Arsenal Ladies Do the Double

It might be another trophyless season for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, but Arsenal Ladies collected their second of the season earlier today in the Women’s F.A. Cup Final in front of 24,582 fans.

Women’s Cup Final

Amazingly, as the Guardian reports, doing the double is almost a disappointment for the Gunners; last year, Arsenal won the quadruple, the heart of their run of 51 straight wins that was finally ended with a draw earlier this season.

Let that sink in for a second: 51 straight wins. In a game where one bad bounce can cost you, that is undoubtedly a phenomenal achievement. It’s also not necessarily good for women’s football in England. Too many games are over before they begin, and nobody wants to know who the champion will be before the season even starts.

The structural problems in the English game are pretty clear. Despite impressive numbers for participation at the grassroots — over a million women and girls played the game last year — too many teams have for too long been at the mercy of their parent clubs. Arsenal’s dominance comes from the strong support they’ve received from the club, but that’s all too rare.

Leeds United L.F.C., Arsenal’s opponents today, have survived against the odds after being abandoned when Leeds United chairman Ken Bates cut their funding and use of training facilities. Leeds managed to buck the trend of this leading to disaster by acquiring sponsorship from Empire Direct and later Leeds Metropolitan University. For many women’s teams tied to men’s teams, though, relegation for the latter often means extinction for the former. This happened to Charlton Athletic’s women’s team just last year: success on the field for the females was not enough when the club decided to cut costs when the men were relegated.

The final thus contrasted two models: Arsenal Ladies success shows how much value can be gained from close cooperation with the men’s team. Yet league-wide, the trend should surely be towards Leeds’ now-independent model, so that women’s teams can develop on their own feet and not be dependent on the results of the men’s club for survival.

Women’s Professional Soccer
The launch of the new Women’s Professional Soccer league in the United States in 2009 might deal a further blow, at least in the short term, to women’s football in England. It is not hard to imagine that some of the best and most ambitious female players and coaches might jump ship to a fully professional team across the Atlantic.

Unlike the previous professional league, the WUSA, WPS looks to have a sensible modest business model that should mean it can survive without attracting huge crowds. I’ve been following closely the early stages of the formation of the Chicago WPS club (and so can you, if you read the blog by its president, Peter Wilt), and it looks like it will be a very impressive set-up (and Peter: please sign Kelly Smith!).

Like most other American professional sports leagues, WPS will surely encourage parity that would make 51 consecutive wins unlikely; WPS should be able to attract fans who want to see competitive soccer week in, week out. Teams will be independent entities, but some will also partner with MLS clubs to share facilities and resources (Chicago’s WPS team will play at the Fire’s Toyota Park, for example).

As well as competition, then, perhaps WPS in America can also set something of an example for how a women’s league could flourish. For as much as Arsenal set an inspiring example with their set-up and performance, no league can thrive when one team is indomitable and women’s teams are tied to the fluctuating fortunes of men’s teams.

The Guardian article also reports the FA are currently reviewing the future of the women’s game. Given the historical debt the F.A. owes the women’s game, let’s hope it really comes up with a solid plan and funding to develop a more competitive league.

9 thoughts on “Arsenal Ladies Do the Double

  1. ursus arctos

    The WPS has the very significant advnntage of being run by the single most intelligent and savvy administrator in North American soccer, but I think it is a very open question as to whether a successful North American league will actually help the women’s game in other countries, at least in the short term.

    If the Kelly Smiths and Birgit Prinzes of this world join the WPS, it will have the effect of lessening the domestic (and European) dominance of Arsenal Ladies and 1.FFC Frankfurt, but it will also rob those leagues of their marquee players. It also creates a real possibility of the type of “club vs. country” debates that are common for Western Hemisphere (and African) male players, but relatively unknown in the women’s game. The WUSA (in which Prinz played) had just those effects, and was seen as far from a completely positive thing by those committed to the women’s game in Germany (at least as far as I could tell from the general football and Frankfurt press when I was living there).

    As since Jennifer is here and uniquely qualified to answer a question I’ve had for a while, do female players in England find the “Ladies” nomenclature to be at all problematic? It’s always struck me as more than a bit paternalistic (and therefore in keeping with the general attitude of Premier League clubs).

