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How Women’s Football is beginning to grow within the UK

There seems to be no doubt that the development of women’s football in the UK is beginning to head in the right direction…

For a start, during England’s World Cup Semi-final against the USA the peak audience on the BBC reached a reported 11.5 million.

Opening day of Women’s Super League (WSL) attendance figures

The momentum of the World Cup in France was certainly carried on as demonstrated by the record attendance at the first ever Manchester derby this past weekend in the WSL at the Etihad Stadium. It was revealed that 31,213 attended Manchester City’s 1-0 win over Manchester United.

This is significantly more than the previous attendance record that was set during Arsenal’s league win over Brighton, in which 5,265 visited the Amex Stadium towards the end of the 2018/19 season.

Chelsea Football Club went a step further in trying to capitalise on the recent exposure of women’s football by offering free tickets for their opening day game at Stamford Bridge, a game they won 1-0 against their London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in front of 24,000. Meanwhile Bristol City played out a 0-0 draw in front of just over 3,000 against Brighton at Ashton Gate.

Millie Bright, the England and Chelsea centre back, said that “it was not just about the football but a fun day out for the family with fun activities such as face painting and fire engines and police cars to try out.”

Bright however went on to say that “while it was great that more and more people were coming to games, it is a business and fans should be buying tickets with occasional promotional offers.”

The fact  more people chose to watch the match in Manchester at £7 per ticket over the free tickets given out for the game in London shows that the fans are prepared to pay for the day out.

Expansion of the Women’s Super League

The games taking place at high profile men’s grounds such as the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge shows that the Women’s Super League are already trying to improve on the average attendance of games from last season, which averaged 900.

The number of teams in the league also stands at the largest that it has been in the WSL era, at 12 teams. This is one more than last season, where just Yeovil Town were relegated from the last campaign. The addition of high profile clubs such as Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur to the league can only enhance the profile further.  The new £10 million sponsorship deal that the league now has with Barclays this season will also go along way towards helping with this.

Initial discussions are already reported to be on going to arrange double headers with the men’s games on the same day – following the successful Six Nations rugby model.  In addition, WSL games played at the men’s clubs grounds have already encouraged a wider audiences.

A further Super League match is already set to take place at Tottenham’s new stadium between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur later this year, while Manchester United and Liverpool have also recently announced that they would be interested in hosting women’s football at Old Trafford and Anfield respectively. The problems however with this approach are maintaining the engagement of the newfound family audience. The accessibility of getting to the stadiums where regular WSL matches are played remains a challenge.

The regular WSL grounds are sometimes quite a few miles away from the club’s traditional origin.  For instance Arsenal play at Borhamwood (12.2 miles from the Emirates) and perhaps the most challenging is that Manchester United play at Leigh Sports Village, which does not have access to a train station nearby. In the past also the clubs official websites for the women’s teams have proved challenging to navigate in terms of buying tickets and providing up to date information.

All this shows is that the game is still very much a work in progress, however the potential for growth certainly over this upcoming season is very much there.

Extended media coverage and the role of social media

Adrian Farina of VISA, a key sponsor, added at the recent Growing Women’s Football networking event that the media has a role in promoting increased players salary, wider audiences and improving the take up of the game.

Media publications and broadcasters are starting to embrace this responsibility in promoting the sport.  This includes the Daily Telegraph who have released a new editorial initiative this year to help raise the profile of women’s sport, (TWS).

Broadcasters such as the BBC will continue to show England International matches such as qualifiers for the Euros and friendlies.  In addition there is also a Women’s Football Show on BBC Four that provides highlights of the Women’s Super League on Sunday evening and focuses on the topical issues affecting the league.

BT Sport is also going to be showing at least 30 live matches throughout the season, their most yet!  Finally talkSPORT 2 has also launched a new radio show that is dedicated to Women’s football airing every Monday between 6-7pm, hosted by talkSPORT broadcaster Faye Carruthers.

The promotion provided by these media outlets and publications will certainly begin to address bridging the gap between the men and women’s game. It will also promote the stars of the women’s game and will begin to encourage people to follow them on social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram.

What more needs to be done?

It appears that the right actions are being put in place post the World Cup. The key question remains whether or not the bounce from a successful tournament in France can be maintained.

The success of the England team in Canada back in 2015 did not have quite the desired impact on the sport. This may have been due to the subsequent player, manager scandal involving the then England Manager Mark Sampson. An alternative factor could have been the fact the World Cup took place on another continent in Canada, North America.

