|Women's football in England|
National team during 2019 Women's World Cup.
|Governing body||The Football Association|
|National team(s)||Women's national team|
Women's football has been played in England for over a century, sharing a common history with the men's game as the country in which the Laws of the Game were codified.
Women's football was originally very popular in the early 20th century, but after being banned by the men's Football Association caused a decline it took until the 1990s for the game to see a large increase in female players, as well as in spectators, culminating in England hosting the Women's European Championships in 2005.
It is impossible to say at what point women began to play football, just as much of the history of the men's game is uncertain. While medieval football is generally believed to have been a men's game some small evidence does exist that women were occasionally involved, with the 16th century Sir Philip Sidney briefly mentioning it in his poem A Dialogue Betweene Two Shepherdsand with a ball formerly in the possession of Mary Queen of Scots believed to be the oldest football still in existence.
As football developed from a disorganised village sport into a codified game with more spectators than players at the end of the 19th century, women's football similarly developed. With women's football in Scotland seemingly more widespread than in England, a team of English women travelled to Edinburgh in May 1881 to play a short series of games against a representative Scottish side led by Helen Graham Matthews, who would end up being a pioneer for women's football south of the border.The matches served as an inauspicious start for women's football, with a riot breaking out among the game's 5,000-odd viewers, spilling onto the pitch, ending the game and shortly thereafter resulting in women being banned from playing the sport in Scotland. The ban did, however, result in Graham Matthews moving to England, where she set up a side known as the Lady Footballers, with assistance from her opposite number during the Edinburgh matches, Nettie Honeyball. Hiding her identity to avoid being linked to the disruption, she went by the name of 'Mrs Graham' until her identity was discovered in 1900.
In this period, it was not only Helen Graham Matthews leading the way for women in football, however. Honeyball herself would found a team in 1894 called the British Ladies' Football Club, a team which would have as its president Lady Florence Dixie, daughter of the 8th Marquess of Queensberry.Evidently a number of other teams existed as the Lady Footballers and the British Ladies Football Club were able to tour England, playing teams across the country. Women footballers in England were not entirely able to operate without prejudice, however, as evidenced in the way many – not least Graham Matthews – elected to play under assumed names to avoid reprisals for their participation.
The budding interest in football amongst women may initially have been seen as a benefit by football clubs. In 1885, seeking to curb the more boisterous behaviour of male spectators, Preston North End began offering free admission to women in the hope that their presence would restrain the men.This was successful, attracting 2,000 women to Preston's next match, and was rapidly adopted by other clubs around England. It became, perhaps, too successful, since by the late 1890s free entry had been entirely discontinued as clubs realised how much revenue they were losing. As women's teams continued to grow in reputation, some began to stage games on grounds used by teams of their all-male, and longer-established, counterparts, often reaching respectably high attendances. Notably, a game played in 1895 at the home of Reading and featuring the British Ladies Football Club managed to draw a crowd higher than the previous highest attendance for the men's team.
As the First World War began in Europe, women's football games began being played for charity,their profile helped by the way that, when women started to work in the munitions factories, they also began to be invited to join the remaining men's kick-arounds outside working hours. Football between men and women at work indeed spawned one famous team in Preston, Lancashire; observing some of the women staff having regular competitions with men over who could hit cloakroom windows more accurately during their lunch breaks, an Alfred Frankland suggested that the women form a team to play charity games. The team took the factory's name and became well known as Dick, Kerr's Ladies F.C.. This team would end up playing 828 games between 1917 and 1965 and raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity in its first few years, a sum equivalent to tens of millions in the 2010s. One of these matches, played at Goodison Park, Liverpool on Boxing Day 1920, attracted a crowd of 53,000 with another 10,000–15,000 reportedly turned away because the ground was full. In north east England, the Munitionettes Cup contest in 1917–18 was another very popular event, including star goal-scorer Bella Raey.
After the War, the idea of women's international games emerged. In 1920, Alfred Frankland arranged for a women's team organised by a French sporting governing body to tour England which was scheduled to play Dick, Kerr's Ladies at four venues in Preston, Stockport, Manchester and London. Playing to crowds in the tens of thousands, the first ever international matches between women's clubs resulted in two wins for the English side, one for the French and one draw. The series was popular enough to result in Dick, Kerr's being invited over to France for a corresponding away tour.Going unbeaten in France, the team returned home to cheering crowds lining the streets, the equal of any accolade a men's team had received.
