Over the past couple of years Women’s Football here in England has being going through a golden era. The national team won the hearts of the nation by finishing 3rd at the last World Cup and reaching the semi finals of the European Championships over the summer. The architect of this was
head coach Mark Sampson who rebuilt the side from one that was on its knees in 2013 to one that has risen to 3rd in the world and is a match
for anybody; even the super powers of Germany and the USA. It seemed that Sampson could do no wrong.
However all that came crashing down in late September as he was relieved of his duties. Sampson had been embroiled in a storm of bad headlines as he was
accused of making a racist comment to Enola Aluko. As this unfolded, more former players added their views to his methods and although two enquires
into his conduct by the FA had cleared him, the bad headlines wouldn’t go away.
Sampson clung on though and led the Lionesses into their first 2019 World Cup qualifier against Russia. This on paper was the hardest match of the group
against a Russian side that had performed well at Euro 2017. England however were a class above on the night and quickly stormed into a two goal lead
after 14 minutes. It was the first goal that really caught the eye however and not because of how it was scored or who scored it.
The goal its self was nothing special. Nikita Parris stabbed the ball home from close range on 11 minutes and England were on their way. The entire team,
subs and staff then joined in a huge group hug with Mark Sampson in a show of unity.
It finished 6-0 to England thanks to goals from Jodie Talyor, Nikita Parris, Lucy Bronze, Jordan Nobbs, and a Toni Duggan Brace and in truth it should
have been more. Despite this however Mark Sampson cut a forlorn figure in the post match press conference. He answered all questions put to him including
those about the Aluko affair but he sounded a broken man, almost as if he knew his fate. Less than 24 hours on from the final whistle Mark Sampson’s
reign as England manager was over. The FA took the decision to part ways with their most successful head coach due to “Safeguarding allegations” that
were related to his time at Bristol Academy before he took the England job.
It was then announced that Mo Marley who has worked with various England Women’s Youth teams will lead the Lionesses for the remainder of 2017 with a permanent
successor to be named early in 2018. The job will attract applicants from around the world and whoever gets it will inherit a great squad and bright
future even though at the moment women’s football in England may seem to be in a tough place, on the pitch at least the good times are still here.
On the domestic front it is also all change as it was announced that the FAWSL will see yet another shake up. The aim is for the top division to contain
8-14 full time teams with a second tier of part time clubs. The full time clubs must offer contracts to players of 16 hours a week (to rise to 20 by
the 2020/21 season) and have a full time coaching staff. Part time clubs in tier two must offer contracts of 8 hours a week. Clubs in FAWSL 1 and 2
plus ones from the FAWPL now have just over a month to bid for a licence for whatever tier they feel is right for them as the new system will come
into play next season (2018/19) This also means that there will be no relegation this season between FAWSL 1 and 2 thus apart from the title race and
fight for champions league much of the 2017/18 season is now pretty much academic.
On the face of it getting clubs to offer players full time contracts is a good thing and these chances are unlikely to affect the leading clubs too much.
The problem comes for the clubs that have a mixture of full and part time players and those aspiring to become full time but don’t yet have the funds
in place. What do they do? Go all in and hope it works or accept part time status and limit their growth? It’s a tough call and even tougher given
the short timeframe. The other sticking point could be the size of the top league. The FAWSL started life in 2012 with 8 clubs and it got stale after
a couple of years. For a new league to work at least 10 full time teams would be needed but can 10 clubs meet the FA criteria at such short notice?
Whatever the fortunes of the Lionesses and the FAWSL you can rest assured that Sports International will be there to cover it and add comment. It could
be a very interesting few months.