The promotion of events outside major international tournaments within the game certainly needs to be maintained such as the Women’s Champions League competition and increasing the media coverage of the domestic game. More support from the Premier or Football Leagues could also help with this.

The inclusion of more female pundits within the game is also needed. Former Arsenal defender, Alex Scott being on BBC’s and Sky’s coverage of football is a good start in addressing this.

Finally, by showing more games on free to air TV and making the game more accessible to youngsters results in encouraging increased participation and popularity at schools and clubs.

Overall following on from the 2019 World Cup, women’s football is taking significant steps forward and hopefully by the time the SheBelieves Cup in March 2020 and the Summer Olympics in Tokyo later that year come around, more improvements and developments will be on the way!

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Women Super League 2019-20 Season Preview: Part Two

In our second of two posts, 24/7 football looks at the potential prospects of football clubs from Liverpool through to West Ham United ahead of the Women’s Super League that kicks-off on the 7/8th September.

No 7: Liverpool

First match of the season: Reading (H)

Last Season: 8th   Predicted Finish: 4th

I think they will certainly improve this season; they were also showing some good signs and developing quite well towards the end of the last campaign and have looked strong in pre-season.

What happened last season?

It proved to be a difficult season for Liverpool, having to contend with several injuries and a change of manager, Vicky Jepson taking over from Neil Redfern. They also had the challenge of several squad players leaving right at the start of the season.  The reds lost twice to their local rivals, Everton over the course of the campaign, which was a major low point.  One of their best results of the season was a 5-2 win over Bristol City.  They will definitely be looking for improvements this time around.

Key Player last season: Sophie Bradley-Auckland

The current club captain was named player’s player of the year for 2018 and the centre back played every single game for the reds last season. She has provided a huge boost for the club by signing a new contract over the summer.

Player to watch: Melissa Lawley

Signed from Manchester City over the summer.  Melissa is a proven Women Super League player and is also an England international.  The winger has impressed during Liverpool’s pre-season tour of the USA and will be looking to continue her good form.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Liverpool scored 58% of their goals in the first half last season.

No 8: Manchester City

First match of the season: Manchester United (H)

Last Season: 2nd  Predicted Finish: Champions

I think they will go one better this time round with Arsenal having to focus on the Champions League this season.

What happened last season?

The Citizens only lost one game all season however ended up finishing seven points behind eventual champions Arsenal.  Ultimately the number of drawn games against the likes of Bristol City and Reading proved costly.

Key Player last season: Steph Houghton

The England and Manchester City Captain was voted player of the year last season and also collected the Goal of the Season award by scoring a crucial late equaliser against Bristol City.

Player to watch: Georgia Stanway

Georgia was named the PFA Young Player of the Year last season, and is one of the most exciting rising talents in the women’s game at the moment.  The 20 year old has been with the club since she was 16 and has recently signed a new deal keeping her at the club until 2022 – definitely one to watch this season.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Steph Houghton was the only Women Super League player to play every minute of the 20 league games in 2018/19.

No 9: Manchester United

First match of the season: Manchester City (A)

Last Season: Women’s Championship Champions  Predicted Finish: 9th

This season will certainly prove a step up in class for The Red Devils, think they will have enough to stay in Super League however the loss of last season’s captain, Alex Greenwood to Lyon is a blow.

What happened last season?

In Casey Stoney’s first season as a manager, The Red Devils clinched the Women’s Championship title with two games to spare.  They were beaten just once in the league all season losing to Durham in December.

Key Player last season: Katie Zelem

Katie proved a crucial part of Manchester United’s Championship winning side last season.  She scored 11 goals from 23 appearances last season resulting in her winning the Player of the Year award.

Player to watch:  Jackie Groenen

Jackie became Manchester United’s first overseas signing this summer.  The 24-year-old Dutch Midfielder has already achieved over 50 caps for her country and played a pivotal role for them at the Women’s World Cup. This included scoring the winner against Sweden in the semi-finals.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Last season Manchester United scored 98 goals in the Women’s Championship and conceded just seven times.  This resulted in them finishing with a goal difference of 91.

No 10: Reading

First match of the season: Liverpool (A)

Last Season: 5th    Predicted Finish: 8th

May struggle to match what they achieved last season.

What happened last season?

Last season proved to be a success for The Royals, achieving a fifth place finish in the league as well making a first ever appearance in the FA Cup semi-finals against West Ham United.

