The FA have announced that the WSL will go from a summer to a winter league. The new season will start in September 2017 and end in May 2018.
There will be a FA WSL Spring Series to bridge the gap from February 2017 to May 2017 before the Euros.
Now, teams can be relegated from WSL 2 to the WPL. The FA Cup will stay at Wembley and be a showcase event at the end of the season.
To understand what impact it might have on the league, it’s best to break it down into sections
Currently we are the only major league in Europe to operate as a summer league and we’re also in line with the NWSL. All other leagues run a winter league schedule. This doesn’t help us as the UEFA Women’s Champions League starts at the end of the WSL season and into the break. The winter league move looks to benefit teams that will be part of the UWCL as they have game time heading into this competition and be more competitive. Currently, Chelsea and Manchester City are in the UWCL.
Home league synchronisation
Below the WSL, there is the Women’s Premier League in various regions and county leagues. All of them run a winter league schedule. The team that wins the playoff between WPL South and North will have to wait several months before playing competitively again. One case of this is current WSL 2 team Sheffield. They won the play off final on 23rd May 2015 but only started in this year’s WSL2 on 23rd March 2016.
That’s a 10-month wait to be part of the WSL. This doesn’t seem to have much of an impact as they have adapted well. Another team that has been impacted by the move from winter league is Brighton who recently won the WPL Play Off Final. Due to the wait, a few players from that team have moved to WSL clubs in order to still play competitive football.
Moving to a winter league would benefit the WPL as the winners of the play off wouldn’t have to wait long to move to the WSL.
This is yet another thing that is different to other leagues. We have the winter transfer window whilst the league has finished and is getting ready for the new season. There is then the summer window where there isn’t many signings typically. The type of the transfers in both the windows vary. With the winter window, it’s mostly internal signings as the players are readily available. Whereas, the summer window sees a lot more European signings as those leagues have finished.
The move would seem to put this windows in synch with the European leagues and perhaps allow a bigger pool of players to choose from.
England have qualified for the European Championships next year but the early qualifiers may have been impacted by the summer league format. The Lionesses weren’t as sharp in early qualifers against Bosnia & Herzegovina and Belgium due to the season ending and then the season just starting. This meant there wasn’t much match fitness in both. The new format would mean that in future, international players will have a decent amount of game time under their belts and would be sharper in international matches.
Facilities, scheduling and attendance
This is where the move maybe hits a barrier. The scheduling seems to be a big issue with the WSL with not many games being on the weekend (normally Sunday) and odd times during the week. This is despite the facilities being not used much as the men’s team will have finished their leagues or not use the pitch much.
The move may or may not solve this issues. As many teams share their facilities with men’s teams, this may throw a spanner in the works. There could be clashes between the two. For example, Millwall Lionesses play at The Den which is the same as the men’s team. This could mean two games on the same day or a quick turnaround for the following day.
Another problem for a winter league is the weather which can often be quite wet. We’ve already seen the impact of the weather earlier on in the season. With some not having the best facilities, this could mean postponements. Liverpool and Everton may look to be okay with their pitch at the Select Security Stadium. Other places, for example Wheatsheaf Park, may not be able to cope with the bad weather as that was a factor in the postponement of the Chelsea - Liverpool match.
There is an example of how the bad weather could play havoc. Last year, Swindon Town Ladies had their crucial FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur Ladies postponed twice. It was third time lucky with the fixture after having moved to a different location to make sure the match was played. There was also a backlog of league matches due to postponements and after three months of waiting, they finally got back to league action.
Not only does this impact players but it also impacts fans as they could lose money after travelling to find out the match is off. This could therefore have an impact on attendance.
Player’s lives off the field could have an impact too from this move. As most know, players tend to go on holiday or catch up with family once the season ends in November and/or during the break in the season. A winter league would see this moved and could potentially impact family time and when players can have a break. Hopefully this won’t be the case.
This is a huge gamble by the FA and could be good or bad. Luckily, it’s not happening immediately but it will be interesting to see how the transition goes. It is important to stick by the players and the league whilst this happens.