Ah, harbingers of spring. Lighter mornings. The delay of nightfall until after a normal person has left the office. Green shoots in the hedgerows. The announcement of the FA WSL fixture list.
Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again when the FA WSL bandwagon rolls into town for the fourth time. And this time it’s bringing it’s younger sister along for the ride.
The last few months have undoubtedly been the most tumultuous in recent history for domestic women’s football with the newly formed second tier of the FA WSL leading to the introduction of new clubs at both levels of the elite pyramid and a volume of transfer activity more normally associated with the men’s game. As a result, the landscape for women’s football in the UK is at its most uncertain for many years – and this, surely, is exactly what the game needed.
Under ordinary circumstances, The Sportist is no fan of artificial remapping of the sporting territory. Success in sport is most deservingly earned through hard graft, sensible long-term investment and on-the-field reputation. Yet these are no ordinary circumstances and, just this once, we’re delighted to see a league shaken up beyond the point of recognition.
Two years ago at London 2012, the country demonstrated its appetite for women’s football and its willingness to support a branch of football of as high a quality and with as much unpredictability as its better established men’s counterpart. The FA played its part with its focus on securing commercial sponsorship and media attention, but the game continued to flounder amongst audiences unsure of the intrigue in a league without threat of relegation and with such well-established powerhouses.
In 2014, neither of these will be the case. New narratives will be written. Teams will be unpredictable. Matches invested with a new sense of intrigue.
Thursday marks the next step in a growing success story within women’s sport. Whether in agreement with the way in which the playing field has been reset, or not, it’s difficult not to feel a sense of excitement. We can’t wait.
2 weeks into its 2014 campaign, the Women’s 6 Nations is shaping up to be one of the most gripping tournaments in recent years. Defending champions Ireland flew out of the blocks in their opening match putting 59 unanswered points past a hapless Scotland before seeing an England side widely expected to recover from 2013’s poor tournament shocked in France, going down 18-6 to their Gallic hosts. Meanwhile a crowd of 2,000 in Talbot saw Wales edged out 12-11 by Italy to leave the three United Kingdom sides floundering at the bottom of the table.
A week later, the English juggernaut belatedly woke from its slumber to run home a 63-0 victory away from home in Scotland, while Ireland ground out a hard-fought 14-6 win over Wales and France win their second home match in succession 29-0 over Italy.
With the tournament about to enter its first break week, a series of crunch games are on the horizon with England-Ireland and France-Ireland fixtures seemingly destined to decide the fate of the trophy. France instinctively feel favourites, but facing consecutive away fixtures against Wales and Scotland will have to demonstrate their capacity to take scintillating home form into foreign territories. Fail to do so and English or Irish hands will be waiting to prise the trophy from their hands.
No pressure, then.
Images from wikipedia.org and demotix.com – Thanks!