The Football Association’s Women’s Super League: Over-ambitious?

Kelly Smith

It looks like the Women’s Super League in England, a new semi-professional venture (not fully professional, as some are saying), will finally launch in 2011 and the application process is now open for clubs who wish to participate.

The plan is for eight teams to compete in a summer season from March to October, thus minimising schedule conflicts with the men’s game but also going up directly against Women’s Professional Soccer in the United States.

The Football Association broke its pledge to launch a new Women’s Super League in 2010 earlier this year, citing difficult economic times. The furor over that, and continued criticism’s of the FA’s poor record on diversity from the government and pressure groups, seems finally to have spurred an organisation with a historically terrible record on promoting the women’s game (and in fact, doing the exact opposite by banning it from Football League grounds for fifty years) to finally fund a step forward.

Unfortunately, every single document listed on the F.A.’s Women’s Super League application page — all of which look like interesting reading from their titles — are not actually linked properly, so it’s impossible to read all of the details. Oops.

But the site does offer one interesting and important detail,  stating that “Clubs who successfully apply for membership to The FA Women’s Super League will be able to apply for funding from The FA to support club development activities in specified areas thereby promoting sustainability. A maximum of £70,000 per season per club will be available.”

This is a welcome commitment, given the league is in a highly competitive market for the best British talent with much of it playing overseas in Women’s Professional Soccer right now.

However, according to the Guardian, that development fund is only available if clubs make a considerable financial commitment to pay £20-30,000 to top players.

It’s a little worrying that even the league’s project leader, Sally Horrox, thinks that “we might be scaring a few of the clubs off. But we are raising the bar for the women’s game and we are serious about player payments and other minimum requirements.”

Sunderland chairman Maurice Alderson added that “We can’t afford to pay our players expenses, let alone £30,000 a year. We run our whole club on less than half of that. I love the concept of the league and I’d love be part of it, but it’s going to be very difficult.”

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Alderson’s comments sum up the general excitement and concern about the new venture. It’s certainly about time the FA followed through on their commitment and debt to women’s football, and they should be praised for making funding available. The women’s game has grown enormously at the grassroots in England in the past couple of decades and the profile of the national team reached an unprecedented high as Kelly Smith and Karen Carney led the team to the UEFA championship final this year.

But the gap between the English game and the European elite was still evident as Germany easily dismissed England, with an obviously greater depth and class of athlete available to them, all of whom play in the Women’s Football Bundesliga — a twelve team league set-up way back in 1990 by the German Football Association, who obviously had far more forethought than their English counterpart.

The Super League might be the way to remedy that. But will English clubs be able to raise enough investment to match the ambition of the league, or will this prove to be another false dawn?

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