This had been coming, it seemed to be only a matter of when, and ‘when’ became today. The English FA announced that the Women’s Super League would be ended ‘with immediate effect’. The urgency of that sounds funny for a decision that was likely made some time ago.
It’s unfortunate because the women’s game in Europe was experiencing lots of growth, as is often the case after a World Cup. But this time seemed different. Players names and faces were becoming widely known and the WSL was having a fun season as Chelsea, Arsenal and City operate as three super-teams battling for the top — each squad spent a not-insignificant amount of time at the top.
This was also the first year that the FA put effort into making the games viewable to a global audience. The FA Player was introduced ahead of the 19/20 season, and delivered free access to most* live matches in the league (*BTSport blacked out some matches in the UK so they could grab the ratings). The cyclical argument between fan of women’s sports and men who dismiss them is the cycle of ‘no one wants to watch that’, ‘you might not but I do, it’s just not accessible’, ‘yeah that’s because no one wants to watch that’; the FA Player put an end to that, and to no one’s surprise, the access paid off, and the league exploded in popularity.
It is a shame overall that this was halted prematurely, particularly with the storylines that were promising a furious finish to the season. Could Manchester City hang onto the top spot and spoil Chelsea’s run to the top? Could Chelsea win their game in hand, leapfrog City, then win out to keep them at bay? Would Arsenal finish outside of next season’s Champions League places?
All of this would have been reason enough to do all that’s necessary to ensure an on-the-pitch finish to the league. However, women athletes are not paid anywhere near enough to assume the risk required to finish the season. What they earn versus what they deserve is also a cyclical argument, because a lack of promotion, access, endorsement and marketing opportunities aren’t pursued, which leaves tons of money in the ether. The FA Player showed the global market is there, and the players showed they’re deserving of such an audience, and it’s likely an exciting end to the league season would have further aided the climb upward.
On a more Chelsea-specific level, it’s really sad that we won’t get to watch this team finish what they started. They were a fluid, dominant league-wide terror that scored seventy-one (71!) goals in twenty-four (24!!) domestic matches. Manager Emma Hayes injected the club with a rabid determination to win the treble, and they scrapped their way via a stoppage time goal to claiming the first available trophy.
Chelsea also aided the WSL by making the biggest signing in women’s football by bringing in goalscoring god Sam Kerr from the NWSL. It was an incredible signal of intent, and with Bethany England in the form of her life, Kerr was going to join arguably the most absurd collection of attacking talent in women’s soccer anywhere on the globe.
Although, Olympic Qualifying and a hectic international schedule led to Kerr never really getting going in a Chelsea shirt. Even still, she scored her first goal against Arsenal and provided a sweet backheel assist to Bethany England which at the time felt like a tidal wave of foreshadowing that I, for one, couldn’t wait to get hit by.
There’s also Chelsea’s number 9, Bethany England, who went nuclear this season. Hayes and England are open about how strictly the former challenged the latter, and how Bethany responded. The 25-year-old striker scored 14 goals and notched 4 assists in 15 league matches, and the last league match in which she didn’t score was played on November 17th!
While it’s sad to see a spectacular league season end so unspectacularly, given the circumstances, it’s probably for the best. The players don’t deserve to be put at risk for a fraction of what their male counterparts make, even as much as many of them probably want to. Hopefully the lessons learned from making the games accessible remain with those who need to understand it the most. The FA Player showed them the market, and though the virus has put an abrupt halt on the league’s momentum, we also don’t have to play along.
Let’s hope in the 20/21 season we can pick up where we left off.
(Also, ahem FA, there is the matter of figuring out how to crown a champion. Given that Chelsea are the only unbeaten team in the league, and that they have a record of 4-1-0 against their primary rivals, Arsenal and City, across all competitions, and that three points from a match against 7th place Everton is all that stopped the Blue from leapfrogging City to the top of the table, if ‘sporting merit’ is an actionable term then Chelsea should be awarded the three points and given the trophy. At the very least, this team earned an assumed win against a club with half as many as them. Do not make this worse than it already is. I beg of you. Ship the trophy to Cobham, they’ve earned it.)