City’s Galacticos policy off to encouraging but fruitless beginnings

Liverpool Ladies FC v Everton Ladies FC - The FA WSL

5 quick thoughts on Liverpool’s 1-0 victory over Manchester City

1. Encouragement aplenty but no end result for City

Manchester City’s FA WSL existence could hardly have got off to a more difficult beginning. Pitched into action away from home to the 2013 champions, few outside of an excitable media following would have naturally anticipated anything but defeat. Even the messages from the City camp over pre-season have been firmly about baby steps – a line they were keen to reiterate in the preliminaries to this evening’s fixture.

On another night, though, they might have come away from this evening with a point and perhaps more, for while the visitors were clearly troubled by Liverpool’s high intensity in the early stages, they showed enough in attack to strike genuine concern into the title favourites. Indeed, Liverpool were indebted to new ‘keeper Libby Stout on numerous occasions keeping them in contention and then ahead after Natasha Dowie’s second half strike. Given that City’s squad have barely taken the field together, this was a start that offered far more than the ’0′ in their points column might indicate.

2. Toni Duggan is blessed with genuine quality

Played on a pitch for which the term ‘cut up’ was invented, City’s new striker showed a level of ingenuity and a deftness of touch to suggest she will be a fixture at the top end of women’s football for years to come. Her appearances for Everton, of course, had suggested as much – but this was a really impressive showing from the England forward, and on a night in which the opposition ‘keeper had been in less sterling form, she may have added to the goals she notched in her FA Cup debut for City at the weekend.

3. Gemma Davison looks a shrewd acquisition for Matt Beard

They may not have been runaway league champions in 2013, but few would argue they didn’t deserve the title. Coming into this season missing the considerable talents of the newly-signed Lucy Staniforth, influential Nicole Rolser and loaned out Louise Fors, questions over the Reds’ penetration would have been justified. Under those terms, the signing of Gemma Davison from Arsenal looks an inspired piece of business. Nominally deployed on the left wing, but given free reign to drift across the forward line, Davison was excellent throughout and caused innumerable problems for City’s defence. While her final ball lacked something – and a relatively poor goal return at Arsenal has been a question throughout her career to date – she might have opened the scoring with a searing shot having from the right just minutes in. Davison possesses occasional magic in her boots and looks a good fit at Liverpool.

4. City’s Galacticos policy is understandable, but perhaps flawed

City’s investment into women’s football has been well documented, but their on-the-pitch acquisitions bear more than a marginal resemblance to the maligned galacticos policy practiced by Real Madrid in the earlier part of the 21st century. While none would argue that City have moved anything except decisively in the transfer market, the matching of international, FA WSL experienced players with others who’ve hardly pulled up trees in previous City incarnations was showed up on occasions this evening. In defence, in particular, new captain Steph Houghton was occasionally left exposed, while only half (at a generous assessment) of their deep-lying players are truly suited to playing the ball out from the back as exhibited in the number of times chances were gifted to Liverpool through sloppy play in the City defensive third. Perhaps an approach of upgrading more generally throughout the team may have borne greater dividends?

One further note on this point; one major summer acquisition, ‘keeper Karen Bardlsey, faces a battle to get into the City lineup on tonight’s evidence. With injury opening the door to backup ‘keeper Andrea Worrell, the Welsh international was sensational, at one point denying Natasha Dowie a seemingly inevitable goal with a smart stop down to her right. Sometimes it’s the unsung players who really stand out.

5. Natasha Dowie could prove to be the difference again this season

Last season’s league top scorer, Natasha Dowie was the difference between an almost-but-not-quite season and the league title for Liverpool in 2013. Her smartly taken goal in the 70th minute decided this tie and, while she ought to have scored much earlier on when clean through, her constant threat in front of goal was in evidence yet again. For all their good football throughout the team, it is the occasionally blunt instrument of Natasha Dowie that puts them a step above their rivals. She is a player to be admired and feared.

