With a schedule worse than a normal WSL weekend, lack-lustre coverage and a forgotten pyramid, the third edition of Women’s Football Weekend (WFW) didn’t feel very ‘weekendy’ at all. Impetus contributor Abi Ticehurst, takes us through why she thinks it was an opportunity missed (19/11/21).
Above: Reading’s Brooke Chaplen on the ball for Reading in their WFW clash away to West Ham United. Photo: @ReadingFCWomen
Having had a conversation with a pal who keeps, albeit distant, tabs on the goings-on of the WSL and regularly endures my rants about Reading and the women’s game, I was somewhat confused when I mentioned it was WFW and their response was ‘I didn’t know that. Has it been well advertised?’ In truth, unless you’re heavily invested in the wonder that is the world of women’s football, you likely didn’t have a clue it was happening and you certainly wouldn’t think it existed outside of the top flight of the Super League.
Let’s begin by discussing the scheduling. The new deal with Sky and the BBC has revamped the viewing of the WSL for the better, you simply had to see the first fixtures back from the international break last weekend to know that. Saturday 6th gave us Villa v title contenders Chelsea at 12:30 then Everton versus Brighton at teatime for a 5:30pm kick-off with Hope Powell’s ‘Seagulls’ continuing their stellar run this season. Whilst Sunday featured a thriller game between Spurs and Manchester United, with THAT Alessia Russo goal at 12:15, the usual 2pm’s in the shape of Birmingham up against Reading and newcomers Leicester at home to a struggling City and if that wasn’t a treat enough there was Arsenal running the show against the Hammers at 6:45pm.
Fast forward to WFW, and the now eagerly anticipated North London Derby (NLD) was to take centre stage at half one on the BBC, but that’s just it, they were the only ones on the big screen on Saturday as no other fixtures were to take place. The same time slot of the previous week was instead occupied by a repeat episode of Flog It! on BBC 2. Sunday was the real shamble scheduling however with five games on offer, but no chance to watch a full ninety of any of them, despite the early kick-off in the shape of Everton and Manchester United, you’d have had to have missed the first fifteen of any of the two o’clock kickoffs, which included another brilliant derby in the shape of Birmingham City v Aston Villa.
As derbies go, the NLD invites the hype it does because of the history the men’s sides bring to it, but it’s up to women’s football to create that same buzz around the Birmingham one and that mark feels well and truly missed. What are the intentions of a multi-million-pound television deal if two games on the ‘biggest weekend’ in women’s football end up stuck on the ever temperamental FA Player, just an hour after the previous two games kick-off time? I thought the chaotic days of multiple screens, all open at once, were done with.
What about social media? The FA have outlined their intentions to get younger fans watching and engaged with women’s football, the wrong strategy I’d say but that’s a whole other article, and how do you do that? YouTube is certainly one answer. But another missed opportunity this weekend as rather than pick a content creator already invested in women’s football, they instead chose ‘Away Days’ shirt unboxing, camera star Ellis Platten. No disrespect to the content he creates, it clearly works as he has 100k followers, but he just didn’t feel like the right fit for the direction, I assume, they were intending with this choice. He wrote what seemed like a couple of forced tweets throughout the weekend and the content still isn’t out on his channel. It’s surely irrelevant when the weekend is already over.
On a positive note, however, I will give props to them for the genius idea of Manchester Laces doing a takeover of the Barclays FAWSL Instagram account. A proper grassroots setup that advocates for women and non-binary players and is spearheaded by the passionate and barrier-breaking Helen Hardy, they showed some fun and relatable content throughout.
Meanwhile, the FA’s own social media handle had just two tweets showcasing the whole weekend, which leaves much to be desired as an account that includes the Women’s FA Cup and the WSL in their bio. There could be so much more done to celebrate what is revered as an important weekend in the season’s calendar and harnessing the positive power of social media in 2021 is vital to development.
As I mentioned above, you wouldn’t know it existed outside of the top flight of the Super League and this is where my qualms with ‘Women’s Football Weekend’ really lies, there are more than six tiers below the WSL and there are some truly fantastic clubs from the championship all the way down to the county leagues of tier seven. An exciting top-of-the-table clash between Matt Beard’s Liverpool and the ever-present at the top of the table, Durham whilst Crystal Palace and Charlton Athletic played cat and mouse for 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup, we saw sixty-eight fixtures being played in the First Round Proper with some seriously exciting matches taking place. Take the game involving Impetus partner club, fourth-tier Chorley against tier-three Middlesbrough as your prime example. An eight-goal thriller that went to a penalty shoot-out and ended in a Chorley win after a superstar performance by sixteen-year-old Aleesha Collins who scored all four goals and the winning penalty. Northampton Town Women made club history as they too took their game to penalties with keeper Isobel McDonald making two saves in the squad’s first appearance in the first round. I spoke to manager Lou Barry to get his post-match thoughts.
“The FA Cup is synonymous with everybody in football so to have the opportunity to not only manage in it but progress in it brings immense pride to me. The games just feel a bit different to the others and it’s really helping us get people on board with the team which is exactly what we want & need!”
Big results for Netherton United Ladies and Clapton FC too as they also secured victories, whilst Eastleigh Ladies also wrote themselves into the history books. All the while, Impetus’ own Ashford Town and Brighouse Town Women joined fellow site stablemates Chorley in the Second Round Proper. And quite simply, why was there not more of a buzz around Crawley Wasps playing London Bees?!
Kelly Chambers, Reading manager, was quoted as saying “Women’s Football Weekend is a special time during the season, as it’s an opportunity to shout about the milestones we have all achieved in the sport from the development of grassroots football all the way up to the professional game.’ Unless I was in my own bubble under a rock, I’m not sure I saw much shouting about grassroots football though, besides from those involved in grassroots football themselves. This also remains one of my biggest gripes with women’s football. The odd time-lock of 2pm on a Sunday. I’m an avid Reading fan, but I also play for my local team, but I have to watch Reading at the expense of pulling my own boots on. This weekend felt like the perfect chance to ‘black out’ 2-4pm in order to encourage spectators to go and watch their local side but again an opportunity missed. The weekend for me should be all about showcasing and highlighting all those grassroots clubs do to develop players. They are after all creating the future of the women’s game.
How else do you round off a fantastic action-packed weekend of women’s football…with a bumper edition of highlights of course! Or maybe not as the coverage on The Women’s Football Show was the same tedious, 34 minutes of goals from the WSL and lends itself to yet another article I could write. There’s more engaging and in-depth analysis could be created and with no Match of the Day to compete with, it was an open goal.
I know that it takes a mountain of time, resources, and people power to keep it all ticking over but as the title suggests, it feels like an opportunity missed.
I’ll leave this rant on a positive note however, my Women’s Football Weekend was already complete on Saturday morning when one of my youngest Wildcats said to me mid-match and with absolute conviction “Abi, when I grow up, I’m going to be a footballer.”