On Sunday, the 2018 season of the FA Women’s Super League will begin and it will mark a new chapter in UK football for women because, for the first time, it will be fully professional.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the first match – Arsenal are playing Liverpool at 12.30pm.
What is the FA Women’s Super League?
The FA Women’s Super League is the highest league of women’s football in England. It’s run by the Football Association, who also run the Premier League, and has been going since 2011.
Eight teams competed in the first incarnation of the league seven years ago, and they introduced a second tier, now called the Women’s Championship, a few years afterwards. This season, it’s had a reshuffle and a rebrand: it has been renamed from FA WSL to the FA Women’s Super League and there are some new rules, some new managers and some new teams. The new league has just one tier, 11 teams and is, for the first time, professional and full-time.
Who is in the FA Women’s Super League?
The 11 clubs in the 2018-2019 season are Arsenal, Birmingham City, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bristol City, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Reading, West Ham United and Yeovil Town.
Interestingly, there are a few huge English clubs who are rather dropping the ball (sorry, sorry) when it comes to women’s football. Manchester United, for example, have only just put together a female team for the second-tier Women’s Championship this season.
Women’s football is here to stay and it deserves to be welcomed with open arms
What does going professional actually mean?
Basically, that everything is getting a bit more serious. The FA brought in new licence criteria for clubs, which means that they all had to reapply for their places in the league. All 11 teams in the league must provide a minimum of 16 contact hours for their players per week, and have a training academy like the male Premier League clubs do.
Everton have been in the Women’s Super League since the beginning and are currently 9th in the league. Their boss, Andy Spence, said to BBC Sport: "Everyone knows that, year on year, this league has got stronger and that is very much the case this year. Standards will go up again and the demands and expectations go up every year.”
Teams that can’t meet these criteria yet can stay in the Women’s Championship. There are also 11 teams in this league and they only need to meet part-time criteria.
Why should I care about this?
Because it shows that England is finally – finally – starting to take women’s football seriously.
Whether you’re interested in sport or not, it’s an area where the inequality between men and woman has seemed impenetrable for years. By having a professional league with full-time players and training academies, we’re finally making steps towards equality and, as this beautiful video by the Women’s Super League shows, that may have an incredible impact on the next generation of girls, who will see being a professional sports players as an attainable goal.
We’ve seen a number of steps towards women’s football being taken as seriously as men’s in the past few years, such as Chelsea (who won last year’s WSL and are managed by Emma Hayes) changing the name of their team from Chelsea Ladies to Chelsea FC Women and ceasing to refer to the men’s team as the “first” team. As The Pool’s Emily Baker has said, “The name change also brings the club – and women’s football with it – bang up to date, positioning the women as strong, talented players, rather than ladies who casually “have a go” at a man’s sport.”
The FA’s new director of the women's professional game, Kelly Simmons said, “At the moment, across all women's sport, if there's a World Championship, Euros or Olympics, women's sport has that (brief) high-profile moment in the spotlight, but then it tends to disappear again. It's been very hard for women's sports to break into the mainstream. But I genuinely think women's football can be that breakthrough sport, getting exposure on a weekly basis, not just once every four years.”
How can I watch it?
The FA Women’s Super League matches are being broadcast on a number of different channels this season. If you want to watch live, you can do so on BT Sport, BBC Red Button, BBC Online or the FA Women’s Super League Facebook page. If you just want the highlights, you can see them either on Facebook or the BBC’s Women’s Football Show.
If you want to dive right in with something exciting and you’ve got BT Sport, then league champions Chelsea are playing Manchester City at 2pm on Sunday.
And if you want to see matches live, you can buy tickets here. Take your daughters. And your sons. And your friends and your partners and anyone else you can think of. Women’s football is here to stay and it deserves to be welcomed with open arms.