In 1921, however, as war faded into the background, there was renewed concern about the presence of women in football. Rumours – true or not – circulated that not all the charity money raised by their teams was reaching the intended destinations.However, in a move that was widely seen as caused by jealousy of the crowds and interest in women's games which frequently exceeded that of the top men's teams, or simply fear of the renewed gender liberation campaigns, the Football Association banned all women's teams from playing on grounds affiliated to the FA because football damaged women's bodies. While a handful of teams, such as Dick, Kerr's, were able to find alternative venues, this made most teams disband and reduced spectator numbers for the few who remained.
For several decades this decision meant that women's football virtually ceased to exist. It only reversed from 1969 when, after the increased interest in football caused by England's 1966 World Cup triumph, the Women's Football Association was founded,although it would take a further two years – and an order from UEFA – to force the (men's) Football Association to remove its restrictions on the playing rights of women's teams. In the same year, the Mitre Challenge Trophy was created as the first national cup competition for women's teams in England, a competition which would eventually morph into the FA Women's Cup. It would take a further twelve years before the WFA was able to affiliate to the FA.
With women's football only growing slowly, the FA finally took a step further and brought all women's football under its direct control in 1993,although by this time the WFA had already created the Women's National League, which would become the Women's Premier League in 1992 to parallel the renaming of the top level of men's competition. As most professional men's clubs chose to create, or affiliate to, a women's team and with the sport gradually growing, in 2008 the league system received a shake-up with the announcement of a new top-level competition – the Women's Super League – which took the best eight teams following sixteen applications, placing them into a no-relegation single division, designed to draw greater exposure and money into the game. The founding of the WSL did not run without problems, however, with the league having to be delayed a year until March 2011, due to the financial instability lingering following the 2007 global recession. Nevertheless, the WSL did launch at its anticipated 2011 start date, and was successful enough to expand to a two-division, 20-team set-up in 2014. It would take until 2018 for the Women's Super League to be fully professional with all 11 top flight teams strictly full-time.
Today, the FA directly runs the top women's competitions. The most significant national competition is the national cup, the FA Women's Cup, followed by the top national league, the FA WSL (Women's Super League). Before the formation of the WSL in 2011, the top flight was the FA Women's Premier League National Division, which later become the second-level league and has now been reorganised into the third and fourth levels of the pyramid. Originally, the Premier League champion was the only English representative allowed in Europe. When the UEFA Women's Cup was relaunched as the UEFA Women's Champions League for the 2009–10 season, England became one of eight nations with two Champions League places, a status it has retained ever since. In the first two seasons of the new Champions League, England's two places were filled by the Premier League champion and the FA Women's Cup winner. For 2011–12, the two finalists in the 2010–11 FA Women's Cup earned the Champions League places. Starting with the 2012–13 Champions League, the two berths were initially planned to go to the WSL and FA Women's Cup champions, but the FA chose instead to send the top two teams from the WSL. Women's football also has two significant secondary cup competitions. The FA WSL Cup, contested by the WSL teams, is held after the league season. The Premier League Cup, limited to the teams in the Premier League and its regional subdivisions, is held during the league season.
The WSL and Premier League have operated on different season structures – the WSL conducted a summer season contained entirely within a calendar year, whilst the Premier League continues to operate on the traditional winter season spanning two calendar years. Following an abbreviated spring season in 2017, women's football is moving to a parallel calendar to the premier league starting in the fall of 2017.
The women's football pyramid was significantly reorganised in 2014. The WSL added a second division known as WSL 2, with the original WSL becoming WSL 1. The Premier League's regional North and South Divisions became the third level of the pyramid, with the Combination Women's Football Leagues becoming the fourth level. Further changes came in 2015; the FA announced that both divisions of the WSL would expand by one team in 2016, and WSL 2 would also add a team in 2017. Significantly, the new WSL 2 entries will come via promotion from the Premier League, connecting the WSL to the rest of the pyramid for the first time.
To promote women's football, the FA allows cup finals to be held at various men's Premier League/Football League stadiums throughout the country (as opposed to men's finals which are usually held at the national stadiums). In the 2013–14 season, the FA Cup final was held at MK Dons's Stadium mk, the WSL Cup final at Wycombe Wanderers' Adams Park, and the League Cup final at Burton Albion's Pirelli Stadium.