(The rest of this week’s FA WSL fixtures will be covered in Monday’s football round-up)

Image from TheFA.com – thanks!

CS

 

Weekly Football Roundup – We’re back (and so’s the football)!

FAWSL

Well, that was a bit of a break, wasn’t it? Thankfully, after far too long a gap and an audience desperately awaiting their fix like so many chocolate addicts clawing their way through Lent (yes, I’ve given up chocolate, and I’m struggling) finally the main event’s back.

But enough about the near month-long gap between Sportist articles. This week sees the welcome and long overdue return of the FA Women’s Super League. And this time, it’s incredibly serious.

For starters, the English football pyramid has seen its single biggest development since the formation of the WSL back in November 2010 with the introduction of the long-awaited ten-team second tier and the prospect of relegation now firmly on the cards. Then there’s the still somewhat controversial introduction of Manchester City Women’s FC (formerly Manchester City Ladies’ FC until the club’s re-launch earlier in 2014) and the staggering level of investment made by the country’s wealthiest club into the women’s game. Add in the rebranding of Lincoln Ladies as Notts County Ladies FC, the departure of Head Coach Mark Sampson from league runners up, Bristol Academy, to take on the England Manager’s role and the frankly staggering level of transfer activity that has gone on within the league, not to mention Liverpool’s attempts to retain the title they won for the first time in 2013 (a precursor to the men’s team’s success this year, perhaps!) and it’s clear that 2014 is a year like no other for women’s football.

Then, of course, there’s the ten team second tier, featuring a roster of teams including the revered Doncaster Rovers Belles and newly formed London Bees, alongside teams including Aston Villa and Sunderland. The FA’s welcome commitment to women’s football promises to strengthen the depth of talent available to Sampson in his new role, as well as offering a further step towards a professional era in English women’s football. Exciting times.

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In the top division, such has been the level of change that it’s difficult to make too many solid predictions. But these things we do know:

New Kids on the Block – Manchester City WFC

This club is serious about women’s football. Alongside the signings of England internationals Karen Bardsley (signed from Lincoln Ladies), Steph Houghton (Arsenal), Nicola Harding (Liverpool) Jill Scott and Toni Duggan (both Everton) – and how’s that for a spine of the team, by the way? –  has come England youth player Isobel Christiansen and New Zealand international Betsy Hassett. Make no mistake about it; this is a team aiming for the title.

The Defending Champions – Liverpool Ladies FC

The reigning champions will be in no mood to surrender the title they stormed to in 2013 and the addition from Arsenal of England winger Gemma Davison is a statement of serious intent. The signing of Lucy Staniforth from Bristol Academy looked an inspired addition too, before a cruel pre-season ACL injury put paid to her 2014 campaign before it had even started, coming shortly after recovering from a brutal injury sustained to her other knee in the FA Cup final against Arsenal last season.

The Mighty, Fallen? – Arsenal Ladies FC

Here’s interesting. The perennial champions of women’s football, the club that had for so long set the pattern for success in the women’s game, appears troubled. A close season in which no fewer than 8 players have departed (Kim Little, Steph Houghton, Gilly Flaherty, Gemma Davison, Ellen White, Katie Chapman, Ciara Grant, Yvonne Tracy) and 6 signed in their stead (Siobhan Chamberlain, Casey Stoney, Anouk Hoogendijk, Christie Murray, Yukari Kinga and Shinobu Ohno), a defeat in both legs of the Champion’s League Quarter Final against league rivals Birmingham City and a growing realisation that last season’s loss of the title may be no mere blip adds up to a challenging season for Shelley Kerr after a debut year which brought two cups but also a sense of the first days of the fall of Rome.

While Arsenal’s additions are laudable, their departures could be near grievous with the loss of Houghton, Flaherty, Davison, White and Chapman to domestic rivals a particularly bitter pill to swallow.

