Are We On A Level Playing Field?
The women’s game in England is going through some exciting times at the moment. The game is developing rapidly and its profile is being raised everywhere. On the pitch matches are becoming more competitive as teams big and small seek to stamp their identity on the game. The result is that attendances are up, more players are turning professional and more are coming over from abroad to raise the standards even higher.
But there is a growing suspicion that the professionalism we are seeing in the stadiums is not being matched in the committee rooms of the football establishment where important decisions about the game are being made – a feeling that not everything is as it should be.
There is a lot that is new and fresh about the women’s game in England, but the rules of the game and its traditions go back generations. One of those cherished traditions is that the semi-final of the FA Cup is always played on a neutral ground to ensure that no team has an unfair advantage in the last game before the final. So the question needs to be asked as to why the London clubs had the advantage of playing at home in this year’s semi-finals when last year’s matches were played on neutral grounds. This obviously made it more difficult for the away teams to get a result and it was hardly a surprise to see Chelsea and Arsenal go through to the final, though Manchester City did put up a fierce fight. Under such circumstances, the feeling of injustice held by the players and fans alike of the losing sides is natural.
The thing that fans of the FA Cup love so much about the competition in the men’s game is that they can expect to see the unexpected. There is always a prospect of the little club turning over a big club and knocking them off their high horse. This is not an unreasonable expectation, because it’s something that does happen often. And this is because the fans know that the system is equally fair to all clubs no matter what their status or where in the country they are located. At present, semi-finals are held at Wembley, but in the past they were regularly held in cities not connected with the teams involved. This reassured fans that everything was above board and that the other team wasn’t getting any preferential treatment.
This feeling that there are things that aren’t as they should be in the women’s game isn’t just something that is particular to this season. And as a Manchester City supporter, I still feel uneasy about how my club was treated in last season’s Continental Cup.
At the quarter final stage against Arsenal, the match was originally postponed when City were accused of fielding an illegible player. It turned out that the FA Women’s Super League Management Committee for some reason or other couldn’t trace the registration form sent in by the club. Registration was eventually proved by an email that was also sent in by the club.
The match was re-arranged, but City were given very little time to prepare and it was hardly surprising that they lost for the first time in 13 matches.
If we really want the women’s game to continue to develop and prosper in this country then the fans of all clubs need to trust the decisions that are taken and to believe that what they are seeing is true and fair otherwise they will simply stop coming to the matches. I think there is still a lot of work to do in this area.