WSL 2 – Women’s Super League. Is it all it’s cracked up to be?

April 2011 saw the introduction of the Football Association Women Super League and with it brought new and exciting women’s players who make up the two divisions of the women’s football league. Fast forward five years and the Super League 2016 now consists of 19 teams split to ten in the first and nine in the second division. As you may expect the ‘big’ clubs dominate the first tier. Manchester City are the holding champions with Arsenal and Chelsea on their heels.

I went to a WSL 2 match to gain a feel of premier women’s football. This was part of the Spring Series. A competition to “bridge the gap” between breaks in the season. It previewed to be hard-fought game between home side London Bees – who share the Hive stadium with League 2 Barnet FC. – and visitors Oxford United Women. Walking past the residential area the sprinklers were readying the pitch for the game and a one man further down shepherding the queue of cars coming in. A good sign for the attendance. Yet I learned that as well as being a football stadium it also loaned itself out to the public. Kids training was taking place in one of the artificial turf playing surfaces and inside the café was the stairs to the gym. A local club if ever there were one.

In recent history women’s football attendance has risen averaging 1,128 and 443 respectively and in a 2pm kickoff the London Bees saw 479 fans attend. One lone spectator said before the match “I thought it was the guys game, that’s why I came. (…) “I’ll stay for the first half, I might be surprised thought.” Bees captain Ashleigh Goddard answered his doubts as she led her team to a comprehensive win, scoring one in a 3-1 win.

While it’s important to recognise the achievements of professionals competing for club and country, the importance of the spread of women’s sport is sometimes overlooked. Televised women’s sport and its promotion is paramount for its success. BT Sport televise the first tier of the Women’s Super League which puts women’s football further than it’s ever been before. It’s support from the Women’s Premier League in which winners promote themselves to the WSL have given British women’s football more depth. The strength of women’s football has only got stronger. In 2017 Manchester City signed Carli Lloyd. Part of the USA team to win gold at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games and the 2015 FIFA World Cup in Canada, the WSL just got a whole lot harder.

The broadcast from the BBC, BT Sport and others shows good signs of development but there are some improvements to be made. Given the arrival and popularity of other formats to cover sports events, surely it should replicate and learn from the broadcasters. Using social media has become part of the media landscape with many WSL teams using it to help themselves. Even with the new technology the women’s game still lacks behind the men’s. For example: Arsenal and the ladies’ team’s Twitter’s vary widely. The men’s team has 9.3 million followers while their counterparts only have one hundred and fifty-eight thousand followers.

It’s difficult not to compare the women’s game to the men’s because WSL teams deliberately couple themselves with the men’s club to gain more fans. Nowadays it’s hard to find a cultured football fan who doesn’t know anything about women’s football. Kait Borsay, a freelance broadcast journalist who has previously worked for Sky Sports and Talksport now presents The Offside Rule podcast talked to me about her views on the current state of women’s football.

“Of course it doesn’t get the media exposure to get the coverage on broadcast or in print but it’d be a bit unfair to compare one and the other because the men’s game is just in a different place in this country. I think the big thing to focus on that it’s growing and it’s in a better place than it used to be.”

 This optimism for the women’s game is well substantiated as the 2015 World Cup in Canada with a total attendance of 1.3 million and where  England beat Germany to win third place – their best result – brought in a whole new fan base and coverage from the British media partly because of the Offside Rule. Kait found that “our content was going everywhere (…) because it caught the attention of the nation. The men’s football was doing badly so it was good to have some good news relating to football.”

The Women’s Super League is just one cog on the wheel for women’s football to become a mainstay in people’s thoughts. The participation from the media and the local community to support any level of women’s football is most important for young girls and women to continue in football and sport in general. The 472 people in the crowd for the London Bees WSL 2 game doesn’t seem like much but in the grand scheme of things if the Bees were to average this across this season, they’d be doing better than average. If you live near to or know of a WSL 1 or WSL 2 team it doesn’t take much to go down to watch and support them. The WSL is constantly growing with the support they have from their fans and some of the media, yet doesn’t compete with the men’s. The 3-1 win for the London Bees and the passion showed by the fans proves that even with attendances a fraction of the Premier League, women’s football can be competitive and something people want to watch.

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