The Women's FA Cup secured its first sponsorship deal with SSE as a sign of the huge resurrection women's football has seen since London 2012. Despite sponsorship, entering the tournament actually costs clubs more than they get in prize money. In 2015, it was reported that even if Notts County had won the tournament outright the £8,600 winnings would leave them out of pocket.The winners of the men's FA Cup in the same year received £1.8 million, with teams not reaching the first round proper getting more than the women's winners.
The women's game in England took a hit following the 2012 Olympics after England was unable to advance from the group stages at Women's EURO 2013 in Sweden, which led to Hope Powell's departure as manager and the appointment of Welshman Mark Sampson. However, England then gave the women's game a boost that may be even bigger than the Olympic boost when they stunned many both at home and abroad by finishing third at the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada. Along the way, they beat Norway for their first knockout stage win and then host nation Canada in front of a capacity partisan crowd in Vancouver. Following a devastating loss in the semis against defending champion Japan after a Laura Bassett own goal, the team rebounded to beat Germany for the first time in women's football after a 1–0 extra-time win in the third-place game. It meant that England had finished as the top European team at the World Cup and had recorded the second-best World Cup showing by any England senior team behind only Sir Alf Ramsey, Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore's England men's squad famously winning the 1966 World Cup as hosts. It was announced that the 2015 Women's FA Cup final between Chelsea Ladies and Notts County Ladies would be held at Wembley Stadium for the very first time.
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The present national league system in women's football in England was created by the Women's Football Association. The WFA's Women's National League divisions played their first season in 1991-92. In previous decades, there had been women's Regional Leagues, [ clarification needed ]which continue today.
The Football Association took over the direct operation of the women's leagues in the 1994-95 season and renamed the top division the FA Women's Premier League National Division; this remained the top division until the 2009–10 season.[ further explanation needed ] The leagues system is currently operated by The FA, with the WSL at the top. For its first three seasons (2011–2013), the Women's Super League was operated on a licence system with no promotion or relegation, similar to the system used in rugby's Super League. The WSL displaced the FA Women's Premier League at the top of the system; the WPL National Division ended after 2012–13. Teams in both the Women's Super League and the Women's Championship compete for the Continental Cup.
The Premier League was divided into six leagues over two divisions: the FA Women's Premier League Northern Division and the FA Women's Premier League Southern Division. Teams in these two divisions competed in the Premier League Cup.[ needs update ]
Below the Premier League were eight regional leagues. Below the regional leagues are the county leagues.
As in the men's game, some Welsh women's football clubs compete in the English pyramid. The most successful are Cardiff City and the now defunct Barry Town, both of which have played in the Women's Premiership.
Including the introduction of the WSL, WSL 2 and rebrands, an overview of the top five levels since 1991 is below. From 2011 to 2016 the WSL divisions changed to a summer season, while other levels stayed on a winter-based season. In 2017–18, the WSL reverted to a winter league, in alignment with the rest of the pyramid.
|2011 to 2014||2014 to 2017–18||2018–19 to date|
|1||Women's Premier League National Division||Women's Super League||WSL 1||WSL|
|2||WPL Northern & Southern||WPL National Division||WSL 2||Women's Championship|
|3||Regional Leagues |
[ specify ]
|Combination Leagues||WPL Northern & Southern||Women's National League N & S|
|4||Regional Leagues||Combination Leagues||WPL Division 1||WNL Division 1|
|1|| FA Women's Super League |
|2|| FA Women's Championship |
|3|| FA Women's National League Northern Premier Division |
| FA Women's National League Southern Premier Division |
|4|| FA Women's National League Division 1 North|
| FA Women's National League Division 1 Midlands|
| FA Women's National League Division 1 South West|
| FA Women's National League Division 1 South East|
|5||North West Women's Regional Football League Premier Div||North East Regional Women's Football League Premier Div||West Midlands Regional Women's Football League Premier Div||East Midlands Regional Women's Football League Premier Div||Southern Region Women's Football League Premier Division||South West Regional Women's Football League Premier Div||Eastern Region Women's Football League Premier Division||London and South East Women's Regional Football League Premier Div|
Feeding to North West Women's Regional Football League Premier Division:
Feeding to Southern Region Women's Football League Premier Division:
Feeding to North West Women's Regional Football League League Div 1:
Feeding to Southern Region Women's Football League Division 1:
Feeding to Cheshire Women's Football League Div 1:
Feeding to Hampshire WFL Div 1:
Feeding to Sheffield & Hallamshire WCFL Div 2:
Feeding to West Riding WFL Div 2:
The FA Women's Premier League National Division was a football division in England. From 1991 until the introduction of the summer competition FA Women's Super League in 2011, the National Division functioned as the top league in England. During its final two seasons it operated as the second level of the English women's football league pyramid. The Division was scrapped at the end of the 2012/13 season, prior to the launch of the Women's Super League 2. The league was played on a home and away basis, with each team playing each other twice, and points being awarded in the standard football format.
