WSL season: How did the postponements affect the league?

Rehanne Skinner
Tottenham Hotspur manager Rehane Skinner addressed the fans at Spurs’ Premier League game against Fulham at Tottenham Stadium earlier this season.

Women’s Super League clubs were due to open the season in record fashion this weekend, but matches have been postponed to honor the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

England’s success at Euro 2022 meant clubs enjoyed record ticket sales as they prepared to take advantage of a summer to remember.

The matches were to be played on pitches used by the clubs’ men’s teams, with matches selected 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 start?

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

WSL clubs banded together over the summer to promote the opening weekend in a concerted effort to attract Euro watchers to the domestic game, featuring leading figures in the game.

“It’s up to us in the game, and those working around it, to make it visible,” England captain and Arsenal defender Leah Williamson said. “Hopefully it won’t just be a summer.”

The FA’s director of women’s football Kelly Simmons told BBC Sport that the sport was “working very hard” to “strengthen the bigger games”.

They aimed to do so with four of the six games on the opening weekend being played on pitches 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 – hosting the match against Aston Villa.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was due to host Spurs’ game against Manchester United, before Chelsea played West Ham at Stamford Bridge.

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

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

Now what about redistributed games?

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

Uncertainty remains as to when and where these games will be played.

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

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

There were 12,800 present for the north london derby on wednesday may as Arsenal beat Spurs in the penultimate game of the season at the Emirates to keep the title race alive.

The same game 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 ground this season, but it may not be the one chosen during the opening weekend now.

In order to reschedule the match at a men’s ground, logistics and security will need to be discussed with local authorities and the FA.

For example, road closures around stadia for access should be applied for if crowds of over 5,000 are expected. This will also increase the cost.

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

If the matches are rearranged to smaller grounds, this could leave fans who had tickets for the original match unable to attend the new date due to a lack of seats.

What’s next for the WSL?

Beth Mead
England Golden Boot winner Beth Mead will play for Arsenal in the WSL this season

While the start of the new WSL season has undoubtedly been affected by the postponements, there are still some big dates on the calendar to look forward to as the league looks to capitalize on the Euros.

Arsenal are set to break a record attendance for their 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 match drawing a crowd of 38,262.

The Gunners have sold more tickets for the game on September 24 than their four games at the Emirates combined last season.

Liverpool also return to Anfield for the first time since 2019 for the Merseyside derby against Everton on September 25. A crowd of 23,500 attended last time the two teams met in this stadium.

Old Trafford will host Manchester United’s game against Aston Villa on December 4, while the first Manchester derby of the season will be played at the Etihad Stadium on December 11.

And while news is still awaited on when the first round of games will take place, the FA have confirmed the WSL season will start this weekend,external link subject to the clubs “cooperating with the competent authorities for the organization of these matches”.

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

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

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