Irrespective of what happens in Stadium Australia this Sunday morning there should have been a cause for celebration in England as it marked the beginning of the FA Women’s National League (FAWNL) season.
As it stands, we have a farcical situation caused by the clash of the FIFA World Cup final and the opening round of matches. Despite clubs approving the date to be the start of the season, a host of players and staff understandably didn’t want to miss the match which has led to clubs refusing to play.
The FAWNL AGM was held in mid-June and it was here that it was decided that the season would begin on August 20th. It was acknowledged that there would be a clash and clubs were given initial options to put the kick-off time back in order to accommodate watching the match.
With the knowledge of the fixture clash, the FAWNL yesterday reminded clubs that “all WNL clubs voted to accept starting the 23/24 season on the third Sunday in August as per previous seasons.” That last point also being important.
Moving into mid-July the FAWNL shared the opening round of fixtures and the excitement began to build. Some have argued that protests from players should have really started now and not less than a week before the season beginning and for me, that argument does have some merit.
Shortly after the final whistle in Australia, Southampton Women’s Kirsty Whitton went to social media;
“The Lionesses inspiring a nation yet again but 1000’s of women will be unable to watch. @FAWNL surely games have to be postponed so we can all watch the match and enjoy the whole day – this could be once in a life time for us all!”Kirsty Whitton via Twitter
Support from fellow players followed, including Chatham Town’s Tash Stephen’s and former Southampton Women’s captain Kirsty Bell who sharing a petition created by “FAWNL Players” to postpone all fixtures – at the time of writing it stands at over 1,500 signatures.
As momentum grew and dissatisfaction was sent in the direction of the FAWNL committee they released a statement reminding people that their clubs supported this decision, adding, “Clubs were given several options, including: play as scheduled, deviate kick off to enable club personnel to watch the final prior to the league fixture or request not to play on 20 August with the scheduled match rearranged to an alternative date.”
I respect the league for putting out prompt and honest statement. Knowing the background to this before the statement was released I found it unfair the amount of shade getting thrown their way when more should have been sent the way of their own club’s hierarchy.
In a sensible move, the FAWNL have allowed clubs to postpone fixtures if both clubs agree. Some did, while others didn’t. Halifax Town this morning released a statement advising that given Newcastle United’s refusal to postpone they made the decision not to travel to the game forcing its postponement.
Newcastle United responded, stating, “To enable both clubs and all supporters to enjoy this momentous occasion, Newcastle United Women suggested delaying kick-off until 3pm BST and offered a complimentary private room and refreshments so that the visitors could watch the World Cup final together, however this was rejected by Halifax Women.”
Inspired by this, Southampton Women followed suit by releasing their own statement advising that if Moneyfields would arrive at Test Park on Sunday then they would find the gates locked.
We have seen fixtures put back to a later kick off and some postponed in agreeance with both clubs. Clubs with capacity are making it a day of celebration with fans being invited to watch the final following by their local footballing heroes. While I accept that this isn’t practical for all clubs, where possible it seems a no-brainer to make the day a festival for players, staff and fans to enjoy the day together.
Crystal Palace’s Leigh Nichol summed it up perfectly when she said, “I believe that they shouldn’t be in a position to choose. The league should never have been kicking off on WWC final day, regarding if the Lionesses were in it or not. Please don’t treat them like they are on £50,000 a year and it’s their job. They play because they love it, and they are good enough they just choose another career.
“Don’t force this decision on them, it’s not fair. It shouldn’t be an option to choose between club or country, so let’s unite and help that decision.”
Players and staff should not have been placed in this difficult position in the first place and some collective leadership from the FAWNL and FA would have gone a long way to avert this rapidly unfolding chaotic situation.
Should games have been scheduled on this date, with the benefit of hindsight I think everyone would say no. Once it was decreed that all clubs will play on this date then all clubs should be playing. Any refusal to do so should lead to proportionate sanctions being taken as per league rules for failing to fulfil a fixture.
I say that as someone who also respects the views of players, staff and coaches who want to be able to enjoy the final and the prospect of a victory for the Lionesses without the distraction of playing later that day.
I was at Wembley when Sarina and co lifted the European Cup, it was an emotional moment that I will remember forever. As someone who hasn’t had to battle for respect and opportunities like many of the current generation of female players have, I acknowledge that for them it will mean even more and why would they want to miss that?
One thing that we can all agree on though, its coming home!!