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Women's Football News
Patrick Higgins looks back on the year just finished, an eventful year for the women's game...
The phrase ‘one step forward....' seems appropriate for women's football in a dramatic 2017.
Another semi final appearance for the senior England national team in a major competition was subsequently overshadowed by a much discussed dispute which culminated in the dismissal of the manager. Hopefully lessons will have been learnt by all who need to.
With all the United Kingdom's senior national teams showing obvious progress in rankings and 2019 Women's World Cup qualifying well under way, the next twelve months look exciting as well as challenging at international level.
The domestic scene was dominated throughout the year by two clubs. Manchester City, with an SSE FA Women's Cup Wembley win allied to promising displays in the UEFA Champions League and Chelsea, who won the transitional Spring Series competition and with an ever increasing array of international talent assembled, currently look like worthy challengers for City on all fronts.
Tottenham Hotspur earned progression to WSL 2 with an FAWPL play-off victory over Blackburn Rovers. Spurs are a club which has risen steadily over the years through the pyramid, an example of what can be achieved with dedication. The unfortunate choice of play-off venue, which greatly disadvantaged supporters of one competing club, must surely never happen again.
Guiseley Vixens, Gillingham and Wolverhampton Wanderers all returned to the top FAWPL Leagues after recently suffering relegation while Chichester City reached the FAWPL elite for the first time.
The overwhelming majority of the women's pyramid, operating as it does with disproportionately smaller financial backing from the governing body than the FAWSL enjoys, uses self funding models with varying degrees of success. Superb stories such as Lewes FC's commitment to equal pay for the women's team are the exception, sadly.
My favourite memory of the year was a match between Basingstoke Town and Poole Town in the FAWPL South West Division One in October. Two clubs playing at the highest level in their history, two sets of players giving everything for the love of playing, nine goals with several worldies amongst them.
My first experience of women's football was watching Southampton Saints in season 2003-04. The club had just been disowned by men's club Southampton FC. That season, three clubs fought out a thrilling last day battle for the title in the top league, 16 points clear of all challengers. Two of those three title contenders, Fulham and Charlton Athletic, were also to be disowned within three years.
Happily. all three clubs still exist thanks to the efforts of volunteers and patrons. But the message is clear and fully relevant in 2017. Just ask fans of Notts County LFC. The perils of over-reliance on finance and support from men's clubs are very clear. The recent reforms of elite level women's football seem to this observer to be heading towards potentially dangerous repetition of previous scenarios.
In addition, the notion of a closed off professional league with entry based largely on financial criteria and no access through on field performance seems to run contrary to the very essence of sporting competition. How will professional women's football become self financing? Will ticket prices for the top tier rise to reflect the need for sustainability? Would players be wise to sacrifice careers outside the game for the dream of a pro contract?
After a highly eventful 2017, there are more questions about the domestic game in England than answers.
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