FAWSL roundtable: VAVEL writers give their views as the season moves from summer to winter

After yesterday's big news, our writers react to the mass changes that will take place in women's football in England next year.

FAWSL roundtable: VAVEL writers give their views as the season moves from summer to winter
The FAWSL is set for dramatic changes next year. (Photo: The FA)

Big news broke on Tuesday afternoon when the FA revealed that the Women's Super League will be switching to a winter season next year.

Usually running from late March until early November, with it's fair share of intervals, the top two tiers of women's football in England will now sync calendars with the divisions below as of next year in a bid to take the sport forward.

With everyone having an opinion on the news, everyone seeing pros and everyone seeing cons, the Women's Football team here at VAVEL UK have had their say in relation to the mass changes in the waiting.

What was your initial reaction to the change?

Ameé Ruszkai: My first thoughts were mixed. There are certainly pros and cons for the move, with the pros more long-term and the cons more short-term. I think only time will tell if the move is the good one we are all hoping for, but there will certainly be a few initial bumps in the road, as to be expected from major change.

Sophie Lawson: I can certainly see the appeal for everyone involved within the clubs, certainly for more consistency. If you look at the FA Women's Premier League, for most it’s a game every week with no silly gaps in between. There are obviously going to be teething problems but some of the biggest issues seem to be fan-based - footballers will play in any weather as long as they’re playing, fans don’t like to sit in the cold stands and get rained on.

Emily Magee: I think the Women’s Super League moving to a winter league is a great decision, one that has been a long time coming and clubs will benefit massively from this decision. It was clear there were problems with the WSL scheduling and something needed to change.

Matt Dawson: My initial reaction was that the decision to move the WSL to a winter season was a good one, especially if you factor in that other European leagues take place throughout the winter period. However I am relatively undecided over whether or not it'll turn out to be a good decision. As many are likely to say, there are a lot of pros and cons, but I'm confident that the WSL will remain as successful as it has been over the summer months when the move to winter comes.

Chloe Leadbeater: I like this move. Being part of a winter league myself, it works. It will also bring the WSL in line with all leagues.

What is your biggest concern?

AR: The biggest concern has to be attendances. The FAWPL struggles to attract spectators over the winter season and, while this is obviously down to the standard of football being lower than the FAWSL as well, the fact that it clashes with the men's season does play a part. Also, I am concerned about the coverage the league will get on television. With BT Sport tending to broadcast foreign men's leagues on Sunday afternoons, will they pick the WSL instead?

SL: Attendances and interest will drop, there’s higher likelihood of fans opting for the men’s games if they clash and as previously said, the weather can put people off.

EM: My biggest concern is how the league fixtures will be organised – many clubs such as Arsenal - who play at Boreham Wood FC - share a ground with the men’s team, who will inevitably take priority over the scheduling of fixtures. The main solution to this would be for all Women’s Super League clubs to have their own grounds. The league is progressing rapidly, but unfortunately we are a long way away from this becoming a reality.

Another of the biggest concerns is how the pitches will cope with the winter conditions. At this moment in time, the standard of grounds in the Women’s Super League is not where it should be and there is a concern that a large number of matches could be postponed due to snow or waterlogged conditions – much like what has happened regularly in the lower leagues.

MD: Perhaps my biggest concern, aside from attendances, is where fixtures will be played and the state of the pitches. The majority of sides in the WSL play at lower-league grounds and therefore by playing there during the men's season, it could not only lead to concerns of where the women's matches would take place, but would also potentially lead to pitches deteriorating faster if they continued to be played where they are currently. If you consider the amount of games that are often waterlogged down in the lower leagues this would not be good news for WSL teams, who are of course used to playing on harder pitches during the summer months.

CL: My biggest concern is the pitches. Some teams will be fine but others may not stand up to adverse weather conditions and extensive use at the weekends since some share with men's teams. The broadcasting is also a concern. Since the Premier League will be on when the WSL is, there might be an overload of matches. I would like to see the matches being streamed on YouTube like the NWSL do.

Scenes at the Keepmoat as Doncaster Belles' home WSL 1 fixture with Arsenal was called off. Will we see these scenes more often in a winter season? (Photo: Carl Lygo)
Scenes at the Keepmoat as Doncaster Belles' home WSL 1 fixture with Arsenal was called off. Will we see these scenes more often in a winter season? (Photo: Carl Lygo)

Biggest positive?

AR: There are a lot of positives. The pitches that are played on all winter by men's teams then all summer by women's teams will get a rest in the latter season, and all the women's football in England is brought into line. However, the biggest positive is the impact it will have on English football teams outside of England. The country is bound to do better in the UEFA Women's Champions League with them not out-of-season when they face the continent's best, while the national team will benefit at major tournaments when the players have had a rest and got ready to go again for the summer.

SL: Consistency. Teams will know when they’re playing, they’ll be in-line with the rest of the football calendars in the country. It will go on to benefit the teams in the UWCL as well as capped players – but of course, that’s only a small percentage of the WSL.

