2015 could well be seen in the future as the 'breakthrough' year for women's football in England, with the bronze medal performance at the FIFA World Cup in Canada being the catalyst for greater respect and recognition for the sport outside the traditional fan base. The well documented heroics of Mark's Sampson's squad have brought on board new fans for the national team and the clubs they play for, honours and recognition in end of year awards and much higher media profiles for the elite players, with all the good and bad that entails.

Some subdued performances in warm up matches gave little indication of the forthcoming World Cup journey. The squad seemed to grow into the competition with each match bringing a special moment for different players. Whilst it was freak misfortune which brought one player into the spotlight in the semi final against Japan, it spoke volumes that the same player was outstanding three days later in the long awaited win over Germany in the bronze medal match.
Chelsea were the outstanding team in the domestic summer game. Strictly speaking, their Cup and League 'double' was ample reward for Emma Hayes' attack minded approach. A post-WSL Champions League exit to Wolfsburg showed that there is still room for further development however, though the gap between the teams was encouragingly small.
Sunderland gave hope to all clubs with a stirring first season in WSL1, making light of the gap between the two divisions of the summer game. Now the challenge falls upon Reading and Doncaster Rovers Belles to show similar qualities, having dominated WSL 2 all season.
The newly established link between the summer and winter game benefitted Sheffield FC who were accepted into the WSL after a last minute winner in a play-off match at the expense of Portsmouth. Both top divisions have several clubs who have publicly stated their ambition to enter the WSL and are currently competing for the next play-off opportunity by winning their FAWPL title race, then a play off and then matching the entry criteria.
The newly formed FAWPL Division One Leagues in 2014-15 were all keenly contested with C & K Basildon. Forest Green Rovers, Loughborough Foxes and Guiseley AFC Vixens taking the honours after some thrilling title races, with 2015-16 building up nicely for more exciting battles.
As always, there are a huge number of clubs operating in the Regional and County Leagues all over the country under the usual constraints of money, pitch and player availability. Clubs fold and new ones emerge, though the gradual trend away from eleven-a-side league commitment towards indoor small sided football is one which will surely continue to erode the traditional format of the grass roots game in the long term.
Of course, for all the glory and success of promotion, there is the disappointment of relegation. Bristol Academy were the victims at WSL 1 level, falling from the heights of a second place finish in 2013 to relegation in 2015, followed by a rebranding as Bristol City in 2016. No doubt the battle to avoid following the Vixens' decline will occupy the minds of some WSL 1 clubs.
The selection of a female footballer as one of the 12 BBC Sports Personality of the Year candidates was a sign of just how far the game has come in 2015. There is still a long way to go however in terms of public awareness of the sport. Hopefully 2016 will successfully continue the progress of this year.

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