Sunday afternoon’s season curtain closer always had the potential to produce a seminal day in the development journey of UK Women’s football, yet few could have envisaged the drama that would eventually unfold as Liverpool belittled the odds to defend their crown.
In a campaign which has been typified by twists turns and compelling narratives, the drama of the league’s concluding chapter was a more than fitting finale to an unrivalled season of women’s football.
The final round of fixtures commenced remarkably with three sides harbouring hopes of lofting the ultimate prize come the close of play – an extraordinary statistic for a league comprising of a mere eight sides.
Chelsea – after a run of seven wins in nine had guided them to the apex – entered the day as favourites, however two point back were Champions League semi-finalists Birmingham and a further point behind waiting to pounce on any potential slips were Matt Beard’s Liverpool.
A trip to Manchester City – winless in two and with one eye on Thursday’s Continental Cup final – further strengthened Chelsea’s cause – although sticky recent away form combined with the attached history connotations offered the chasing pair a glimmer.
The naming of a depleted Manchester City team seemingly further aligned the stars in Emma Hayes’ side’s favour, yet City would soon throw a considerable spanner in the works – the Citizens reaching the interval two goals clear.
Those developments at the Manchester Regional Arena offered a root in for Birmingham yet the side whose stutter at the summit back in August arguably opened the door for the rest, were enduring problems of their own – a buoyant Notts County boasting a two goal lead of their own at half time.
Suddenly the inconceivable was viable for Matt Beard’s Liverpool, although with the fortune gods shining in their favour they were at the halfway point failing to keep up their end of the bargain – the Reds being frustrated by an out of form Bristol Academy.
The interval however proved the catalyst to Liverpool seizing the opportunity, with Natasha Dowie’s strike laying the platform for a comprehensive 3-0 victory. Nerves would however be frayed substantially before Liverpool could be confirmed as champions, with improved second half showings from both Chelsea and Birmingham scripting the most vivid of climaxes.
First Birmingham rapidly wiped out Notts’ advantage, before Gilly Flaherty’s strike for Chelsea rekindled their aspirations – a goal for either would have secured the pendulum swinging one final time. As it was both Notts and City held firm, although neither game was short of chaos. In Solihull only a series of saves from Carly Telford denied Birmingham an historic title, whilst similarly Rachel Brooks crucially foiled a rampaging Chelsea at the death in the most frantic of finales.
For both Chelsea and Birmingham the excruciating disappointment of what might have been will cut deep psychologically – in the latter’s case the displeasure will be served alongside an extra kick in the teeth given third means a second season in succession with no Champions League football. For a side who finished second bottom last year the carrot of Champions League football will at least offer some comfort in relation to Chelsea, nonetheless it is hard to escape notions of if only – at the same time considering their extensive recruitment drive a rise up the table was always anticipated.
On a day of unparalleled pressure, perhaps Liverpool’s experience of lofting the title a year previous presented a critically advantage – further to that occupying the role of outsiders meant the potential for anxiety to surface was considerably less than in the cases of both Chelsea and Birmingham.
Nonetheless nothing should be taken away from Liverpool who in defending their crown become only the second side after Arsenal to win consecutive women’s domestic titles. In the crunch the Reds proficiency in high intensity scenarios was unrivalled, as a six game unbeaten streak through the season’s final third highlights – with last week’s back from the dead exploits at Arsenal which saw only a stoppage time Gemma Davison goal keep them in the mix evidence of the club’s resilience.
When the powers that be set about remodelling the Women’s game in England, the vision wouldn’t have been shy of the enthralling unpredictable season just witnessed. The success of the reincarnation hasn’t gone unnoticed, with the WSL’s growing allure generating a much craved wider interest – that the BBC devoted live text coverage to the season finale vindication of the game’s growing appeal.
Live coverage on BT Sport has also aided women’s football in taking huge strides in regards to exposure, nonetheless substantial accreditation should also be targeted at the personnel involved for producing a product capable of retaining new curious viewers.
Sunday represented an ideal opportunity to showcase the advancement of female football, with the lack of domestic male games meaning allowing the WSL to take centre stage – a dour selection of European internationals later in the day offering minimal competition.
Thankfully the spectacle didn’t disappointment, with all the characteristics of an enchanting season packed into a 90 minute window on a day which in regards to drama was akin to that of the Championship finale two years ago or the unforgettable Manchester City title win in 2012.
Potentially Sunday could signify a pivotal moment in the development of the women’s football – just maybe the WSL has now propelled itself into the landscape of mainstream. Even if that viewpoint is overly ambitious, there is no denying that women’s football is advancing at a rapid rate.
The future indicates that upward curve will only escalate given Manchester City are liable to kick-on significantly in their second season – it wouldn’t be unfeasible to envisage a similar transformation in points to that witnessed at Chelsea – whilst Arsenal have through the season’s final furlongs showcased hints of reasserting themselves.
The future for Women’s football is burning bright and there is substantial scope the 2015 season could raise the competition bar yet further – these are undeniably exciting times for the female game.