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That was the year that was...2016
 Women's Football Club News - 4 Jan 2017
 
Patrick Higgins gives his thoughts on the women's football year which has just ended...
 
2016 has been a year of consolidation in women's football in England after the success of Canada 2015 and the higher profile which it earned as a result.
 
The national team qualified in some style for the UEFA Euro 2017 tournament and continued to test itself against quality opposition in friendlies. The promising Under-17 team reached the FIFA World Cup quarter finals before bowing out to eventual finalists Japan. The chief regret for many was the absence of a GB team from Rio 2016 but one happy event was the qualification of Scotland for Euro 2017 after so many near misses.
 
Domestically, a fractured WSL calendar saw the competitions running from March into November with huge fluctuations in frequency of matches. This no doubt led in part to the decision to realign the WSL with the rest of the pyramid from 2017 after six seasons of 'summer' football. Manchester City were a class apart in WSL 1, doing the League and Continental Tyres Cup double and achieving success in the UEFA Women's Champions League.
 
Arsenal lifted the SSE Women's Cup at Wembley with a single Danielle Carter goal, beating Chelsea in front of another attendance in excess of 30,000, ample proof of the popularity of this showpiece event.
 
WSL 2 was far more competitive, at least at the top end with four clubs battling for two promotion places, the West Country duo of Yeovil Town and Bristol City emerging triumphant. The growing gap in resources between the two divisions was shown by the season long struggle in WSL 1 of Doncaster Rovers Belles and makes Reading's survival all the more praiseworthy.
 
The FAWPL continued to progress in terms of media presence and profile with increasing match highlight availability, admirable fundraising efforts and camaraderie between clubs displayed both on the field and in social media. Brighton and Hove Albion won the play-off to attain WSL status at the expense of Sporting Club Albion after an exciting match and it is clear that an increasing number of clubs are becoming 'WSL ready', should the opportunity arise.
 
As a counterpoint to that success there were, as always, victims of economic and player availability problems which have seen the demise of Nuneaton Town and the voluntary demotion from the FAWPL of Forest Green Rovers. As has always been the case, the vast majority of clubs operate through generous sponsors and volunteers as well as huge commitment of time and money from the players for the love of the game.
 
One pleasing trend was the re-emergence of some famous clubs from difficult times. Crystal Palace, FAWPL South East Division One Champions and AFC Wimbledon, runaway winners of the London and South East Regional have both returned towards their former status. Leicester City Women achieved a perfect 100 per cent record in the Midlands Division One whilst newly promoted Middlesbrough end 2016 on top of the Northern Division.
 
My personal highlight of the season was London Bees' Merrick Will converting the winning penalty against Chelsea in the Continental Tyres Cup Second Round. Having witnessed and reported on thirteen and eight goal beatings of the Bees by the Blues in previous seasons, it felt like a club came of age that afternoon.
 
The women's football family was united in 2016 by the tragic loss of Zoe Tynan and the passing of stalwarts of the game such as Sylvia Gore, Anne O'Brien and David Coyle. Never has the phrase 'There is so much more that unites us than divides us' rang more true than in 2016.
 

 
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