Key Player last season: Rachel Furness

The Northern Ireland midfielder played a key role for The Royals over the course of the season. This included scoring a header in the FA Cup Semi-Final against West Ham United.

Player to watch: Rachel Rowe

The Welsh midfielder has recently made her return in pre-season from a serious cruciate ligament injury that kept her out of most of last season.  Rachel will be looking to repay the faith that the club have shown in her by offering a new contract at the end of the last campaign.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Reading achieved a record attendance in the FA Women’s League Cup Quarter–final last season against Manchester United, 4,835.

No 11: Tottenham Hotspur

First match of the season: Chelsea (A)

Last Season: Women’s Championship Runners– Up     Predicted Finish: 12th

 Not sure they have what it takes to remain in the Super League this season.

What happened last season?

Tottenham secured promotion to the Women Super League for the first time by finishing runners-up in the Championship.  Karen Hill’s side managed it with a game to spare following a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa.

Key Player last season: Rianna Dean

Rianna was the Championship’s joint top scorer last season, scoring 14 goals in 19 appearances, including a hat trick against former club Millwall.  She will be looking to continue that impressive scoring form in the Super League.

Player to watch: Ashleigh Neville

Ashleigh started 19 of Spurs’ 20 games in the Championship last season and scored four goals, including two against Charlton back in April.  This result proved crucial in Tottenham securing promotion to the Super League.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Tottenham Hotspur only had one draw in the whole of the Women’s Championship last season and that was in the second to last game against Aston Villa.

No 12: West Ham United

First match of the season: Arsenal (A)

 Last Season: 7th     Predicted Finish: 10th

Another club who I think may struggle to match expectations and performance from last season.

What happened last season?

The high point of the Hammers’ season was reaching the Women’s FA Cup final where they ended up losing to Manchester City.

Key Player last season: Gilly Faherty

Gilly was chosen as The Hammers’ Player of the Season and the club captain played a crucial part in their run to the FA Cup final.

Player to watch: Alisha Lehmann

The Swiss international was signed from Young Boys last season and is coming from an impressive first campaign for the Hammers.  She contributed nine goals and eight assists in her first campaign, resulting in her being nominated for Young Player of the Year for her efforts.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Managing Director of West Ham United Women, Jack Sullivan – son of West Ham United owner David Sullivan is currently the youngest football boss in football at the age of just 19.

Friendly International: England vs Norway Preview

England’s Lionesses face Norway’s Grasshoppers in Bergin on Tuesday evening in their second match, post the World Cup. (Kick off 5pm BST).

Their last meeting came just over two months ago when England defeated Norway 3-0 in the World Cup Quarter Finals.

The Lionesses will be looking to reach that level of performance again, as Phil Neville’s team begin to step up their preparations for the Olympics and the defence of the SheBelieves Cup next year.

England will certainly need to improve on their 3-3 friendly draw with Belgium last week, a team that are currently ranked 15 places below them.

It was only thanks to a late Nikita Parris penalty that the Lionesses avoided their first defeat to the Red Flames since 1980.

Opponents:

Following the World Cup, Norway have had a strong start to their 2021 Euro campaign by winning 6-0 against Northern Ireland last Friday.  Barcelona winger, Caroline Hansen scored an impressive hat trick and will certainly provide the main attacking threat for The Grasshoppers.

Team News:

Phil Neville will once again not be able to call upon World Cup top scorer, Ellen White. The Manchester City striker is likely to face a period on the side-lines through injury along with regular number one goalkeeper, Karen Bardsley.

In the past few days Reading midfielder, Jade Moore has also withdrawn from the squad with a thigh injury and has been replaced by Liverpool winger, Melissa Lawley. 

Midfielder Jill Scott meanwhile has also been rested for these friendlies.

Neville therefore may be tempted to rotate and hand a first start to Chelsea forward, Beth England, who gave an impressive display as a substitute against Belgium.

Manchester City’s, Aoife Mannion could also have a debut at centre back as well as other first time call-ups that include England Under-20 Bronze Medallists, Sandy MacIver and Anna Patten.

Recent Meetings:

Norway won the last international friendly between the two sides, 1-0 in January 2017.  England however won the last two World Cup matches, 3-0 in June 2019 Quarter-final and 2-1 in the Round of 16 match, 2015.

Women Super League 2019-20 Season Preview: Part One

In our first of two posts, 24/7 football looks at the potential prospects of football clubs Arsenal through to Everton ahead of the Women Super League that kicks-off on the 7/8th September.