Arsenal Women Football Club is an English professional women's football club based in Islington, London, England that is affiliated with Arsenal. The club plays in the Women's Super League, the top flight of English women's football.
The FA Women's National League is a group of six football divisions run by the English Football Association. From 1991 to 2018, it was named the Women's Premier League (WPL) and included England's top division from 1991 to 2010.
Sunderland Association Football Club Ladies, previously Sunderland Association Football Club Women, is an English women's football club that plays in the FA Women's National League North. They play their home games at the Eppleton Colliery Welfare Ground.
Chelsea Football Club Women, formerly known as Chelsea Ladies Football Club, are an English women's football club based in Fulham, England. Since 2004, the club has been affiliated with Chelsea F.C., a men's team in the Premier League. Chelsea Women were a founding member of the FA WSL in 2010, the top level of women's football in England since 2011. From 2005 to 2010, the side competed in the Premier League National Division, the top tier of women's football in England at the time.
Birmingham City Women F.C. is an English women's football club affiliated with Birmingham City F.C.. As founding members of the FA Women's Super League in 2011, the team plays in the highest division of women's football in England. The team plays their home games at Damson Park, the home of Solihull Moors F.C..
Everton Football Club is an English women's association football team based in Liverpool, England, that competes in the FA Women's Super League, the top division of English women's football. Formed in 1983 as Hoylake W.F.C., it is now part of Everton F.C. and has played home games at Walton Hall Park in Walton since February 2020. The team has won the Premier League National Division once, the Premier League Cup once, and the Women's FA Cup twice.
Bristol City Women's Football Club is a women's association football team from the city of Bristol, who compete in FA Women's Super League, the highest division of women's football in England. Formed in 1998 as Bristol Rovers W.F.C., they were renamed Bristol Academy W.F.C. in 2005 following increased involvement of the Bristol Academy of Sport, based at Filton College. A second change of name, this time to Bristol City was approved by the FA Women's Football Board in time for the 2016 WSL season. They play their home games at Bath City's Twerton Park. Bristol City Women won promotion to FA WSL 1 in 2016.
Eniola Aluko is a British-Nigerian football executive, commentator, and former professional player, who is the director of women's football at Aston Villa. Before retiring from professional football in January 2020, Aluko last played as a forward for Juventus. Since 2014 she has also provided television commentary on football, including men’s and women’s World Cups.
Liverpool Football Club Women is an English women's football club. A founding member of the top-tier FA Women's Super League, Liverpool currently play in the second-tier FA Women's Championship after being relegated in 2020.
Notts County Ladies Football Club was a women's football club based in Nottingham, England. Like the club's male affiliate Notts County FC, they played their home games at Meadow Lane.
Manchester City Women's Football Club are an English women's football club based in Manchester who play in the FA Women's Super League. They are affiliated with Manchester City F.C. who play in the Premier League.
Nottingham Forest Women Football Club is an English women's association football club affiliated with men's Nottingham Forest. It is a member of the FA Women's National League North and currently play their home matches at Eastwood Community F.C.
Yeovil United Football Club are an English women's association football club based in Yeovil, Somerset and play in the FA Women's National League South.
Reading Football Club Women is an English women's football club affiliated with Reading FC. The Club plays in the Women's Super League, the top flight of English women's football. Reading F.C. Women previously played in the FA Women's Premier League National Division after being promoted from the FA Women's Premier League Southern Division, which they were relegated to at the end of the 2011–12 season. They had previously won promotion to the National Division from the Southern Division in 2009–10. They gained entry to an expanded FA WSL in 2014.
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The Football Association Women's Super League, and currently known as the Barclays FA Women's Super League for sponsorship reasons, is the highest league of women's football in England. Established in 2010, it is run by the Football Association and currently features 12 fully professional teams.