Sent Her Forward exclusive
Portsmouth’s agonising injury-time play-off defeat that denied them a place in the Super League has won them the sympathy of the manager of their biggest rivals for last season’s Premier League title.
James Marrs, whose Brighton side lost out on the chance to contest that all-or-nothing play-off against Sheffield FC, says it is “ludicrous” that the Hampshire club were not granted promotion, too, if they satisfied the necessary criteria.
In a no-holds-barred interview with Sent Her Forward, Marrs, who has led teams to the runners-up spot in each of the last two seasons, said he believed the FA needed to change the rules to avoid devastating and demoralising clubs who had proved themselves the best in their league over a long, gruelling season.
“Portsmouth last year… they work hard, they win the league. We have a battle for nine or 10 months. Every week, we’re top, they’re top, we’re top, and they win the league and go and get beaten in the 93rd minute in a play-off, and that’s it, season done, and you finish on that.
“That’s ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous. They have to look at it. I mean, how do you look them in the eye and [say] that’s their season done? They’ve got to pick themselves up.”
Marrs’ Brighton side and Perry Northeast’s Portsmouth were neck-and-neck throughout last season, shaking off the challenges of several other teams to reach the final weekend still in with a chance of the Premier League Southern title – and with it, the opportunity to play a one-off game against northern division winners Sheffield FC for the overall title of Premier League champions.
But also at stake was promotion to the FAW Super League in 2016, subject to meeting the entry criteria – something Sheffield achieved with that late, late winner in the play-off.
Marrs says he is happy to put rivalry aside to sympathise with his fellow manager – and insists he would have kicked up a fuss if he had been the unlucky boss.
“I’m just glad it isn’t us because I wouldn’t have been so quiet about it. I tell you that now,” he said. “And that’s Portsmouth, who are obviously one of our biggest rivals. But still, as coaches, you stick together, and I think [the FA] need to look at that. If you win the league, you earn the right to apply to go up. I think that’s how it should be.”
It was only just over a year ago that the FA agreed to allow promotion on merit at all to what had been a closed shop for those clubs whose applications for a place had satisfied the demanding standards of the governing bodies.
It was agreed to allow one club from each of the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons to join WSL2, provided they satisfied those licensing requirements.
There is to be no relegation from WSL2 in either season to ensure stability for clubs during the period of their first Super League franchise, meaning that the league will have grown from 18 to 20 clubs by 2017.
Kelly Simmons, the FA’s director of women’s football, told Sent Her Forward at the time that only gradual promotion would be permitted during those first two years to safeguard the standard of the WSL, although it is widely accepted – among followers of both the WSL and WPL – that many Premier League teams are at least of similar standard to that of some of the WSL2 sides, on the pitch, anyway.
With the FA insisting that it is keen to continue expanding the Super League after the current licences expire in 2017, Premier League clubs harbour hopes that automatic promotion and relegation between the two systems will be consolidated – but the question of how many are elevated each season from the Premier League structure remains a potential issue.
‘Spurs them on’
Marrs said: “I understand the application process [for the champions to be accepted into the Super League] because you have to have everything in place to go up. That’s great. I totally agree with that.
“What I don’t agree with is them fighting out, both teams – if it had been Sheffield it would have been the same – 10 months, and you lose in the 93rd minute. One goal, you get beaten one-nil, and that’s your season done.
“Where’s your reward from that? I’m quite passionate about it, as you can tell. I think it’s wrong.
“But it is what it is and you have to get on with it, don’t you?”
However, despite the impact he says missing out can have, he does not believe it will damage Pompey psychologically.
“I just think it spurs them on,” he said.
He pointed to Portsmouth’s 1-0 victory over Cardiff City – another potential title rival – in their first match of the new Premier League season yesterday as evidence of that. “That’s a good result for them, away at Cardiff. A very good result.”