Chelsea Ladies claim WSL title in competition’s strongest season

As Jose Mourinho presumably takes advantage of the international break by moodily prodding Subbuteo players across a tactics board, the female contingent of Chelsea Football Club will still be celebrating after proving it’s not all doom and gloom for fans of the blues. Chelsea Ladies won the Women’s Super League in style last week, beating Sunderland 4-0 on the final day of the season to clinch the first top-level title in their history and complete the domestic double. The high scoreline is no outlier – over the 14 games comprising the WSL1 season, Chelsea have gained a reputation for goalscoring prowess and defensive frugality. They conceded only 10 times, and scored four goals on five separate occasions.

Chelsea took a two-point advantage over Manchester City into Sunday’s game, and knew from past experience that only a victory could guarantee them their crown. The dramatic last day loss of the 2014 title to Liverpool Ladies was the elephant on the pitch, and threatened to prove a stern test for the collective psyche of Emma Hayes’ side. Once the game began, however, there were no signs of any such hangover. Goals from Ji So-Yun and Gemma Davison came either side of England forward Fran Kirby’s brace to ensure that past demons were thoroughly exorcised.

It is not only the actions of Chelsea’s players that are worthy of attention. The women’s game as a whole is showing its strongest signs of progression in Britain in years. Over 2,500 fans watched Chelsea’s final game, and the average attendance in the WSL1 was over a thousand, up a huge 48 per cent on last year’s figure.

Good news can also be found at a grassroots level. Since 2010, the number of women participating in adult football has steadily increased, with tens of thousands playing in affiliated teams and even more taking part recreationally.

The reasons for the increased interest are not difficult to identify. The Super League took a mid-season break for the World Cup, and when play recommenced there was an immediate spike in domestic attendances. England’s remarkable overachievement, the media attention that surrounded the tournament and  the BBC taking the unprecedented step of showing every game from Canada, were all contributing factors. Clear evidence, if any was needed, of the positive effect of increased exposure.

Furthermore, since 2013 the BBC has aired The Women’s Football Show, presenting highlights and previews of WSL and Women’s FA Cup competitions. That such a demand exists is indicative of the growing presence of the game, as is the news that women’s international teams will be included in the latest instalment of the FIFA game series.

So where next for women’s football? The foundations for a successful and well-supported league structure exists in both England and Scotland, but the game’s governing bodies must act on the high level of interest generated in recent months. The WSL plans to expand their top flight from eight to 10 teams over the next two years, and the FA hopes that it will eventually become a fully professional league. In Scotland, the Premier League will next year split into two divisions to reflect the growing number of clubs in the league system.

As for Chelsea, the domestic season may have finished, but the hard work continues. Along with runners-up City, they qualified for the Champions League, and on Thursday beat Scottish Women’s Premier League champions Glasgow City 1-0 in the first leg of their round of 32 tie. The match represents Chelsea’s first foray into Europe’s top competition, and a successful campaign would both build upon an excellent season and go a long way in cultivating the increasing interest in the top level of the women’s game.

And should Mourinho feel the need to provide inspiration to his downtrodden squad, he could do a lot worse than showing them the highlights of Chelsea Ladies’ remarkable year.

Image courtesy of joshjdss

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