No 1 Arsenal

First match of the season: West Ham United (H)

Last Season: Champions     Predicted finish:  2nd

The Gunners will almost certainly be challenging again this year but will face fierce competition from the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea. 

What happened last season?

Arsenal won their first league trophy since 2012 last season, under the guidance of first team manager Joe Montemurro.  The key to the title win was their fast start; winning nine games in a row including a 5-0 win against 2018 champions, Chelsea in October.

Key Player last season: Vivianne Midema 

The 22-year-old Dutch forward was named PFA player of the year last season following an outstanding return of 39 goals in 46 games in al competitions – 22 of them came in the Women Super League.  She will be looking to carry on that goal scoring form into this season.

Player to watch: Jordan Nobbs

The 26-year-old midfielder scored with her first shot at goal in pre-season against fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur – 281 days since she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament in November 2018.  This injury forced her to miss the World Cup in France and Jordan will be keen to make up for lost time. Up until that injury she played a key role in Arsenal’s winning start to the league, scoring eight goals in eight games.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Arsenal conceded the fewest number of goals last season – 13 and also faced the fewest number of shots at goal – 141.

No 2: Birmingham City

First match of the season: Everton (H) 

Last Season: 4th  Predicted Finish: 6th

They will most likely struggle to match last season’s finish. Mainly due to losing key striker and England international Ellen White to Manchester City. There have been several changes to the squad and the new players such as Abbi Grant, who signed from Belgium champions Anderlecht, will need time to adjust. 

What happened last season?

The Midlands side achieved their best ever points total in the Women Super League last season, under the guidance of former Atletico Madrid manager, Marta Tejedor.  Marta only arrived part way through last season in January 2019 but achieved outstanding results in the short time she has been in charge of The Blues. One of her most impressive accomplishments so far has been winning the Manager of the Month award for April.  Defeats however against both Bristol City and Brighton and Hove Albion caused them to just miss out on Champions League football.

Key Player last season: Harriet Scott

The Irish right back proved to be one of the most consistent performers last season. This resulted in her being named FAI Senior International player of the year.  Harriet has also given the team a much-needed boost by signing a new contract this summer.

Player to watch:  Brianna Visalli

The 24-year-old attacking midfielder was signed from West Ham over the summer. She was a key part of the Hammers side that got to the FA Cup Final last season and will look to hit the ground running at her new club.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Birmingham achieved victories against every side in the league last season apart from the top two teams – Arsenal and Manchester City.  These sides were responsible for four of the Blue’s six league defeats.

No 3: Brighton and Hove Albion

First match of the season: Bristol City (A)

Last Season: 9th     Predicted Finish: 7th

The Seagulls will be looking to consolidate their place in Women’s football top flight.  I think with a year’s experience now in the Super League that they will improve on last season’s finish. 

What Happened Last Season?

Brighton were a newly promoted side to the Women Super League last season. Under the guidance of former England Manager, Hope Powell they managed to ensure their top-flight status for another campaign. Notably highlights included victories over Birmingham City, Liverpool and last season’s FA Cup Finalists West Ham United.

Key Player last season: Ellie Brazil

At just 20 years of age Ellie was Brighton’s top goal scorer last season with four goals and provided four assists.  This resulted in her earning a call up to the England under-21 squad. Ellie’s pace is her main asset and she will look to continue to build on the promise that she showed last season.

Player to Watch:  Iniabasi Umotong

The Nigerian striker will be looking to rediscover the form that made her Brighton’s top scorer in the Championship two years ago.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

The Seagulls scored 25% of their goals between the 71stand the 80th minute last season.

No 4: Bristol City

First match of the season: Bristol City (H)

Last Season: 6th        Predicted finish: 5th

Predicting that the Robins will have another strong campaign this time round.

What Happened Last Season?

Last season proved to be an encouraging season for the West-Country side. They were successfully led by Australian coach Tanya Oxtoby They achieved a record points tally for the club, 25 points, on their way to a sixth place finish.

Key Player last season: Sophie Baggaley

The young English goalkeeper, at just 22, kept eight clean sheets in 20 games for the Robins last season.  This resulted in Sophie being voted PFA Player of the Year by the fans and she was also named in the team of the year.

Player to Watch: Vita Van Der Linden

Signed by the Robins this summer and looks an exciting prospect. The Under 23 Dutch international featured for AFC Ajax Vouvren’s Champions League campaign last season.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

Bristol City achieved a club record number of wins in the Women Super League last season, seven in total.

