When the Football Association finally confirmed that the Women’s Super League and Championship would be decided on ‘sporting merit’ it confirmed what many expected, Aston Villa’s promotion at the expense of Vicky Jepson’s Liverpool.
Even before this news was confirmed, a host of players confirmed their departure from the reds. This included Courtney Sweetman-Kirk, Anke Preuß, Christie Murray and Fran Kitching. At this point, who knows how many more will follow suit?
Liverpool fans will be forgiven for feeling like it is deja vu at their club. Two summers ago the reds saw an exodus which included Beth England, Gemma Bonner and Scotland international Caroline Weir. While seven others left to join Casey Stoney’s revolution at Manchester United – Siobhan Chamberlain, Alex Greenwood, Martha Harris, Naomi Hartley, Emily Ramsey, Lucy Roberts and Amy Turner.
It will be worrying for all stakeholders to read the statements coming from the players about their departures. Courtney Sweetman-Kirk said it was “time for a change and a new environment that challenges me as a player and a person. Can’t wait to have a ball at my feet, a smile on my face and be excited to train everyday”. While Fran Kitching said “I can’t wait to be enjoying the game I love again and being truly happy. I am excited to start my next chapter and also enjoy an environment which tests both players and people in the right way and allows them to thrive.”
All suggest that things aren’t right at the club and a lot must change if they are to come rise again and re-establish themselves as a WSL team.
The club and Jepson have both put out statements to reassure the fans but neither felt very reassuring. Jepson said, “Our attention is already turning to next season, to the hard work ahead and to bouncing back at the earliest opportunity. That won’t be easy – there will be plenty of hurdles along the way – and it will only happen with your support.
“Luckily we know that is something that we have always been able to depend on from both our match-going Reds and our supporters all around the globe. We need you now more than ever but together we will return our Women’s section to more successful times.” Not really the rousing words required to give fans confidence that the future is bright at the club.
I don’t blame Jepson, her hands are clearly tied, she’s having to toe the party line and can’t be seen to rebel against her club or the FA’s decision, especially as the decision was correct. It has been a very poor season for Liverpool who massively regressed from last season’s comfortable mid-table finish. In the WSL they have only managed eight goals, including three draws and one win. With that sort of output then they were always in trouble.
Everton finished below Liverpool last season but under Willie Kirk the club invested well and built a competitive team that will feel that despite their good finish they almost underachieved based on what those set of players are capable of.
If we are talking about the underinvestment at Liverpool then I am better off signposting you to Suzy Wrack’s latest piece in the Guardian which highlights the issues at the club better than I possibly could. She writes, “The real blame lies at the feet of disinterested owners who have allowed their women’s team to implode while their men’s team thrives. The mess of their women’s team is unlikely to tarnish that first shiny Premier League trophy in 30 years, but it should.”
When the season restarts the first team sheet put out by Jepson (or whoever is at the helm) will be very different to the one that started their final WSL game, a 4-2 defeat against former Liverpool boss Matt Beard’s West Ham United.
Whatever the squad looks like Liverpool must be heavy favourites to bounce straight back to the WSL. I find it hard to believe that the Liverpool hierarchy won’t look to invest and avoid the embarrassment of failing to secure promotion from the Championship. Aston Villa have shown that if you throw a bit of money at it and have a well-organised team on and off the pitch then those resources will see you over the line.