It’s been a long winter without any football. ‘What on earth are you talking about?’ is one of the many responses that has probably entered your head after reading that statement. Whilst I am fully aware that there has indeed been plenty of football for me to engage in over those months, it’s only been a filler for what I perceive to be the main event – the Women’s Super League. As I’m sure many of you are aware, I was fortunate enough to be offered a placement with The Women’s Sport Trust last summer covering Sunderland Ladies AFC and I absolutely fell in love with both them and the women’s game in general. I’ve been chomping at the bit to get back down to Hetton to watch a live game (for £2.50 as well) and now that moment is finally here!
The majority of you reading this probably have no idea about anything to do with women’s football. Whether that is the case or not, you should read on regardless as I take you on a whirlwind tour of each team in the greatest football league in the world.
The most successful English women’s team in history, the club have amassed a staggering 41 trophies in their existence, including winning the quadruple in 2006/7. They were league champions in the top tier of English football for nine consecutive years between 2004-2012, including claiming the first two WSL titles. However, they have finally been caught by other teams and are no longer the standout.
Last season – 3rd (27 pts)
Coming off the back of a poor 2014 season in which they finished fourth, they got off to a poor start with a draw against Notts County in their opening WSL game before losing to Chelsea. This was followed by a patchy mid-season spell before a strong conclusion to the season saw them as one of four teams fighting for the title. It was too little too late though and they had to settle for third.
The acquisition of Fara Williams is arguably the signing of the summer. The England international has over 150 international caps and is one of the sweetest strikers of a ball in the game. Arsenal’s midfield was already strong, but having Williams in the middle makes it look formidable. Foreign imports Danielle van de Donk and Josephine Henning also bring an array of experience of the European leagues as Arsenal push to claim their first title since 2012.
Key player – Natalia
Whilst Williams may be the star signing, it’s Arsenal’s exciting playmaker upon whom their expected title challenge will rest. The Spaniard was the joint second-highest scorer in the league last year and, on her day, is all-but-unstoppable. Can she prove that her debut season in the WSL wasn’t a one-off?
Prediction – 2nd
Having watched Arsenal live last season, it was obvious that they should have been fighting for the title. However, I still don’t think they are quite ready yet; 2017 will be their year.
One of the oldest teams in existence, Birmingham are a team who have worked through tough financial times in the ‘90s to the top end of the game but have scant little to show for it. Indeed, their FA Cup success in 2012 is the only trophy of significance the club have ever picked up. They were initially one of the stronger teams when the WSL was formed, finishing runners-up in ’11 and ’12, but have slipped down the table since.
Last season – 6th (13 pts)
2015 was a dire year for The Blues. Having only just missed out on a top two finish and Champions League qualification the year before, they found themselves languishing near the bottom end of the table as other teams strengthened dramatically around them. Two late-season victories against Bristol and Notts County were enough to secure their safety but it was overall a very poor campaign.
Once again, limited finances have meant the club have barely been able to strengthen their resources, although the acquisition of the talented Corina Schroder from Liverpool is a shrewd one. The main headline, however, is the loss of lynchpin Karen Carney to Chelsea. In a team with few standout players, Carney will be sorely missed and her departure could signal the end of Birmingham’s run in the top flight.
Key player – Jo Potter
Potter has consistently been a regular in the team since signing in 2009, but with the absence of Carney the former England international now needs to step up and shoulder the burden of expectation if the club are to stay up. If anyone can do it then Potter can; she has been playing professional football for 14 years and that level of experience and know-how will be pivotal this year.
Prediction – 8th
They have just enough to be able to stay up this year, but something needs to change at this club sooner rather than later. Let’s hope someone stumps up the cash that will help them develop alongside the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.
Although they became affiliated with the men’s team in 2004, it wasn’t until 2014 that Chelsea started to become a major force within women’s football. Indeed, their only performance of note up until then was finishing runners-up in the 2012 FA Cup. Current manager Emma Hayes was appointed after this and since then the club has gone from strength to strength.
Last season – 1st (32 pts)
They missed out a first WSL title on goal difference in 2014, but instead of crumbling next time round Chelsea powered their way to the title in 2015. Not only that, but they claimed the double by picking up the FA Cup in front of a huge Wembley crowd in a landmark moment for women’s football. A surprise 4-0 loss to Sunderland in July threatened to scupper their chances but their quality eventually shone through.
The acquisition of Karen Carney is absolutely huge. A midfielder with over 100 caps for England and a member of the superb 2015 World Cup campaign, Carney is one of the best players to have ever graced the game and having her in the centre of the park suggests Chelsea are planning on a treble this year. Watch out for Jade Bailey too – the 20 year-old, signed from Arsenal, may well be the next Carney in years to come.
Key player – Ji So-Yun
In a team full of exceptional players such as Fran Kirby, Eni Aluko and Katie Chapman it’s hard to pick one individual upon whom their campaign may rest. When she first signed for the club in 2014, few hard heard of Ji outside of her native South Korea. Everyone knows who she is now. A player capable of things scarcely conceivable, the midfielder was the driving force behind the team last year and if she’s on form again this year there will be no stopping Chelsea.
Prediction – 1st
Since the inception of the WSL, there has been a trend of teams winning the title for two consecutive years and I fully expect Chelsea to carry this trend on. Their team is full of exceptional ability and experience and they are streaks ahead of the rest right now.
It’s so good to see the Belles back where they belong. Hugely unlucky to be forced out of the WSL purely in terms of finances at the end of 2013, this club was a dominant force back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. They have claimed 2 top-tier league titles and 6 FA Cups in their history but, barring victory in the 2009 FAWPL Cup, haven’t won anything since 1996. Hopefully their promotion from WSL2 will return the club to their former glory days.
Last season – 2nd (45 pts) [WSL2]
After being pipped to promotion by Sunderland in 2014, Doncaster yet again finished runners-up in the WSL2 in 2015 as Reading won the title on goal difference. However, the introduction of a top-two promotion rule meant that The Belles would not be left upset this time. They ended the season undefeated in 10 games across all competitions, although an early season FA Cup defeat to Chelsea will have dented that confidence somewhat going into this campaign.
Doncaster have been busy during the transfer window, adding seven new players to their squad whilst only losing Beth England to Chelsea. They have brought in three players from Liverpool, including the highly experienced Becky Easton. Their marquee signing however has to be that of Natasha Dowie. The striker was hugely unfortunate to miss out on England’s World Cup squad and proved that by scoring 14 goals across all competitions last year. Bringing Dowie in shows Doncaster aren’t just around to scrap for relegation; they want to causing a major upset.
Key player – Courtney Sweetman-Kirk
A name you almost definitely will not have heard of before, Sweetman-Kirk really shot onto the scene last year with 25 goals in all competitions, leading to her being voted the Players’ Player of the Year in the WSL2. Much like Sunderland’s Beth Mead did in 2015, the striker needs to continue this to prove that she is capable of playing at the highest level. In combination with Dowie, The Belles have arguably the strongest strike force in the league.
Prediction – 6th
I don’t quite expect the Belles to repeat the heroics of Sunderland this year but they should finish comfortably in the middle of the table.