As the men’s Premier League season draws to a meaningful close (at the time of writing, Manchester Utd are in the process of romping towards their 9 billionth PL title), the FA WSL season is firmly into the swing of things. Well, almost, as defending champions Arsenal Ladies have yet to actually kick a ball in anger outside of European and Cup competitions. For the rest of the division’s clubs things are beginning to take shape, though, with some ridiculously entertaining matches replacing the relative drudgery of the first round of league fixtures.
Fixtures were spread across Thursday, Saturday and Sunday last week due to all sorts of scheduling shenanigans, but as Monday morning dawned the league had an early front-runner in Chelsea Ladies who consigned Doncaster Rovers Belles to a 4-0 defeat in front of home crowds. Liverpool Ladies may have dominated headlines with their close-season transfer business, but Chelsea’s new recruits have really caught the eye in the early stages of the new season, striker Sofia Jakobsson adding to her debut goal against Birmingham City Ladies last weekend with a first-half brace to set the West Londoners on their way. Fellow new-signing Eni Aluko bagged the Blues’ third midway through the second half before fellow-forward Helen Ward put a real sheen on the victory with her first of the season in the 68th minute.
Sunday’s match saw Lincoln Ladies come within 5 minutes of taking 3 points away to Birmingham before a late own goal from England captain Casey Stoney ensured a share of the spoils. Lincoln’s Jess Clarke opened the scoring with a perfectly executed volley, the England winger striking from amongst a crowd of defenders although she had been unlucky not to open her account minutes earlier, her curling strike appeared to be heading for the bottom corner before Marie Hourihan’s excellent finger tip save tipped the ball wide. Lincoln could have added to their lead, but were pegged back with 5 minutes remaining through Stoney’s own goal after fine work from England U19 forwards Melissa Lawley and Kirsty Linnett. The two young forwards, pre-season signings from Bristol Academy and Arsenal Ladies respectively look excellent prospects for both club and country.
The weekend’s league action had begun with Bristol Academy Ladies hosting Everton Ladies on the Thursday evening kick-off and the two sides delivered yet another roller-coaster match after the previous weekend’s FA Cup Quarter Final match had finished 3-2 to the Lady Imps. This time, Bristol again emerged victors by a single goal, coming from behind to defeat their Merseyside opponents 4-3. Ann-Marie Heatherson’s opener had been cancelled out by a brace from Everton striker Toni Duggan, the second coming from the penalty spot, before new Spanish signing Natalia (dubbed ‘the female Michu’ by Bristol Academy manager Mark Sampson in pre-season) levelled the match at 2-2. A brace from Corinne Yorston then sandwiched a set-piece equaliser from Alex Greenwood to consign Everton to their second defeat in as many games to the Lady Imps. Despite their travails, the continuing impressive form of England forward Toni Duggan remains a bright spot for Everton, who will be hoping that high-scoring defeats can be put behind them when they face Chelsea Ladies in their next match in the Continental Cup.
Bristol Academy Ladies 4 – 3 Everton Ladies
Doncaster Rovers Belles 0 – 4 Chelsea Ladies
Birmingham City Ladies 1 – 1 Lincoln Ladies
Champions League Semi-Finals
Set a mammoth task following their 0-2 first leg defeat to VfL Wolfsburg Ladies, Arsenal Ladies bowed out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage for the third season in a role, beaten 2-1 in Germany on Sunday afternoon. In truth, the task had looked too much even at kick-off and, even if this was Wolfsburg’s first appearance in the Champions League, the advantage of playing within a system which permits full-time, daily training was evident from the game’s early exchanges. Indeed, having been fortunate to hold the game at 0-0 in the early stages, Shelley Kerr’s team seemed to be beginning to gain a foothold in the match when Selina Wagner put the Germans in front, leaving Arsenal needing at least 3 to progress to the Final. And while the momentum seemed to shift briefly to the English champions with Kim Little’s equaliser on the day, a penalty converted on the rebound by Nadine Kessler after a handball by Little in the Arsenal box ensured there would be no British representation in the final, to be held at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge in May.
The attendance of over 8,000 on a Sunday lunchtime spoke volumes of the level of interest in the match on German soil and hints in combination with a sport which permits full-time training of a greater level of opportunity for women footballers on the continent. Indeed, it should be little surprise that sides from France and Germany, one of them surely the greatest club side in women’s football currently, will contest the final next month and raises a disconcerting prospect for the future of British women’s football. If the game is to continue in a part-time, semi-professional aspect for the foreseeable future, it is difficult to see how Britain’s leading clubs and players can be expected to compete against sides offered the security and experience granted by continuous full-time sport. And with the difficulties encountered in negotiating relatively low living wages for centrally contracted players last year, it seems difficult to envisage the necessary funding entering the women’s game in this country without an influx of external sponsorship, potentially opening the way to damaging mismanagement as seen in previous incarnations of the club game in the US. This is quandary with no easy answers and many uncomfortable questions, yet until they are encountered it would be sensible to assume that ‘almost’ might be the height of reasonable ambition for England when they journey onto foreign soil.
On brief mention of the world’s greatest club side, Olympique Lyonnais’ 6-1 victory over FCF Juvisy Essone included their 40th strike in the Champions League this season and their first goal conceded. To conceptualise an equivalent dominance in men’s football, one would have to imagine Pep Guardiola’s peerless Barcelona side (2011 vintage) with three Lionel Messis, and an extra 4 defenders on the pitch. Truly a staggering, staggering team.
VfL Wolfsburg Ladies (4) 2 – 1 (1) Arsenal Ladies
FCF Juvisy Essone (1) 1 – 6 (9) Olympique Lyonnais
Image from fr.uefa.com – Thank you!