Cardiff City’s frustration at being denied the opportunity of a crack at promotion to the Super League was thrown into even sharper relief yesterday when their 6-1 victory over Copsewood Coventry took them to the top of the Premier League.
The Welsh club have a great chance of winning the Southern division, but even if they do – and overcome the Northern division champions in a championship play-off – they still will not be allowed to join WSL2.
The FA today reiterated its stance on insisting that WSL clubs must be affiliated to an English football association, ruling out the admission of Cardiff, who are linked to the Welsh FA.
And it revealed that it had already rejected the idea of changing the Super League licensing criteria during the current four-year licence period.
A spokesman told Sent Her Forward: “Having discussed the English county FA affiliation criteria, the decision has been made by the FA to maintain all current licence criteria as it is.”
Cardiff’s situation has generated much debate, with the finger, inevitably, pointed at the FA – the butt of fans – for presiding over a period of confusion in the women’s game.
But it’s also fair to say that the initial blueprint for the Super League – which enables players to compete at an élite level, and to earn some money from the game that takes up so much of their time – did not allow for any direct links with what was left of the winter pyramid following its establishment.
With much of the FAWPL’s then National League left stranded by the inclusion of lower-ranked clubs in the new WSL2 for 2014 – and the Super League licence running for four years – clubs like Cardiff, Portsmouth, Charlton Athletic and Coventry City were left with no forseeable prospect of joining the big guns, despite having been in the then top tier of women’s football when the decisions were made.
The FA spokesman explained: “The FA WSL was created as a closed league, with no promotion and/or relegation into or out of the FA WSL initially planned during the current licence period, though certainly it was a long-term objective to rejoin the summer and winter pyramids.”
It was only when a number of Premier League teams rebelled, in a campaign spearheaded by Lewes boss Jacquie Agnew and club officials, that the FA relented and agreed to grant promotion – but not relegation – for the final two years of the licence period.
However, as the FA points out, even then clubs had to agree to the Super League licence rules as they stood – which meant Cardiff remained aware that they would not be promoted, even if they satisfied FAWPL rules for promotion.
Southern clubs ‘blocked’
While they have continued to negotiate behind the scenes in an attempt to trigger a change of heart, it is only this season – with Cardiff flying high and likely to be in contention for the Southern Division title – that their situation has taken on a new urgency, although the club realise things are unlikely to change soon.
Their 6-1 over Copsewood yesterday took the Welsh club above Brighton into first place in the league and reminded everybody of their credentials.
In the unlikely event that they were to win all nine of their remaining games, only Portsmouth – with a similarly unlikely run – could overtake them.
And that, of course, rasies the second issue to emerge from the FA’s “no non-English clubs” policy.
As FAWPL chairman Carol West explained to Sent Her Forward last week, if Cardiff were to win the division, they would play the Northern Division winners to decide the Premier League’s champion of champions.
But since they are ineligible for promotion, a provisional Super League place would be offered to their opponents, regardless of who won the play-off, guaranteeing a northern Premier League club a Super League opportunity while wiping out the hopes of the rest of the Southern division.
Ms West said the FAWPL expected to consider changes to their rules this summer to avoid such a situation next season, and the FA spokesman confirmed: “Discussion is under way at the FA WPL management committee, and we anticipate proposals coming before this year’s AGM to address [it].”
Investment in English talent
He said the Super League’s rationale in excluding non-English FA-affiliated clubs from its venture was based on its mission to promote the development of the game in England – for which the governing body has responsibility.
“The FA continues to invest significant sums to encourage the training and development of young players in England, which includes investment in the FA WSL and centres of excellence,” it said. “This investment is being done on a funding cycle which will assist the clubs in their long-term planning.
“In doing this we are seeking to increase opportunities for local young players in England so that such players are encouraged to train closer to their homes as opposed to crossing borders, as well as promote competitive balance within the game and reduce the impact of financial advantage.”
The spokesman said the FA was also “seeking to grow and maintain clubs’ local identities and links into their local communities” and ultimately to create winning national teams.
“One of the mechanisms of doing this is to ensure that funds provided by The FA are used and invested to develop English talent.”
The spokesman has not yet explained how this tallies with the involvement of overseas players in the WSL.