EM: The logistics of a summer league just didn’t work and change needed to happen. The main benefit to come out this change in my opinion is the fact that the WSL will now run in line with not only the other European leagues, but also primarily the FA Women’s Premier League and the other divisions below this. The way the leagues are currently scheduled considerably affects the manner in which teams are promoted to the WSL. The FAWPL is a winter league and the team that wins promotion in the play-off final has to wait 10-months before they can be a part of the Women’s Super League. This problem will not longer exist.

Another one of the biggest positives from the change is the impact that it will have on clubs competing in the Champions League. Currently the competition is geared to other European clubs and runs alongside the men’s competition, which puts the English teams competing at a disadvantage as fixtures take place before the FA WSL season has commenced.

MD: One of the biggest positives from the change should be fixtures, which have received some strong criticisms so far this season from the likes of Chelsea boss Emma Hayes. The move to a winter season means it should heavily reduce fixture congestion, with the campaign lasting from September until May, when the men also finish. Meanwhile, consistent games throughout the winter period will only help improve English teams chances in the Women's Champions League, where they've faltered in the past.

CL: The fact that it brings the league in line with all home leagues and European leagues is the biggest positive. The winning WPL side will not have to wait long before playing in the WSL and being in line with Europe will make England more competitive in the UWCL. Also, it helps England's national team. They can become a team to beat and have the potential to win a major competition. This move will hugely benefit them and help them get closer to their goal.

An out-of-season Chelsea fell to an in-season VfL Wolfsburg in the knockout stages of last season's UEFA Women's Champions League. (Photo: Chelsea LFC)
An out-of-season Chelsea fell to an in-season VfL Wolfsburg in the knockout stages of last season's UEFA Women's Champions League. (Photo: Chelsea LFC)

Do you think it will help women's football progress in England?

AR: Initially, maybe not. The attendances could drop, interest may dwindle and television coverage may not be as large. However, this is all hypothetical. What we have concrete evidence of is that the women's game in England thrives off of success of the national team. After the 2012 Summer Olympics and the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, attendances and interest spiked. The change to a winter season can ensure more success for the Lionesses, and more popularity for the sport in England.

SL: For me, the progression of the sport in England relies more on exposure than scheduling. Clashes, not just with men's games but youth league games for girls involved in the sport is a worry, but if the sport to progress it needs publicity. People need to be aware that there's a England women's team and that there's a tiered league devoted to women's football - that's what drives the progression. As long as there are still games on TV and articles about the sport (and help from parent clubs) the sport could easily continue to grow whatever time of year the matches are played.

EM: It’s a step in the right direction for women’s football in England, it shows the FA are looking forward in order to help the progression of the women’s game in this country. With the hope that it can improve player welfare, double both participation and attendances and help England win future tournaments – it can only be a good thing and will hopefully aid progression to help England become the leading light in women’s football in Europe.

MD: I think it will help massively. If you look at how women's football in England has progressed since London 2012 and the 2015 World Cup then it should only continue to grow, and I don't think that changing when the season is played will hinder that whatsoever. Despite a very successful World Cup campaign in Canada, it will only enhance the national team too. Players will be fresh and ready to go whenever a major tournament comes around, instead of having to go off to a tournament possibly fatigued because it's during the middle of the season.

CL: I think it will help. The summer league was to help it stand out and grow it. Now moving it in line with everything will help progression in all leagues and ensure regular football. It will grow much more now.

Do you think the change will affect attendances?

AR: Definitely, at least short-term. However, hopefully this is just one of a few teething problems and the FA can capitalise on the change and introduce some initiatives that mean fans won't have to choose between watching a men's game and a women's game. There is a lot of pressure on the FA to ensure a good number of spectators in this new winter season, that's for sure.

SL: The million-dollar question. When BT Sport shifted the Arsenal-Chelsea game so it could be shown on TV as a double-header with the men’s game, there was immediate outrage on Twitter. It was after all a massive game for both and the rearranged time was terrible for most. However, the official attendance was 1,337 which – for a Thursday afternoon – wasn’t too bad at all. I know there some that couldn’t make it and many that got stuck in traffic but football fans are loyal and they will always try to find a way to support their team. 

On the large scale of attracting new fans, it won’t be easy. If there are clashes, most will opt for the men’s teams which is where it falls to the men’s teams to promote their women’s sides. Double-headers and more games at the main grounds would be huge, even just offering free entry to the new women’s home game if you were at the last men’s game – or whatever. The goal is still to get more younger fans involved, to get them playing and to get them watching, and without suitable help from the men’s teams this is where things could fall apart.

EM: Attendances will be one of the biggest issues the league will have to face. A large proportion of the supporters who attend Women’s Super League matches either play in winter leagues themselves or watch men’s club matches in that time. Forcing supporters to choose between the men and women’s teams could ultimately affect the league’s attendances, which saw an overall rise of 48% in the 2015 season and record crowds after England’s World Cup performance. This could prove to be a step back in terms of the progress the league has made in attendances in recent years.

