It was an appropriate end to a roller coaster season in the Women’s Super League as Liverpool snuck past close rivals Chelsea and Birmingham to grab the trophy from under their noses on the last day of the season. But will this dramatic day spark more interest in women’s football the UK?
Women’s football in the UK has undergone quite a change since 2010, when the Women’s Super League (WSL) first came into action. Regular football shown on BT Sport across two high profile leagues has boosted popularity around the country. More viewers have been tuning into the games, and stadium attendances have risen by 30 per cent in the last year.
The final day of the season in October was the cherry on top of another gripping campaign. The Reds started the day third, but goals from Natasha Dowie, Lucy Bronze and Fara Williams secured a 3-0 win over Bristol Ladies, while Chelsea and Birmingham failed to win meaning that Liverpool won the league on goal difference.
Chelsea came unstuck as they lost 2-1 away from home to Manchester City, with City striker Toni Duggan striking the winner with a stunning volley. Birmingham also had the chance to secure the title but were held by Notts County Womens in a 2-2 draw. Birmingham’s Karen Carney missed a penalty in the second half which added to heartbreak of the Blues.
Liverpool manager Matt Beard told BBC Sport that he was proud of his side delivering on the big stage again as they won their second consecutive league title: “Our game finished first and we were able to watch Chelsea finish theirs on the TV, and it was just fantastic for us when that final whistle went at Manchester City.”
Head of BT Sport Simon Green, believed that the action on the last day was spectacular but from a broadcasting stand point in was tough due to the unpredictable outcome and he told Artefact’s Ryan Davies: “The last day was quite mixed because three teams were up to win it.”
Green said: “We have a budget, which means we can cover it to a point but you have to think ‘Where is it going to be won?’ Someone did the statistics for us and they worked out that it was about a 60-1 chance that Liverpool would win it. So when I say it was mixed, It was mixed because on the one hand it was brilliant it finished fantastically. We did have one camera out at Widnes where Liverpool were playing, but we only had one. So in terms of the drama, it was fantastic but in terms of how it looked on air because it was just a single camera at the Liverpool game.”
With women’s football lagging behind the men’s game in the UK for many years now, the WSL was created to give game more appeal to the general public. It could also be offered as an alternative to overspending on the top flight men’s game. The transition needed a platform to make it accessible for people to watch the live action. Enter BT Sport. The new broadcasting company stepped up to take on the concept.
When asked about how his coverage aided the revival of women’s football, Green denied that BT’s coverage of the WSL was the only catalyst for the change but admitted they have given it a platform previously lacking: “I think what the BBC did over the Olympics was absolutely fantastic, I think Sky has, not particularly with women’s football but women’s sport with the cricket and golf, I think they have also been a part of bringing on women’s sport a long, long way in the past five or ten years.
“I think it is in a much better position that what it was. I still feel that it has an enormous way to go. We’ve helped the WSL, and I give credit to the FA for setting up the WSL in the way that they have. It is a competition with proper meaning now and I hope that it grows,” he added.
Green also believes that with more consistent scheduling from the WSL, a better platform can be made for the competition. “The next steps are basically to get regular times in the schedule for it because if you look at the way it was scheduled this summer, it was all over the place. That isn’t our issue, It’s more the WSL and the WSL have to address that because unless they give us regular spots in the schedule, it’s difficult to build as a product.”
Former England women’s captain, Casey Stoney said in her BBC column that the emergence of the league has created a fan base in the UK. “It just goes to show that when the sport is showcased well, as it was by BT Sport and Radio 5 live, who both broadcast all three games, the excitement and the quality is there for all to see. So, is there a desire from the audience to see more? Based on Sunday’s events, the attention it received on social media and the growing crowds this season, I’d have to say yes.”
Stoney added the last day will go down in history: “In my view, it was the best finish we’ve ever seen and a fantastic advert for the game. Right until the final whistle, a goal for either of the teams in blue would have meant they snatched the trophy out of Liverpool’s hands.”
It is yet to be seen if the WSL has been a success with only four years gone in the project. But from what has happened so far, things are looking bright for the Women’s game. A shift is clearly evident. There is no doubt that the men’s game will stay perched on the top of the English sporting tree but this fantastic final day and exciting new league could spark more interest and reel in bigger crowds to give the women’s game the credit it’s due.
Images by Natasha Dowie via Twitter