28 March ~ It’s been a bad week for good news at FA headquarters. With the noise created by waving goodbye to yet another chief executive, it would be easy to miss that the Women’s Super League took another step forward with the announcement of the eight teams that will compete when the league kicks off in March 2011. The founder clubs are mainly drawn from the Premier League: Arsenal, Birmingham City, Bristol Academy, Chelsea, Doncaster Rovers and Everton.

But the carefully organised selection process threw up two unexpected names in Liverpool Ladies and Lincoln Imps, currently standing first and second in the Northern Division. Premier League clubs from among the eight rejected applications have been vocal in their disappointment.

It’s easy to find some sympathy for Sunderland who have argued their case on sporting grounds, currently first in the PL and FA Cup finalists last year. It’s less easy in Nottingham Forest’s case as their chief executive felt there was a missed opportunity by not including one of the “biggest brands”. Each selected club has been granted a two-year licence and the league will operate initially on a closed basis. The FA's intention is to look at ways to integrate it into the pyramid after the settling in period.

A key argument advanced by the FA for establishing the league was the need to encourage the best home talent to play in this country. The relaunch of women’s football in the US, with Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), has attracted top players and of the England squad announced for the World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Spain, six currently play in the States. Establishing a competitive elite league in this country is a key part of raising standards to support the England senior team and as England Coach Hope Powell says: “It’s about professionalisation.”

A tricky balance has had to be struck between making the league attractive to top players and at the same time making it competitive and sustainable. From the outset the FA has been keen to maintain competitive balance with the idea that “top players should play for different clubs across the country”. They rejected parts of the WPS model of a draft (up to three current US internationals were allocated to each club) and limits on other senior international players (no more than four at any club). However, a salary cap – designed to “stop top clubs stockpiling the best players” – has been adopted. Within that cap and a limit of 20 registered players at any time, clubs can employ no more than four players earning more than £20,000 per year. Players’ earnings from central contracts, worth £16,000, introduced last year are excluded.

There’s no doubt that the league will face challenges. Its launch, delayed by a year, will benefit from the publicity attracted by the World Cup in 2011, particularly if England do well. But, in its second year it will have to compete for media time with the London Olympics. A major plus for the WSL was its inclusion in the deal struck last year by ESPN to secure rights to the FA Cup. Alongside the financial benefit is the regular exposure that both players and coaches will gain, perhaps increasing the career opportunities for the growing number of qualified women coaches.

Crucial in the selection process was the development case advanced by the clubs. Although the FA will provide development funding of up to £70,000 for each club each year, clubs are expected to at least match that sum. A summer season – from March to October – will avoid a clash with the men’s game and the idea of combining some fixtures into a bank holiday Football Festival is innovative. Nevertheless, success will depend on the league attracting both fans and sponsors in sufficient numbers by producing competitive football. That said, in a bleak week for football’s governing body it was one piece of potentially good news. Brian Simpson

Comments (6)
Comment by Broken Clock 2010-03-28 11:42:33

"Some sympathy"!!!!! Ferchissakes its another FA carve up/fuck up.

Only the FA could expect a league chosen on a criteria other than merit to advance the cause of the womans game in this country.
Sunderland were top of the league last time I looked (albeit having played most games) and FA Cup finalists last season.
Only fools would place Liverpool and Lincoln ahead of them and the FA is full of fools as we all know.

In 1890 Sunderlands geographic position prevented them being admitted to the embryonic FL and 120 years later nothings changed.

Shame on you FA fools. I hope its only incompetence and nothing more sinister. As we know everything leaks out of the `FA eventually and we wait with baited ears.

The English FA: a shaming that never ends.

Comment by Guy Potger 2010-03-28 16:36:04

How is this cynical stitch-up "good news"?

Another stroke of genius by the FA, ignoring such precedents as merit and achievement. Just make sure there's a wedge of cash behind it, and it'll all be apples.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-03-29 13:40:42

While I agree that teams should get to where they are by merit, I would argue that Lincoln has shown it is into Women's football and more so than most of the other teams. 3,000 turned out for a cup game against Arsenal which was record attendance, and 1,500 turn up for some of the league games. It must also be noted that OOH Lincoln City Ladies are a team almost totally seperate from Lincoln City FC and share only a similar name and kit.
I have sympathy for those exluded, it is hardly foolish to include a team that is supported by the community in a way that other teams are not and simply seem to exist almost as an obligation.

Comment by imp 2010-03-30 01:28:20

A couple of years back the Lincoln women's team (Christ, how I hate the word 'ladies' applied to women's sport) announced ambitions to build their own stadium, though I've no idea how far that has come along. In terms of their market and their historical team strength, I'd say they have just as much right as any of the others to be in this league, and arguably there's a greater fan potential in a county not exactly saturated with success on the men's side.

Comment by Broken Clock 2010-03-30 10:53:42

Im sure there is an audience for womans football in Lincoln and Liverpool and that its possibly a bigger one than on Wearside. If so then let em gain a place at the top table on footballing merit.

Back in 1892 Sunderland mens team had to be artificially catapulted into the FL two years after formation having been refused admission after refusing to pay the travel expenses of the other founder members.
The FL were shamed into backpedalling when Sunderland won a series of friendlies against founder members until an unofficial FL ban prevented anymore games.
Their original (1890) playing squad had largely dispersed by the time admission was granted and we finished midtable with a makeshift team in the first season. Winning the league the following year.

The similar dispersal of the current Sunderland team is the most predictable thing about this whole sorry affair.
The FA should be ashamed of themselves.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-03-30 13:54:23

So essentially your arguement is that Sunderland Women should have a place in the top league to right a wrong from 1892? I can understand your view with regard to footballing merit, although Lincoln have consistantly been up near the top and just unfortunate not to be top at this particular moment. They have also done well in the cup. However your constant reference to what happened to the Sunderland men's team makes me question whether this is even about getting women's football in Sunderland.

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