Starting with the 2018-19 season, the women’s game in England will get a significant boost in the quality of play, due to a recent decision by English football’s governing body that will required clubs in the top tier to be full-time professional clubs (as opposed to part-time, like a few of them currently are).
The FA plans to restructure the women's football pyramid at the elite level: https://t.co/q5tV5kIYUI— The FA (@FA) September 27, 2017
The ruling will allow the league to potentially expand to fourteen teams (from ten currently), but the new criteria for full-time membership in the top tier will demand more commitment to the sport from club and players. For example, players will be required to have at least sixteen hours per week committed to their team. In addition, clubs must meet a minimum amount with regards to financial investment and must also develop an academy. These are already benchmarks that CLFC meets, and should encourage many others to join in taking the women’s side of the sport with a greater degree of seriousness and dedication.
Perhaps those sitting in the seats of power which govern England’s beautiful game have heard the call from Chelsea Ladies manager Emma Hayes to work on the commercialization of the women’s sport. She spoke to Sky Sports ahead of last season with regards to the need for increasing the revenue streams associated. A heating up in the discussion of branding for the league has followed, and the FA commented that they would be pursuing that option further. It is likely only a coincidence that much of the language in the FA’s decision mirrors the comments from Hayes published a year before, but her voice certainly would hold some weight in this debate.
Regardless, by November 10th, clubs which are currently in the top division and wish to remain under the new set of requirements must reapply for membership. Clubs not currently in the WSL1, such as Tottenham, will be applying in the spring. For some clubs, this will be an immense strain on their resources; Yeovil Town, for example, will need to raise £350,000 in order to submit their club for consideration for inclusion in the top flight. Some might argue that this will only maintain the top-heavy nature of the current WSL setup. To some degree this is most certainly true. However, the new regulations also contain Financial Fair Play stipulations, and crucially, the imposition of a squad cap. No longer will top teams be able to hoard all of the best talent, especially as full time positions become more widely available.
The reality is, a league composition that is fairly similar to the men’s side of the game is almost inevitable. Those with the most resources have the most power and thus, the most say. That women’s clubs are associated with men’s clubs links the fates of the two together. Some will say this is a bad thing for football. Nevertheless, without a concentration of talent and an increase in the level of competition, the women’s sport has no chance to thrive. With these new requirements in effect, the game as a whole prospers, and the hope is that a rising tide will raise all ships.