No 5: Chelsea

First Match of the season: Tottenham Hotspur (H) 

Last Season: 3rd        Predicted finish: 3rd

The Blues will be another club that will be challenging for honours again this season, under the leadership of highly regarded manager, Emma Hayes.

What Happened last season?

It proved to be a season of what could have been for the London club. Their start in the league ultimately proved costly and included a damaging 5-0 defeat to local rivals Arsenal.

Key player last season: Erin Cuthbert

The young Scottish striker was awarded Chelsea’s player of the year. She scored 13 goals including a Champions League Semi-final goal against Lyon, which went to be voted as the best goal in the competition.

Player to watch: Magdalena Eriksson

The Swedish international’s performances last season made her one of the best centre backs in the Women Super League.  She helped keep 14 clean sheets last season and will look to carry on that impressive form in this campaign.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

The Blues scored over a 100 goals again during the 2018/19 season which included an 8-0 win over Yeovil Town back in May.

No 6: Everton

First Match of the season: Birmingham City (A)

 Last Season: 10th         Predicted Finish: 11th

Predicting another tough campaign for the Merseyside club.

What happened last season?

It proved a challenging campaign for the Toffees last time. They had to contend with a change  of manager mid-season after Andy Spence stepped down. Former Manchester United Assistant Manager Willie Kirk took over. Throughout the season they primarily  struggled with injuries and scoring goals. Everton did however manage to achieve a first victory over local rivals Liverpool in the WSL Cup for the first time in five years.

Key Player from last season: Simone Magill

The Northern Irish striker was Everton’s player of the year last season. Simone scored the long-range winner in the Toffees 2-1 victory over Liverpool in December. She also achieved over a half-century of senior caps for Northern Ireland.

Player to Watch: Esme Morgan

The England Under 19 captain was brought in on loan from Manchester City for the 2019/20 season.  Esme is fresh from skippering England at the UEFA Euro under 19 Championships and the talented defender can play at both centre back or right back.

Interesting Statistic for pub quizzes:

The Toffees only scored 15 goals last season that was four less than the previous season’s tally.

Au revoir Claude 3 possible replacements at Leicester

After another defeat in the Premier League, a 4-1 thrashing at home to Crystal Palace, Leicester manager Claude Puel has been axed by the the club, a departure that had in all honesty been coming.

The defeat means that the foxes are now 7 games without a win and and are lying in 12th place in the league. Leicester aren’t going to get relegated nor are they making the European places, so now its time to move on.

Leicester fans have never really took to the frenchman nicknamed ‘whispering Claude’ due to his quietly spoken press conferences, Puel feels like he lived on the edge of the sack since he joined the club in October 2017 after being sacked by Southampton. The stoic and unenergetic Frenchman’s demeanor seemed to irk some foxes fans and not that charisma is a vital character trait of being a manager but you feel if former title winning Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri was in charge getting the same results the fans wouldn’t be so forceful in the feelings towards the manager.

Now Puel has been sacked, who might be in the frame?

  1. David Wagner

The enthusiastic German is now out of work after leaving Huddersfield by ‘mutual consent’ in January. After performing miracles with the terriers since he joined in 2015 Wagner may feel he has a point to prove following a disappointing season this year. Wagner plays attractive attacking football and is very tactically adept. With no money needed to prize the German away from a club Wagner could prove a strong candidate.

2. Brendan Rodgers

Since Rodgers left the Premier League for North of the border Giants Celtic he hasn’t looked back, winning multiple Spl championships, Scottish cups and Scottish league cups including the treble in his first 2 seasons. The Northern Irishman will know that English fans will say his accomplishments in Scotland don’t hold much weight and the Spl is a one club league so he would be eager to prove doubters wrong, he also has no more to achieve at Celtic. Rodgers also nearly guided Liverpool to the premier league title in the 2013-14 season, he has made no secret of his desire to return to the premier league, so is it now time?

3. Slavisa jokanovic

Another free agent, the Serbian was dismissed by Fulham in November 2018 after 7 winless results and the Cottagers languishing in last place, however the football Jokanovic had Fulham playing in the Championship was very exciting and attacking which resulted in Fulham being promoted to the premier league after a 1-0 victory over Aston Villa in the playoff final. The Serb plays the type of football the Foxes would enjoy and with a squad featuring Vardy, Maddison, Gray, Ndidi, Maguire, Schmeichel et al he could certainly get the club going in the right direction again.

Wayne Edge @oasis1711