Somehow, what with it only being about three days since the new season started, we were taken quite heavily aback by the fact that the mid-season break is now underway. Astonishingly, though, there appear to have been a whole 23 league matches played this season alongside myriad domestic and international cup games. Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?
In a bit of a departure from the usual weekly roundup format, this week we’ve gone for a bit of a midseason review with a few half-year awards and some thoughts on the season to date. We were going to include a look back at our predictions from the beginning of the season, but we’ll save those for the End of Season review later in the year. Not at all because they look just a bit embarrassing right now. Honest.
The Midseason Review
We’ll be honest with you: going into this season, we were a little bit concerned that the hopes and dreams of women’s football might fall a little…well…flat, to be honest. It’s the everlasting curse of the international tournament that the season after can’t help but feel a little soulless and given that last summer’s Olympic games really felt like that moment when British women’s football had made its mainstream breakthrough, there was more than a little trepidation that the quality of the football itself would somehow let us down. Now, to take a slightly pessimistic viewpoint, one might contend that expectations haven’t been met. But while we may not be seeing five-figure crowds drawn to FA WSL games each week, it’s fair to say that increased televisual coverage and media attention have played their part in bringing women’s football to the masses. And as for on the pitch? Well, let’s just say it didn’t let us down.
Disregarding the first week of action, where all but one game was snowed off, this season has been a relentless succession of thrilling action where expectations have been confounded, overthrown and firmly undermined. And who doesn’t love a season like that? Straight from the moment Liverpool travelled to Arsenal for the home side’s opening league game of the season and returned home with not only three points, but an utterly unprecedented 4-0 hammering under their belts, this season felt like it was going to be different. And with an influx of new talent to the FA WSL, including three overseas players who have delighted at almost every turn, there’s never been a better season to support women’s football in England.
The European stage also offered one of the most unpredictable moments in recent years, with Champions League debutants Wolfsburg defeating imperious, and previously undefeated, holders Lyon to ensure that German football held club level European dominance in both the men’s and women’s games.
Of course, some things have stayed true to course, and Arsenal’s victory over Bristol in the FA Cup ensured that an early sticky spot for Shelley Kerr as Arsenal manager has at least yielded another trophy to add to the burgeoning North London trophy cabinet.
Talking of true to course, off the pitch events have again done their utmost to undermine the success of the women’s game for fans, players and all who care about the credibility of the sport. On the face of it, the formation of the WSL 2 in time for the 2014 season has been both encouraging and exciting for women’s football in the country. Yet the frankly astonishing decision to relegate Doncaster Rovers Belles to the second tier, irrespective of their performances this season, shows a staggering disconnect between the sport’s administrators and its fans. With the club’s widely supported appeal process currently underway, it remains to be seen exactly what shape the FA WSL will take once the 2014 season gets underway. And while in other circumstances (say, one with a clear promotion/relegation model) that might be an exciting prospect, in this particular circumstance its a frankly sickening one.
But to take a positive spin (because, if we don’t, frankly what’s the point?) with an almost entirely unexpected joint-leadership at the head of the FA WSL table moving into the midseason break, we can be guaranteed three things when the league recommences after Euro 2013: excitement, some superb football and an almighty battle for the league title.
1. Liverpool P6 Pts 15
2. Bristol P6 Pts 15
3. Everton P6 Pts 8
4. Chelsea P7 Pts 7
5. Arsenal P4 Pts 7
6. Birmingham P6 Pts 6
7. Lincoln P7 Pts 3
8. Doncaster P4 Pts 2
The Sportist Midseason Awards – 2013
Our wholly unscientific and not-at-all-made-up-on-the-spot midseason awards section, this. Lovely.
Team of the Midseason
Narrowly edging Champions League winners Wolfsburg, our team of the midseason is the side who have gone from 2011 and 2012 also-rans to early favourites for the FA WSL title. Not only did they consign to Arsenal Ladies to their first league defeat in 3,000 years, but they did so by travelling to the Emirates and then having the gall to put four unanswered goals past the champions of the last two seasons. A wholly respectable 15 points from their opening 7 matches, scoring 17 goals in the process, puts them in an outstanding position going into the second half of the season, and again helps to promote the debate for those who support the cause of full-time training schedules for female footballers.
Player of the Midseason
Dowie, signed from Everton alongside her former-blue colleague Fara Williams, raised eyebrows amongst seasoned observers when she claimed her decision to sign for Liverpool Ladies was influenced by a genuine belief that her new team could win the title. To say it looked unlikely at the point of her transfer in November would be understating the case quite drastically. Dowie’s beliefs have been firmly vindicated, though, and the 24 year-old striker’s five league goals – the most of any player in the league to date – have been a key reason for Liverpool’s early season success. An inspired signing.
Narrowly missing out were the excellent Nikita Parris, Jess Clarke and Natalia…speaking of whom…
Overseas Player of the Midseason
Natalia, Louise Fors and Sofia Jakobsson
Frankly, this one was simply too difficult to bring down to a single player. Each a new signing, for Bristol, Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, all three have settled to the FA WSL like a second home, bringing goals (13 between them, in league and cup competitions), flair, intrigue and an ability to unpick even the most sure-footed of defences. The three have been sparkling additions to the FA WSL and we look forward to seeing the three of them in action at this summer’s European Championships, the latter two representing hosts Sweden and the former hoping for inclusion in the Spain squad, with her goalscoring exploits in a Bristol shirt earning her a first recall to the Spanish squad since 2009.
Match of the Midseason
Wolfsburg 1 – 0 Lyon
Because, frankly, this is the match that never should have ended this way. An unbeatable Lyon side who couldn’t stop scoring vs a team making their Champions League debut. A Lyon victory wasn’t predicted. A Lyon cakewalk was predicted. And yet…the magic of the cup, eh? Wonderful stuff.
Disappointment of the Midseason
Because how – HOW?! – can you mess up something as brilliant as an expansion of the FA WSL? Disgrace.
Well, the FA WSL now puts its feet up with a mug of hot chocolate, a pipe and its slippers until August 4th where everything gets in gear again. Worried about missing women’s football for a solid two months? Don’t be. In less than a month, the Women’s European Championships kick off in Sweden, where Hope Powell’s England team will be looking to make significant headway into a competition that might – just might – be within their grasp. There’s tough competition in their way, though, with the likes of France, Germany, Norway and hosts Sweden in their way. It’s going to be a cracking tournament, and we’ll be covering as much of it as we damn well can.
See you in a month, women’s football.
Image from The FA/Getty Images – thanks!