MD: Attendances could be the biggest issue in the FA's decision to move the WSL from summer to winter. So much has happened over the past couple of years that has improved attendances and viewing figures of women's football in England, but hopefully this won't have too much of an impact. However the concern over attendance arises due to when games would be played. If they're played at the same time as their male counterparts then attendances could well decrease.

CL: It might hurt it a little to start off with but things will get better and attendance will increase. If you support your team, you support them no matter what.

Will fewer fans turn out to FAWSL games in a winter season? (Photo: Steve Bardens - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)
Will fewer fans turn out to FAWSL games in a winter season? (Photo: Steve Bardens - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

What initiatives and ideas would you like to see in response to the new season format?

AR: The double-header idea is a popular and fantastic one, allowing fans to watch both the men and the women, not one or the other. However, I think that, going back to the importance of attendances, the FA can capitalise on the syncing of the women's football calendar by offering FAWPL clubs free or discounted tickets to games for their juniors. Young girls are who the FA are trying to draw to games, and with fixtures right there for them to be interested as they enjoying playing their own winter season, there is a great opportunity to inspire and encourage footballers.

SL: More cross-promotion from the men's teams, more double-headers - either Liverpool ladies and Liverpool men playing at the same stadium on the same day or Liverpool ladies and Everton ladies both playing in Widnes (or wherever) on the same day. I know they're a logistical pain in the backside, but it goes back to exposure - if you have 50,000 fans already there, up-sell women's football to them. Of course this does create issues for smaller clubs. Really just anything that goes to promote the game.

EM: I would like to see the FA introduce double headers; the main impact of this idea would be to increase ticket sales.

MD: Despite the cons, it may well give the FA an opportunity of maybe even improving attendances and gaining larger audiences. It may not be possible, but one way of getting around the possibility of finding venues at lower league clubs would be for big clubs with big stadiums, such as Arsenal and Manchester City, to host their women's teams at the Emirates and the Etihad straight after the men have played. Therefore it may well keep people in the ground, and it would be a huge opportunity for women to play at some of the best stadiums around the country, especially after the success of the FA Women's Cup final at Wembley. It may seem farfetched but it would be an avenue for the FA to pursue.

CL: Double headers would be a great idea. Two WSL matches at the same place would be good or even the men's team and the women's team at the same venue. For example, Millwall and Millwall Lionesses. Super Sundays would be another great idea with plenty of football on. 

Watford's Vicarage Road has been the venue for several of the Lady Hornets' games in recent times. Will we see more of this around the country in a winter season? (Photo: Christopher Lee - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)
Watford's Vicarage Road has been the venue for several of the Lady Hornets' games in recent times. Will we see more of this around the country in a winter season? (Photo: Christopher Lee - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

What do you think of the 'Spring Series'?

AR: The 'Spring Series' is a good idea to help bridge the gap between the two new season timings and benefits everyone really. Newly-promoted Brighton & Hove Albion will get a nice taster of the FAWSL, players getting ready for Euro 2017 will build up match fitness and there's a chance for everyone to pick up some silverware, such can be the unpredictability of only a handful of games. The games are sure to be exciting given that there will only be a few too, increasing the likelihood of fans being hooked.

SL: Good idea in theory. It sounds much more like an elongated pre-season and I can imagine some footballers being very disinterested. It’s clearly designed for WSL 1 footballers to be ready for Euro 2017. 

EM: I think the Spring Series is a good idea as it keeps clubs competitive and bridges the gap between competitive matches, which would otherwise be a 10-month period of no competitive action. It also gives the international players suitable preparation before Euro 2017 starts in the Netherlands.

MD: Obviously it will be good that there won't have to be a 10-month long break before the season commences in 2017/18, but the Spring Series does seem a little pointless in a way if there is no promotion and relegation. There won't be much of a rest for the players between this season ending and the Spring Series getting under way, but it seems the only viable thing to do with Euro 2017 also approaching.

CL: I like it as it will be a great warm-up for the Lionesses heading into the Euros and will ensure they are match fit. It also helps as that means there isn't a long wait for WSL action.

Overall, after letting the news settle in, how do you feel about the change?

AR: It is a positive move, and fans need to bare that in mind because it might not be so positive to start. The pros outweigh the cons and so this can only be a move in the right direction for women's football in England.

SL: You can never please everyone and many, many people are unhappy about the scheduling this season. Big pros and big cons to the switch, we’ll just have to see how it plays out and in the meantime I'll need to get some warmer clothes.

EM: Initially I think there will be a few issues, but that’s inevitable. This league needs consistency in order to be sustainable and looking to the future, I think we will see the long-term benefits of this change.

MD: In the long run I think the change will be hugely beneficial, not just to the players but to women's football in England as a whole. It will represent a big change, but the progression of the women's game in this country has been getting better and better as time goes on and we have to back the FA's decision to move it from summer to winter. If they can find a way to work out when games will be played without reducing attendances, then the positives of the switch will outweigh the negatives.

CL: There are pros and cons but I feel like there are more pros than cons. It's exciting to be witnessing such a huge change and I feel like things are heading in the right direction.