  2. Tom Dunmore Post author

    I largely agree with that analysis, ursus, though I also hope the example that a professional women’s league can work if marketed properly (as I think WPS will) might in the long-term be beneficial for the women’s game elsewhere.

    I’m also curious about Jennifer’s thoughts on the use of “Ladies”, as it strikes me similarly.

  3. Football Bets

    Arse won the quadruple last year, and till the League Cup final this year, hadn’t lost in England for 3 years or something like that. Take the difference between Leeds and Arsenal, Arse had 8 of England’s squad in their team including the best woman’s player in Kelly Smith. Anybody who is good enough they can pretty much buy at will as Arsenal are paid for by the board. Leeds mostly were 18/19 year old players, talented I’m sure but what if one of their players becomes great, what chance do the amateurs have of keeping her? Everton are catching up but we need more professional teams.

    Failing that, the only possible solution i can see is for Arsenal Ladies to go and play in the Scottish Premier League. Surely they’ll come at least 3rd?!

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  5. Jennifer Doyle

    Yeah, being from New Jersey, “ladies” has taken some gettin’ used to! I could be wrong but, no, here I don’t think women footballers in general find “ladies” that problematic. (Though I’ll bet most wouldn’t mind seeing it changed to women.)

    It’s not so much of an issue because there are so many things wrong in the UK regarding popular attitudes about women’s football (and women in general) – the word ladies is a small thing by comparison. I have yet to play in a park with my women teammates without spotting at least one incident in which a male passerby makes some sort of harassing remark – usually something ultra creepy that mixes a come-on with a nasty threat. I’m indeed grateful to my teammates – my instincts are to take the bait – they ignore it, which is a far safer route – they’ve in fact been violently attacked, and were regularly subjected to threats and insults when they first started playing in the 80s – usually from male players as our team would take the field. (This usually happened during the transition periods between league games or training sessions. There’s an article about the team’s experiences of this stuff in an issue of ‘Soccer & Society’.)

    The “ladies” thing comes from a different place – it’s more like from the era of the 1920s. It’s old fashioned. This is a place where guys will say ‘ello darlin’ to you on the street – and it’s nice. My own teammates (ladies) great each other in fact with ‘hello darlin’. It’s sort of southern, in a way – things that sound corny to outsiders are more like affectionate holdovers of times gone by. And the adult women’s soccer scene is so much more bad ass here – partly there’s nothing like the middle-class AYSO/soccer-mom scene here (esp. for girls), plus the sport has more working class roots – ‘ladies football’ couldn’t possibly call to mind an image of blonds in matching sweater sets & pearls, as it does to Americans. No – here ‘Ladies Football’ is more rock and roll – more Joan Jett and Lady Dynamite, less Doris Day.

    The US pro-league will help women’s football around the world. So many countries are on the cusp of floating professional leagues – England, Scandanavia, France, Germany – a little outside pressure will help.

    Perhaps players will need to organize and fight, as the men did in the early years of the game?

  6. SpanglyPrincess

    When I was at university, we had one of the Arsenal Ladies’ side in my college for a year, taking a Masters in I forget what. She played left back, and often turned out mid-week for the men’s college first team as well. When the team turned out in the league, opposition players used to laugh and make comments before the game – “you guys must be pretty desperate for players, huh?” or “is your regular left back injured then?”. Then at half time, the opposition captain would make strong representations to the referee that women shouldn’t be permitted to play in what was, after all, a men’s league, and would someone please please make her go away.

    Anyway. The Women’s Cup Final was held in Nottingham and my family who live 10 minutes’ walk from the City Ground went along. My 12 year old brother, who is a keen Arsenal fan, has seen Arsenal Ladies almost as often as Arsenal’s men’s side and is just as enthusiastic about supporting them. If he and his friends grow up with an interest in watching both men’s and women’s football this can only be a good thing – I think it is desperately important to get away from the idea that only women could be interested in the women’s game.

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  8. Rulo Vinello

    Very good written. I’ m loving reading these articles , it is such a rich topic, and a great chance for fans to share their knowledge & passion!