An Unknown Quantity – Bristol Academy FC

2013′s runners up have had a tough pre-season too. While the club has done exceptionally well to hold onto its Three Amigos (Natalia Pablos, Laura Del Rio and Keka Vega), the loss of Siobhan Chamberlain to Arsenal and departure of the influential Mark Sampson for international management are potential body blows. The side demonstrated an unfaltering ability to mix with wealthier and more widely favoured clubs last year, though, and should teams with higher expectations struggle to integrate significant volumes of new players, Bristol could once again capitalise.

The Last Bastion – Birmingham City FC

Few gave them much of a chance when drawn against domestic giants Arsenal in the quarter finals of the Champions League and even after a 1-0 first leg victory at home, most expected their more vaunted rivals to have too much in the tank in the return leg. Not so, and an aggregate 3-0 win has left Birmingham as England’s last representatives in Europe’s premier continental competition. With Sweden’s Tyresö FF their next opponents, Birmingham will require a performance even stronger than that which ousted the Gunners to secure their place in the Champions League Final. Yet possessed of a youthful side with exceptional vigour and no lack of pace, few would willingly bet against them.

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The WSL 2 brings down the curtain for the very first time this evening, with Oxford United Women hosting London Bees, while the WSL 1 commences on Wednesday with matches between Birmingham & Everton, and Notts County at home to Arsenal. This season promises fireworks. Don’t miss a thing.

FA WSL 1 Fixtures

Birmingham vs. Everton (16/04)

Notts County vs. Arsenal (16/04)

Bristol Academy vs. Chelsea (17/04)

Liverpool vs. Manchester City (17/04)

FA WSL 2 Fixtures

Oxford Utd vs. London Bees (14/04)

Aston Villa vs. Doncaster Rovers Belles (16/04)

Reading vs. Yeovil Town (16/04)

Watford vs. Millwall Lionesses (16/03)

Durham vs. Sunderland (17/04)

 

Image from FA WSL.com – Thanks!

CS

Old school BBC World Service logo

Old school BBC World Service logo

Yesterday BBC World Service set sports reporter Kirsten Webster the challenge of delivering a gender balanced sports bulletin.  The results were interesting, with Webster pointing out that despite reporting on the women’s Sony Open Tennis, there were no audio press clips of the female athletes available. Even more interesting was that after talking about women’s sport Webster nearly fell into the trap of referring to the men’s sport news as the ‘main’ sports before realising what she was saying. Listen here from about 49mins 30seconds in: bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01v2hkw

The women’s sports reported on were:

So it was mostly a gender balanced sports bulletin focusing on how more sports bulletins (and beyond) need to be gender balanced.  However at least the BBC and World Service were trying and maybe, just maybe, this could get the ball rolling for more of the same.

FQ.

p.s the men’s sports reported on were:

  • FC Basel possibly facing disciplinary action after their fans caused their Europa Cup match to be postponed for 10mins.

 

 

Allez les Bleus!

francewomenhuddle14800SBR

All over, bar the shouting.

England may yet have to face Italy, and Wales host Scotland on Sunday, but last night, for the first time in nearly a decade, French hands wrested possession of the Women’s 6 Nations championship.

As is typically the case in the 6 Nations, victory was achieved with a Grand Slam, secured by a narrow 19-15 home victory against an Ireland side that will surely now finish the tournament in third position. Ireland themselves had entered the match with an outside chance of defending the title they won in unexpected fashion last year, though such was the points difference between themselves and France at the outset that only a landslide victory would have put them atop the standings. And if that possibility looked unlikely, trailing 5-0 at half time, it looked impossible immediately afterwards when Elodie Portaries’ try was converted by Sandrine Agricole to open up a 12 point gap.

And while a Niamh Briggs penalty closed the gap, another converted French try, this time from centre Shanon Izar left Ireland out of sight. Despite a late comeback, the title had firmly escaped Irish hands and with the French defence resilient enough to hold on in the closing stages, so too were England’s title hopes ended on French turf.

