Pushed Out – Impact of WSL in the North West

It’s now been a few months since the decision, something that is likely to not only, change the future of one football club, but an entire football region.

Decision

What decision you may ask. Well, the decision of Blackburn Rovers FC to opt out (for a second time) of the FAWSL.

It’s been a very difficult season for everyone involved with Blackburn Rovers Ladies FC. We had the terrible news that former player Emma (McDougall) Mincher had passed away, following a lengthy battle with cancer. Whilst, coming to terms with that, the team was told that the club would not be applying for a place in FAWSL.

Pushed Out of the Game

A couple of days after the ‘decision’, I got a message from a player. It said “most of those applying are in the South. I feel as if I’m being pushed out of the game”.

In his post match message, after the unlucky defeat to Nottingham Forest, the Rovers manager (Scott Rogers) said “We cannot sulk, though. We’ve got to fight on right until the end”. Scott left a few weeks later to take up the position of Asst-Manager at FAWSL side Liverpool.

The problem is this:

The ambitious and talented international players at Blackburn will have to leave the club in search of FAWSL football. Are international standard players going to stay to play in Third Tier football?

FAWSL Applications aren’t open for another 5 years.

As one FAWPL club manager said, “players only have one career and they want to be playing at the highest level possible”. In all honesty, the majority of the Rovers 1st team squad will be looking for new clubs next season. 

Manchester City

City has won the race for the FAWSL, but how will this affect the current manager and players? Only time will tell. Internationals, like Northern Ireland midfielder Lynda Shepherd, maybe forced out at City. Long serving players like Lindsay Savage and manager Leigh Wood may also be the victims of the FAWSL revolution. 

The new money that has come into the women’s game means that in-order to attract the big crowds clubs are looking at signing the big names. Liverpool and Chelsea have followed this model this season, but the question that lingers in the mind is will City do the same?

At the moment, nobody knows, but you see the problem. It’s likely around 20 players could be looking for new clubs. The North West can’t sustain, this number of ‘free agent’ players. They will have no team at FAWSL level to play at. FAWSL 2 is a level the majority of them can comfortably play at. Some will, no doubt end up in Yorkshire or the North East, playing for Durham or Doncaster. One or two may end up on Merseyside.

What about the rest? They’ll be forced to look down south for WSL football. I can’t see what alternative is on offer to them. The only alternative is Third Tier football. It’s no wonder some of them feel that they are being pushed out of the game.

Fans

Lancashire, a county with 7 clubs in the Football League, will have no team in the FAWSL, perhaps for a generation. So, if I want to watch FAWSL football, I have to travel to Liverpool or Widnes. The thing is I don’t support either team. I have no affinity or love for Liverpool or Everton. I don’t really care if they win or lose. Do I (a Blackburn Rovers fan) travel to watch teams that I have no connection with, just for the sake of it? 

Lancashire is a massive catchment area. It’ll probably never have the opportunity of hosting the stars of women’s football. Since the Rovers manager left, the team has rallied and put a run of results together, just falling short of second place in the league.A very disappointing result v Sporting Club Albion was not the result the players wanted. They wanted to end the season on a high, but it was not to be. In the end the injuries were just too many.

At the end of the game I saw Scott Rogers standing in the tunnel, and I thought it’s not his team anymore. I was left thinking that maybe things would have been different if he’d stayed, but who knows? But for me, a fan, it can’t be the end, can it? 

As the players and staff (and this lone fan) gathered in the Blues Bar following the game, the atmosphere was that of an ‘end of an era’. Nothing was said, but the players are likely to be wearing new colours next season. The players had stayed together and fought onto the end, just like they said they would. I can imagine that similar scenes has/will take place in Leeds and Manchester with players saying goodbye.

A future outside the FAWSL

At present, Blackburn Rovers LFC (just like it’s parent club) is without a Manager. The new manager has a massive task, to recruit players to integrate with those players promoted from the U-17 squad.  

The priority of any football club should be to produce a team good enough to win the league title. The problem for the clubs in the FAWPL is that ‘no player wants to play in it’. Those that do play, see it as a stepping stone – to College football in America or to clubs in the FAWSL. This leaves clubs in a difficult position; do you build a team to try and win the league or just become a player pathway?

Sunderland has proved that you can compete and win. Three League titles in row is proof that this strategy works. Do other clubs follow this lead or do they exist to just provide a player pathway and have a constant turnover of players and little success for the few fans to cling onto?

Blackburn Rovers has had a large turnover of players since the FAWSL has created and it’s likely for a second time in 4 years, an entire team of players will leave. Whatever happens, August brings a new season, new players (certainly), a new manager and new challenges.

The future is uncertain. Do I feel that I’m being pushed out of the game? Yes…just a little bit. The glamour, big names and the big crowds of the FAWSL don’t exist in the lower reaches of the Women’s Premier League.

I’ve considered the options. I’ve considered switching to another team. But, as I’ve said above, I simply can’t do it. It’s a loyalty thing, a loyalty that only football fans can understand. It’s only when the new FAWSL 2 season starts in 2014 that we’ll know if any of the Northern FAWPL players have been able to find new clubs in the new league.

What will be harder to find out is the following: How many players have followed the player pathway to College Football in the USA? Or indeed have been; Pushed Out of the game altogether.

SHE KICKS – the online community for women’s football