‘Too close to call.’ That is the general consensus surrounding the hyper-competitive FA Women’s Super League ahead of the season’s curtain-raiser on 23 March.
Champions Chelsea clinched the 2015 WSL 1 trophy in dramatic fashion, edging title rivals Manchester City on the last day of the season. It saw the London club avenge their championship woes of the previous campaign, when the league slipped from their grasp on the final day as Liverpool finished top of the pile on goal difference.
This year, the top flight has expanded to nine teams and with clubs across the country continuing to grow in professionalism, 2016 promises to be yet another tightly-contested campaign.
“You just cannot call who is going to win the league this year,” England women’s national team assistant coach Marieanne Spacey told FIFA.com. “You look at the clubs and the emphasis now is on full-time training, the players are in every day and it’s so competitive.
“Having an extra team in the league also gives players more exposure and game-time, which will certainly be beneficial for the international side.
“There’s a real buzz going into this season. And it’s not just people who have been in women’s football for a long time that are buzzing about it; it’s the new recruits, the new fans, new players, new coaches – they’re are all excited and looking forward to an extremely competitive season of women’s football.”
2015 was a landmark year for women’s football in England as the Lionesses’ third-place finish at the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ significantly boosted the profile of the domestic game. Fans flocked in their numbers to watch the likes of Steph Houghton, Fara Williams and Toni Duggan ply their trade at club level after Canada 2015, which resulted in a 48 per cent rise in attendances from the previous year.
“The Women’s World Cup really captured the imagination of the people in England,” said Kelly Simmons, the FA’s Director of Football Participation and Development. “The nation got behind the Lionesses and after the World Cup, the attendances in the Women’s Super League significantly increased.
“The numbers that got behind the national team has helped to take women’s domestic football to a new level and we need to keep building on that.
“The players now are more recognisable and youngsters even have the names on the back of their shirts. They’re becoming household names and that’s great for the sport. We hope it will inspire a lot of youngsters to become fans and perhaps players in the future.”
As well as a significant increase in crowds on the back of Canada 2015, the women’s domestic game made a strong statement by hosting the FA Women’s Cup at Wembley for the first time last season. A record crowd of over 30,000 descended on the national stadium as Chelsea defeated Notts County 1-0 last August, which also drew a television audience of nearly two million.
For the first time, the league’s broadcaster, BT Sport, will show a live game at every round this season, while more digital highlights and content will also be made available to supporters. Katie Brazier, the FA’s Head of Women’s Leagues and Competitions, hopes to continue building on the league’s increasing profile.
“We surpassed all the targets we set in terms of attendances and viewing figures but it’s still not where we want it to be,” she told FIFA.com. “We want to continue to push those figures higher going into this season.
“Doubling the fan and player-base is an objective we have for the FA as a whole for women’s football by 2020. We've given the clubs a target of 1,400 in average attendances this year, where we were just over the 1,000 mark in 2015. There’s a fair bit of work to do there but we do think it’s achievable.
“We want to keep the momentum going on the back of Canada 2015 and the league is critical for helping us to do that.”