Girls Allowed

The Westfield W-League in its current incarnation is not sufficient and needs a complete home-and-away season.

With most of the reaction to the recently released Smith Review revolving around the Hyundai A-League, it was easy to overlook the mention of women-s football in the report.

Not least, because you had to wade down about 20 pages to find it. The female side of the game warranted few paragraphs, but did point to the high level of competition in the Westfield W-League; the improvement in the world ranking of the Westfield Matildas in recent years and the fact that football continues to experience the highest participation growth of any women-s sport in this country and warrants the investment.

While acknowledging the “higher levels of public support and commercial revenue” the A-League attracts, the review did recommend that “in an environment where government invests heavily in football there should be maintenance of effort in relation to women-s football”.

Matilda-s coach Tom Sermanni couldn-t agree more. He wages a constant uphill battle to make sure that women-s football continues on its current trajectory.

“We need to set achievable but ambitious targets for the National Teams and the Westfield W-League. Both have been successful, but we have to continue the growth and development to ensure continued success”.

The W-League in its current incarnation is not sufficient and Sermanni is not alone in wanting a complete home and away season with an eight-team competition.

Former Matilda Alicia Ferguson, says “there is no replacement for match fitness and for our girls to spend 11, maybe 12 weeks in competition and the rest of the time in training is just not getting the maximum benefit out of their talent”.

Many of the women-s semi-pro leagues around the world have a top tier with promotion and relegation from the level below, something that remains on the wish list of the Australian men-s competition also.

In fact, promotion and relegation is more viable here in the women-s comp where millions of dollars in start-up capital is not a requirement. But to bring the W-League back to its full complement of eight teams is the first step.

The original model, based on A-League affiliation was perfect at the outset, giving the women-s game the branding needed in the beginning but it-s not the only way.

Canberra United is a shining example of how thinking outside the box can work. A club in a city without the financial commitment of an A-League side, who are passionate about inclusion in a national competition and most importantly are financially viable

Finances are of course the sticking point across the board in this nation and when Sermanni considers the resources available to national teams under his remit, he says the Matildas are probably the best placed. It-s the youth teams that require more input.

Melbourne Victory coach Vicki Linton who is in charge of the U17 National Team, also saw first-hand the gap between the Australian youngsters and their opposition at the recent AFC U16 Women-s Championship. A divide primarily due to the investment these countries are making in their youth.

“The teams from Asia have programs in place to ensure that their sides are training together pretty much all year round, both in camps and in match situations. Compared to that, we came in underdone – it took us a few games to get going, for the girls to adjust to football at that level, and that cost us”.

Japan in particular has concentrated on their national teams. Some years ago now, the likes of Cheryl Salisbury played in the L-League there, until Japan realised that the influx of foreigners, particularly in the striker and midfield positions in the domestic league was impacting on the development of their local talent. They cut off the overseas supply line and fast forward – the Japanese women are world champions.

The effect of success at international level – even for the women, cannot be underestimated. USA superstar Megan Rapinoe, who delighted Australian fans with her two-match cameo for Sydney FC this year, recalled in an interview with the success of the finals appearance of the USA at the recent women-s world cup in Germany.

“We didn-t quite achieve what we wanted to but the reception when we came back home was unbelievable. It was like we won. We managed to elevate women-s football to a level that it has never been before. It was almost as if we inspired the nation.”

The crowds at Women-s Professional Soccer matches boomed and the women-s game enjoyed the increased level of media coverage that followed.

Traditional football countries will always have more dollars and infrastructure and it would be hard for Australia to match the commitment of say, France who have a section of their state-of-the-art Clairefontaine football academy dedicated to the women, where they share the same opportunities and technology available to the male players.

A stand-alone facility dedicated entirely to football in which elite players both male and female are developed from their early teens on a residential basis, is of course in a whole different financial ballpark again, but it underlines how much emphasis is placed on planning for the future.

FFA is in an unenviable position. Finances are limited and there are many hungry mouths wanting a piece of the pie. While the men-s game devours the majority and others are left with crumbs, it is prudent to remember that the Hyundai A-League and the Socceroos are the showcase products that feed the whole family. Without them all would go hungry.

However, the women-s game is growing up in Australia and continuing to nurture it now will pay dividends in the future with a view to a time when it can help to support itself. With the likes of Caitlin Foord representing the future of the game, it-s not inconceivable that a future generation of Matildas will lift the Women-s World Cup.