Having become frankly sterile in the 7 years leading up to the 2013 tournament, with England securing seven consecutive titles, the Women’s 6 Nations has sparked into life in the last two years with a newly competitive northern hemisphere providing a welcome injection of unpredictability into the flagship tournament.

For France, attention now turns to this summer’s World Cup on home soil, a tournament that has been England’s noted aim since the beginning of 2013, and into which New Zealand will come with serious designs on retaining the title they have held every year since 1998.

If the pattern of this year’s 6 Nations is anything to go by, expect the unexpected.

CS

Image from rbs6nations.com – Thanks!

Women’s sport vs. the media, still…

wsffToday WSFF have launched their latest figures of the commercial investment and media profile of women’s sport.  It was time for a renewed set of stats as the last ones came were produced before London 2012 (where women won 24 of Team GB’s 65 medals and exactly half of the Paralympic medals), before the Athletic World Championships (where Christine Ohuruogu’s 400m gold medal race had most of Britain sat on the edge of their seats) and before a whole host of female athletes pushed themselves to the limit to represent their country, bring home world titles and generally be awesome.


BLT (Before London Twenty Twelve) was a dark time for women’s sport, however when millions of people actively tuned into the Games to watch golden girls such as Jess Ennis compete and didn’t spontaneously vomit, combust or burn their televisions at the presence of a female athlete on their screen it sparked an increased awareness and interest in women’s sport.  Since then both print media and some of the biggest sports broadcast corporations have promised and delivered heightened coverage of women’s sport, from BT’s coverage of the WSL this year to Sky Sport’s commitment to the Women’s Ashes and ZEO Netball League to name a few.  So as you can tell, it was time for new stats to show that the share of media coverage for women’s sport is no longer at the dismal 5% found in 2011 (or BLT).


In good news, the new percentage is higher. In bad news it is only higher BY 2%.  Yes ladies and gentlemen, despite the pledges and support of the media, women’s sport only makes up for 7% of the total sports coverage hitting our screens.  Add to that the fact that the value of reported sponsorship deals for women’s sport has actually decreased from only accounting for 0.5% to a mere 0.4% of the overall market and you can’t help feeling there’s slight cause for concern.


In 2013 the most valuable women’s sport sponsorship deal in the UK was Continental Tyre’s 5 year backing of the FA WSL with a value of  £450,000 (estimate), whilst Laura Robson was the benefactor of the highest priced, longest sponsorship deal for an individual thanks to Virgin Active’s 2 year deal of est. £195,000. Compare this to the men’s if you will. For a 5 year sponsorship of The Football League, Sky Bet gave £27,500,000, over 60 times the WSL’s deal with Continental. Rory McIlroy meanwhile notched up an impressive £150,000,000 for a 10 year sponsorship with Nike, which works out about £30,000,000 every two years, about 150 times more than Robson’s deal. It would also be really interesting to see if there’s a variation between McIlroy and Jensen Button’s sponsorship deals with Santander in comparison to their partner-in-cringey-advert-crime Jess Ennis who received a £195,000 deal for her part.


As for the media, WSFF’s stats show that in October 2013, the supposedly glorious post Olympics time, women’s sport was granted 10% of TV sports coverage, made up 2% of the coverage in national newspapers, took up 5% of the radio sports broadcasts and was given 4% of the sports coverage from online channels.  Not only is this a smack in the teeth for all the sports women who train day in, day out to become world class gaining recognition for their efforts, but also leaves a huge gap in the market for all those young women looking for an alternative to the Made in Towie Shore girls that dominate our media.  It’s widely agreed that sportswomen are incredibly positive role models, however how will the millions of girls in the UK see that there’s an alternative if it remains pretty much invisible?


These latest stats are a wake up call to the dire picture of women’s sport currently in our media despite the success of our female athletes.  On the back of this WSFF are launching their ‘Say Yes to Success’ campaign to build up excitement, interest and investment around the women’s sporting calendar. Here’s hoping that the next set of statistics will make much more pleasant reading…


FQ.