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Women's Football News
With the big freeze wiping out his last chance to watch a match on Sunday, intrepid match reporter Patrick Higgins - who has watched 66 women's matches this year - has instead compiled his review of the year about to end:
Now that the last ball has been kicked in 2010, with snow and ice set in till 2011, the time has come for this match reporter to look back on a unique year in the game. Since May, the domestic game has existed in a bizarre twilight world where the best players are inactive and hungry fans have been fed a meagre diet of information about the Super League.
Highly competitive Premier League and League Cup competitions carry on, with highly skilled and committed teams providing enjoyable matches in front of tiny crowds, unacknowledged beyond club websites, specialist and local press. All TV and online video coverage has just about dried up and the domestic game has even fewer column inches than before in the national press. Players with Super League ambitions make guest appearances in the Premier League to keep themselves ticking over until their own pre-season starts. The last seven months has had a feeling of being like the 'phoney war' before the real battles begin.
At either end of the year, the weather has played havoc with fixtures, with teams unable to play for weeks at a time. Two Sundays were total nationwide whiteouts and at least three others saw fewer than a dozen matches played in the whole country, leading to the inevitable suggestion that the whole game at all levels should be moved to a summer season.
Despite these problems, I would argue that the game as a whole is still in a positive curve which has been in place during the eight seasons I have been involved as a fan. In the 66 matches I have seen this year, of which fewer than 10 have involved Super League teams, there have been some very encouraging signs. The continuing influx of young players at all levels of the Pyramid continues, players with greater technical ability and fitness levels not just confined to the Premier League, but stretching right down into Regional and County league teams, feeding through in increasing numbers from the junior age groups of clubs where the coaching seems to encourage a passing game based on movement and skill.
Clubs which have a strong integrated youth system feeding through to the senior team are the rule rather than the exception and, along with age group leagues, ESFA schools and Tesco Cup competitions, the Centres of Excellence competitions and the BUCS leagues and cups for university
students, it seems that a keen and talented young player can more easily keep involved even if they are not international or Super League candidates.
As always, especially for non-Super League clubs, funding is the key issue. The sad demise of WFC Fulham in June 2010 was simply the latest in a long line of clubs falling from a lofty position because funding was withdrawn. The difference in WFC Fulham's case was that the men's football club withdrew their funding in 2006 and a small dedicated group worked very hard to keep an elite level club going against the odds. Leeds United are now in a similar position to WFC Fulham four years ago except that they are not having to compete with Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton. Sunderland have been a wonderful success story, yet they were in a similar plight five or six years ago. Charlton are on their way back from similar circumstances.
Ambitious, upwardly mobile clubs like Gillingham, Derby County, Reading, Queen's Park Rangers, West Ham United, Coventry City and Yeovil Town will no doubt be joined in the future by the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Plymouth Argyle and Sheffield FC amongst others.
2010 has been an odd transition year in so many ways for the women's game but, beyond the headlines, all is far from gloomy. Some might say that the future depends mainly on the success of the WSL and England at World Cup 2011 but the broader base of the game is still growing and developing away from the rarefied air of the elite few.
by Patrick Higgins
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