WSL season: How have postponements impacted league?

Rehanne Skinner
Tottenham manager Rehanne Skinner spoke to fans at Spurs’ Premier League match with Fulham at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium earlier this season

Women’s Super League clubs were set to open the season in record-breaking fashion this weekend but matches were postponed to honour the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

England’s success at Euro 2022 meant clubs enjoyed record ticket sales as they prepared to capitalise on a memorable summer.

Matches were due to be played at stadiums used by the clubs’ men’s teams, while games were handpicked to be shown live on Sky and BBC TV.

Here, BBC Sport looks at what might happen next for the WSL.

How was the WSL supposed to kick off?

When England lifted the Euro 2022 trophy at Wembley it was not only a historic moment for the country but a signpost of a potential new era in women’s football.

WSL clubs rallied together over the summer to market the opening weekend in a collective effort to attract those who watched the Euros to the domestic game, led by leading figures within the game.

“It’s up to us within the game, and those working around it, to make it visible,” said England captain and Arsenal defender Leah Williamson. “I hope it’s not just going to be a summer thing.”

The Football Association’s women’s football director Kelly Simmons told BBC Sport the sport was “working really hard” to “amplify the biggest games”.

They aimed to do that with four of the six matches on the opening weekend due to take place at stadiums used by the clubs’ men’s teams.

It included Brighton’s Amex Stadium – where England beat Spain in extra-time in the Euro 2022 quarter-finals – which would host the game against Aston Villa.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was set to welcome Spurs’ game with Manchester United, before Chelsea played West Ham at Stamford Bridge.

Reading, who now share the Select Car Leasing Stadium with the men’s team, were also at home to Liverpool.

But there was also excitement at the Academy Stadium where Manchester City were due to have a sell-out crowd for their opener with Arsenal, while Everton expected record numbers at Walton Hall Park against Leicester City.

What now for rearranged games?

Bethany England, Millie Bright and Fran Kirby
Chelsea’s Bethany England, Millie Bright and Fran Kirby won the Euros with England and were celebrated in front of fans at Stamford Bridge last month

There remains uncertainty on when and where those games will be played.

There is a good chance a number of fixtures will now be played midweek, with few free weekends available in the fixtures calendar.

There is a general feeling that midweek matches held at men’s stadiums would not be the same spectacle. Kick-off times would likely be later, meaning families may not attend and the prospect of colder weather in evenings later in the year could also put off fans.

There were 12,800 in attendance for the north London derby on Wednesday in May as Arsenal beat Spurs in their penultimate match of the season at the Emirates to keep the title race alive.

That same fixture has already sold more than 40,000 tickets for their weekend meeting later this month.

It is understood every WSL club has agreed to host at least one game at a men’s stadium this season, but it may not be those chosen during the opening weekend now.

In order to reorganise the fixture at a men’s stadium, logistics and security would need to be discussed with local authorities and the FA.

For example, the closing of roads around stadiums for access would need to be applied for if crowds over 5,000 are expected. That would also increase costs.

There is also the matter of avoiding clashes in the fixture schedules of the men’s and academy teams who may already be due to host matches at their stadiums.

If matches are rearranged at smaller grounds, that could leave supporters who had tickets for the original fixture unable to attend the new date because of lack of seats.

What next for the WSL?

Beth Mead
England’s Golden Boot winner Beth Mead will be in action for Arsenal in the WSL this season

While the launch of the WSL’s new season has no doubt been impacted by the postponements, there are still some big dates in the diary to look forward to as the league seeks to capitalise on the Euros.

Arsenal are set to break the attendance record for the north London derby with Tottenham later this month.

The current record for the division was set in the reverse fixture at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 2019, with the game drawing a 38,262 crowd.

The Gunners have sold more tickets for the match on 24 September than the combined total of their four matches at the Emirates last season.

Liverpool are also returning to Anfield for the first time since 2019 for their Merseyside derby date with Everton on 25 September. A crowd of 23,500 watched the last time the two teams met in this stadium.

Old Trafford will play host to Manchester United’s game with Aston Villa on 4 December, while the first Manchester derby of the season will take place at the Etihad Stadium on 11 December.

And while news is still awaited for when the opening round of fixtures will be played, the FA has confirmed the WSL season will get under way this weekend,external-link subject to clubs “working with the relevant authorities to stage these fixtures”.

So the season is likely to kick off on Friday night at the 4,500-capacity Meadow Park where there more than 2,500 fans will attend Arsenal’s home game against Brighton.

This weekend’s fixtures also include Aston Villa and Leicester playing at the grounds used by their men’s teams – Villa Park and the King Power Stadium – on Sunday afternoon.

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