Super League place up for grabs this season

Sent Her Forward Exclusive

Action from Portsmouth v Notts County  April 2014 (Photo: Jordan Hampton)

Several of the South’s FAWPL sides have already met Super League teams in the FAW Cup (Photo: Jordan Hampton)

The 12 clubs competing in the coming season’s Premier League Southern are playing for a potential place in the 2016 Super League.

The FA’s women’s boss, Kelly Simmons, has confirmed that the winners of this season’s Southern and Northern Premier Leagues will play off for a place in FAWSL2 for the 2016 summer season.

As reported yesterday, any promotion would be subject to criteria set by the FA for a Super League licence, but Ms Simmons told Sent Her Forward: “Some of the [Premier League] clubs, I know from talking to them, would be able to meet [the criteria] now.”

The champions of the FAWPL’s two regional leagues would play off over two legs for promotion best part of a year down the line and would receive “support” from the FA to prepare themselves for the step up.

The clarification of the timetable, initially incorrectly reported by Sent Her Forward (and others), brings the two women’s football pyramids even closer, with two strong-looking Premier Leagues full of teams that could be one decent season away from their Super League dream.

Providing the play-off winners satisfy the FAWSL requirements, they would join the 2016 WSL2 intake, increasing the Super League’s membership to 19 clubs.

Similar rules would apply for the 2015/16 Premier League seasons, with the end-of-season play-off potentially producing a 20th club for the 2017 season.

There is no decision yet on what would happen beyond that season when existing WSL club licences expire, but Ms Simmons insists the FA is wed to the principle of promotion and relegation between the leagues.

Air of positivity

She said a number of obstacles – including the complications of having unsynchronised seasons – still had to be overcome, but she said the key decisions would be made with the involvement of Premier League clubs, who now have significant representation on the new FAWPL management committee that will oversee future developments.

The director of women’s football at the FA spoke positively about future co-operation between two factions who less than a year ago seemed at loggerheads.

In principle, the FA are completely committed to trying to deliver a pyramid with promotion and relegation – Kelly Simmons, FA director of women’s football

Both parties would agree the FA appears to have listened to the representation of Premier League clubs, including Lewes, who have been at the forefront of a campaign to safeguard their league’s FA status and break through the once-seemingly impenetrable trap-door that kept the summer élite and winter pyramids apart.

Ms Simmons said she “very much” sensed an air of positivity at Sunday’s Premier League agm, where the changes were announced.

She admitted the FA had listened and would continue to listen. But she insisted that it had always been the FA’s intention to allow expansion of the Super League when the time was right.

“We went on record very early on with our ambitions. We knew we had the potential to expand and take on more clubs, and in the short-term link the two in some way,” she told Sent Her Forward. “That was always on record.”

“And we always said the WSL wouldn’t be a closed league. We piloted summer football; then we agreed to create the second tier (WSL2).

“But [we had] to try to balance the needs of the grassroots end of the game with the need to create professional women’s football at the top.”

Kelly Simmons, FA head of national game and women's football (Photo: The FA)

There is investment there – Kelly Simmons (Photo: The FA)

Ambition back

She said the FA’s focus had been on setting up the second WSL division, which came into being this summer.

“But in the meantime, the representatives of the five leagues (FAWPL plus four Combination leagues) that have just merged had been meeting regularly to decide on the best structure going forward for the top of the winter pyramid.”

The result is the streamlined interim set-up that will – as Lewes’ head of football, Jacquie Agnew, points out – give players their ambition back.

Ms Simmons said the criteria, which clubs are already aware of, relate to how they are set up and funded, together with ground standards and availability.

Could the Women’s Premier League move over (to summer)? Or is there another way? – Kelly Simmons

But she said: “We are there to support them. Hopefully we would be able to work with the top-level (Premier League) clubs so that they are ready to go in (to the Super League).”

She said support could range from identifying deficiencies, perhaps in administration or facilities, identifying staffing requirements and even financial. “We invest in WSL2 clubs, so yes, there is investment there.”

The rules still have to be drawn up and presented to the Premier League’s management committee, but Ms Simmons acknowledged that in the event of a play-off winner failing to meet the criteria, the beaten play-off finalist would probably get promotion if they did meet the licensing requirements.

‘Committed to promotion and relegation’

She declined to be drawn on whether the promotion would be offered to a team finishing second or third in one of the divisions in the event of both champions falling short of WSL standards, but acknowledged it would be under consideration.

A solution still has to be found to what happens to the successful club in the intervening period before the next summer league begins.

Action from Durham v Chichester City, February 2014 (Photo: Zoe Vicarage)

Chichester City, whose league now comes under the FA, put up a good fight against WSL2 Durham in the FAW Cup (Photo: Zoe Vicarage)

“I don’t think they would play (another season in the Premier League) because they wouldn’t be able to finish it. We would really need to talk that through with the clubs. They would need a break and a pre-season.”

With the principle of a mid-season break to enable shared pitches to be treated and reseeded already established in the Super League, there may be a move towards starting the 2016 campaign at the end of February or early March, enabling other competitions to be fitted around it.

Ms Simmons was also unable to say what would happen after the two-year promotion-only Super League expansion, but she promised: “In principle, the FA are completely committed to trying to deliver a pyramid with promotion and relegation, and working to try to find a longer-term solution within the scenario of winter and summer football.

“But we have to sit down and work that through. There is definitely a commitment there to make it work. We have come up with a solution that takes us through that next couple of years.

“We have to be mindful of what happens after that – for example, the time of year that works for the whole of the (women’s) game. Could the Women’s Premier League move over (to summer)? Would it benefit them to play March to October? Or is there another way?

“The most important thing is to keep talking regularly, and the great thing about the new management committee is that there is a lot of club representation on there; a lot more club involvement in shaping the future direction .”

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