From Manchester United to Lewes, newcomers benefit from WSL revamp

After months of speculation and anxious waiting it is finally known which teams will be competing in the top two revamped tiers of women’s football in England next season. It was always going to be controversial with up to nine places available in the second round of applications across the two leagues and 15 clubs competing for spots. The lack of seemingly viable applications for the new fully professional top tier, the Women’s Super League, has meant that only six sides have been successful.

There was confirmation in March that Arsenal, Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Reading and Yeovil had been successfully admitted to the WSL in the first round (open to clubs already in the top two tiers) with Brighton the only club to move up. Aston Villa, Doncaster Belles, Durham, London Bees, Millwall, Sheffield City and Tottenham all secured their existing status in the second tier (Women’s Championship). But who joins them, who has missed out and how worthy are they?

The winners

West Ham United West Ham were one of the first teams to announce a bid for the top flight and are delighted to have been successful. Having taken the women’s team in-house towards the end of 2016, Jack Sullivan, son of the joint-owner David Sullivan, was named managing director of the women’s side and they began to recruit with intent. Moving up will not be easy, West Ham finished seventh in the Women’s Premier League Southern Division (third tier) in the 2017-18 season but rumours of the former Chelsea and Liverpool manager Matt Beard (out of a job after Boston Breakers folded) being readied to manage West Ham in the WSL will certainly help their transition.

Quick guide

Women’s Super League and Championship teams

Women’s Super League

Arsenal
Birmingham City
Brighton & Hove Albion
Bristol City
Chelsea (pictured)
Everton
Liverpool
Manchester City
Reading
West Ham United
Yeovil Town

Women’s Championship

Aston Villa
Charlton Athletic
Doncaster Rovers Belles
Durham
Lewes
Leicester City
London Bees
Manchester United
Millwall
Sheffield FC
Sheffield United
Tottenham Hotspur


Photograph: Chelsea Football Club/Chelsea FC
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Manchester United When Manchester United announced they would finally be launching a women’s team the reaction was mixed. There are obviously huge benefits to one of the most powerful clubs in the world changing tack and deciding to take women’s football seriously. It is 13 years since United shut down their women’s side but the growth of the game and the success of Manchester City have no doubt prompted them to join the party. However, their joining comes at a cost. With places so tight the possibility of the Red Devils leapfrogging longer standing sides into the Women’s Championship has provoked anger and frustration. United are reportedly spending £5m on building their squad, as a professional team, and that has also raised eyebrows. They are clearly financially suitable for the top flight but have insisted on a chance to build up from tier two. It makes sense from their point of view; they have three months to build a new club. But with places at the top less valuable in this round of the process, and their professional side being allowed to play in a semi-professional league, there has been irritation to say the least.

Charlton Athletic, Sheffield United & Leicester City Charlton and Leicester are natural choices to join the Women’s Championship and alongside Sheffield United worked hard on their bids. The London side won the WPL South Division title and secured their admission to the new second tier (while having also to meet the criteria) with a 2-1 play-off win against the Northern Division champions, Blackburn Rovers, on Sunday. They won the FA Cup in 2005, are two-time League Cup winners.

Meanwhile Leicester City finished second in the third tier WPL Northern Division behind Blackburn. Sheffield United are a team on the rise. They won promotion to the fourth tier Midlands Division 1 and finished third in their first season. They are coming from lower down but their promotion is welcome reward for the work they are doing.

Lewes FC A surprise addition to the league but a welcome one. Perhaps less deserving than some, having finished fifth in the WPL Southern Division. However, the club’s approach to their women’s team and their ambition has been impressive. The first club to pay their women’s and men’s teams the same, the side’s also get equal use of the unique Dripping Pan stadium.

The losers

Sunderland, Watford and Oxford Sunderland’s demotion from the top flight, probably into the third tier, is devastating. The north-east has lost its sole representative at the top. A side in turmoil as its parent men’s club attempts to distance itself, they have performed well beyond their means to finish seventh this season. They held off from bidding for entry in the first round and, with the FA desperate to avoid an uneven 11 teams in the Women’s Super League, their application must have been questionable. The future now hangs in the balance after a year of wrecking tactics from a club not wanting the burden of a women’s team.

Like Sunderland Watford did not bid in the first round. They in fact announced they would choose to drop down to the amateur third tier, causing the respected manager Keith Boanas to resign, before a change of heart saw them submit an application late on. The turmoil has affected things on the pitch with the side picking up only four points from 18 games in 2017-18. Oxford have suffered a similar fate but without the off-field controversy. They finished eighth in WSL2 and their manager, Andy Cook, has resigned following the news they will drop down.

Southampton A surprise omission from the Women’s Championship. Southampton, like Manchester United, announced they would launch a team and bid for entry for the new season. As a Premier League club they aren’t exactly strapped for cash, and they have a youth set-up. The disappointment could lead them to scrap the plans altogether. They will likely have to enter at the seventh tier and work their way up. Another tactic could be to adopt an existing local team.

Blackburn Rovers Having won the WPL Northern Division title, Blackburn missed out on an automatic spot in the second tier thanks to their play-off against Charlton. However, they were confident they would prevail regardless. Missing out is very, very harsh. They went undefeated last season on the way to a double and this year scooped a treble.

Crystal Palace and Derby County Palace are bitterly disappointed not to have made the cut. They finished above Lewes and West Ham, finishing third in the WPL Southern Division. Derby finished seventh in the Northern Division and linked up with Derby University to build their bid.

C&K Basildon Ladies The only club unaffiliated to a men’s side in the process but C&K Basildon Ladies are no second-class team. They finished behind Charlton in the WPL Southern Division and it is disappointing not to see a side still going it alone in the top two tiers.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/sport/rss