Reflecting On The Curtailment Of ‘Non-Elite’ Women’s Football

It’s been a few days since the Football Association shared their decision that the ‘non-elite’ leagues of women’s football will be curtailed with immediate effect and declared incomplete. Now that the dust is starting to settle on the decision, I wanted to consider the effects on the women’s game and how there might be a positive impact to come out of all this.

The decision itself came as no surprise to me after the results of the FA survey completed by the clubs involved returned that the majority of clubs were in favour of the league being cancelled, as opposed to a restarting at the point of pausing or a points-per-game option.

I have seen a variety of views shared on social media and every single one of those opinions are completely valid! We need to be realistic, everyone has their own agenda and it’s only reasonable that each club, player, coach or member of staff looks out for their own agenda. It’s not quite as simple as teams at the bottom didn’t want to get relegated so voted for this outcome and teams at the top want to be promoted so voted against.

I genuinely feel for the FA on this topic, they were never going to please everybody whatever decision they made. As part of my role with Since 71 and as a youth football coach I have had the pleasure of working alongside so many great coaches and members of staff at the organisation. All of which are extremely dedicated and passionate about developing the game and supporting those involved. So some of the hatred I’ve seen directed towards the organisation over the last few days has been way over the top and doesn’t take into account these individuals who are also likely to see it.

While the decision is frustrating and disappointing for so many I think that we need to look forward.

While the decision is frustrating and disappointing for so many I think that we need to look forward. The FA’s announcement that they are open to facilitating club movement that will likely result in expanded divisions at tiers 3-6 for the 2021/22 season is a positive one.

This should come as welcome news to the likes of fourth-tier sides Ipswich Town, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton FC, all have dominated their respective leagues and the prospect of a third season in those leagues would not benefit anyone. They are all clearly ready to compete in the third tier and if they remain in their current fourth-tier leagues for another year then it will only serve to further stifle the competition.

Photo: Ross Halls

Further details on how the FA will manage these promotions will be confirmed in the near future. The process will probably be very similar to that used a few years ago when the likes of West Ham United and Manchester United were granted the right to compete in the WSL and Championship respectively.

Clubs who would like to earn promotion if they are successful in winning their league must apply for a licence beforehand. This licence requires the clubs to satisfy the FA that they have the structure, finances and resources in place to compete on and off the pitch. I anticipate that those clubs who will have already had their applications approved will be first in line applying to be considered to be moved up to a higher league. Although I would be very surprised if the FA allowed any club to move up more than the league immediately above them.

Interestingly the FA also said in their statement that they will accept applications for voluntary relegation. Whether many clubs would take up that option remains to be seen but there might be a handful of clubs that feel they are struggling to compete at their current level. This doesn’t have to be on the pitch, it could be that clubs are struggling to pay for the costs involved to compete at their current level. The higher up the leagues you go the higher the financial demand on the clubs involved.

Many of the National League sides are still involved in the FA Cup and the competition is due to recommence next month. Everything about this is not ideal as clubs will be going into these games with a handful of training sessions together and be nowhere near the level they will have hoped. We might not see many classics but those clubs who are successful in progressing into the next round will not care one bit.

With no league campaigns, I see this as a great opportunity for leagues and regional FAs to organise competitive one-off tournaments which give teams the chance to compete for some silverware.

With no league campaigns, I see this as a great opportunity for leagues and regional FAs to organise competitive one-off tournaments which provide teams the chance to compete for some silverware. I have spoken to a number of players who have told me that they will be over the moon to be back onto the pitch again, irrespective of what the competition looks like. With spectators hopefully able to return to watch live sport from May 17th there is a window of opportunity to run a competition for six weeks until the end of June (which is when players contracts are due to expire).

With the Premier League and Football League seasons completed this is a great opportunity to grow the women’s game at this level. There are many fans who travel long distances to watch their WSL team, as well as men’s football fans who will be desperate just to see live sport again. This presents clubs with the chance to welcome new fans to their club and hopefully grow their fanbase. The money spent attending these games could hopefully go a long way to help clubs recoup some of the loses endured over the last twelve months. Perhaps even the FA Player might get involved and televise some of these matches.

There have been no winners during this pandemic, we have all suffered one way or another, but hopefully there will be a return to normality on the horizon. I believe that whatever your view on what has happened, we now need to move on, look forward and invest in growing women’s football from the National League and the levels beneath.