Opinion: WSL 2 - A little less of the predictable

The happenings in the second tier of women’s football in England should not be neglected.

Opinion: WSL 2 - A little less of the predictable
Bristol were unable to register a single win in three matches against newly-promoted Sheffield. (Photo: Sheffield FC)

The full-time results from last weekend’s WSL 1 clashes made for depressing reading; 0-4. 4-0, 1-1 and 1-5.

Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City, going hard at the top of the table, all took three points and bolstered their goal difference by four on a boring day and a sad one for the three teams that all lost by four goals.

The top tier polarised between the haves and the have nots.

The top three, three of the wealthiest in the division, those languishing further down the cramped table with decidedly less in the kitty. If we were talking about the men’s game with the inflated figures that go around for players then of course Chelsea are beating Doncaster Rovers by a score, Manchester City versus Notts County? Surely a hat trick for Sergio Agüero as the Citizens thoroughly take apart the Magpies.

Maybe it wasn’t the nature of the wins but the predictability of them; Arsenal, Chelsea and City all heavy favourites and as for Reading at home to Birmingham? Both sides with four draws a piece under their belt going into the match, the final result was of little surprise.

A league below and a world apart

But what does that have to do with WSL 2? Plenty may disagree, but it’s unpredictable - when top plays bottom the result isn’t a foregone conclusion.

Yes, Bristol City, Yeovil Town and Everton as the top three is somewhat following the script, but the upsets haven’t been routine.

Speaking to managers and players from across the league, there’s no fear or intimidation; every team believes they can beat every other team and when you watch the matches, you can see what lower ranked teams are working towards.

Yes, last night at the Den Bristol beat Millwall and the Lionesses were far from their best for most of the first-half, but they rallied and put in a sterling performance after the break. At 1-2 with twenty minutes left, you couldn’t take your eyes off the action, sure there was another twist in the tale – yes, Bristol closed out that match but it wasn’t routine, it wasn’t what you’d expect from second versus ninth.

One of the revelations of WSL 2 so far this year has been FAWSL newcomers, Sheffield. There’s something so very pleasing about watching the World’s Oldest play, their style is somewhat retro and is more evocative of 1970s football. No-nonsense, gritty, physical (but legally), a strong sense of team running throughout the squad, they frustrate teams and attack smartly.

After a rocky start to life in the WSL, the FAWPL Northern Division champions finally started turning performances into results as they learnt to put their chances away and make the most of their dominance. Aside from a drubbing of the London Bees, Sheffield’s wins (in all competitions) have come against three of the top four (high-flying Yeovil the only exception as the two have yet to play each other). As Bristol and Everton vie for promotion, neither would have expected to drop five points to a bunch of upstarts who ply their trade in Dronfield, but that is exactly what has happened.

Furthermore, given Watford’s dismal start to the campaign it seemed like little had changed at Berkhamsted despite the new coach, so when Everton – who still play with the composure of a WSL 1 team - travelled to the Golden Girls’ Hertfordshire home few would have predicted the upset that followed.

Jo Wilson celebrates giving the London Bees the lead against Chelsea in a Conti Cup game - the Bees went on to win the tie on penalties (Credit: Gino D'Andrea)
Jo Wilson celebrates giving the London Bees the lead against Chelsea in a Conti Cup game - the Bees went on to win the tie on penalties. (Photo: Gino D'Andrea)

Big performances seen by a handful

There are upsets and there are strong performances that go unrewarded in little old WSL 2.

Attendances across the division are not great, Bristol and Yeovil lead the way whilst many teams languish in unfilled stadiums suffering through poor coverage in the media. On a recent episode of the BBC’s Women’s Football Show, as well as full coverage of the weekend’s WSL 1 action, the producers slotted in a lone goal from WSL 2.

The goal, a Chloe Kelly volley, was an absolute peach but it was one goal from a three goal game. With 17 goals spread over the division that weekend, it seemed almost insulting to just show one goal – but WSL 2 grounds aren’t set up to film in high definition for BBC broadcasts.

At Berkhamsted, for instance, the filming is taken care of by someone standing on top of the stands and the footage is cut down to just the goals and uploaded onto YouTube. That is Watford’s prerogative and indeed, if you want to see highlights from the second tier, you have to rely on whatever the club chooses to make available.

Watford and Everton line up as the audio/visual department makes a temporary home on the roof (credit: Sophie Lawson)
Watford and Everton line up as the audio/visual department makes a temporary home on the roof. (Photo: Sophie Lawson)

The point of this article is a simple one; to remind people that WSL 1 isn’t the be all and end all of women’s football in England, that if they want a break from the predictability of Arsenal putting six past Sunderland, then there are ten WSL 2 teams littered around the country.

I can’t guarantee that the match will be a pulsating 90 minutes of end-to-end drama, nor can I guarantee that they’ll be an upset or even that the match will be good, because it’s football – sometimes teams just don’t show up.

But I implore anyone who has the means to get to a WSL 2 match to do so and give the often unloved second tier a good cop.