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FAWSL preparing for shift to winter season

England manager Mark Sampson is bullish about the FAWSL switching back to a traditional calendar.

England manager Mark Sampson is bullish about the FAWSL switching back to a traditional calendar.

The 2016 FAWSL season is coming to an end this weekend with the final fixtures taking place on Sunday, November 6. Manchester City Women topped the table and celebrated their championship last Sunday. They will compete in the Champions League next year along with second place, Chelsea Ladies FC. Arsenal Ladies FC have secured third spot. Doncaster Rovers Belles are sat bottom of the table and will be relegated to FAWSL 2. Promoted clubs will include Yeovil Town Ladies FC and Bristol City Women, should they meet all requirements and criteria from The FA.

This will be the final summer fixture season for FAWSL, next September will be the beginning of a return to winter fixture schedule. However, all ten clubs will play each other once from February to May as players look to gain fitness and matches before the 2017 European Championships in the Netherlands.

Switching to a winter schedule has some positives and negatives. The FAWSL will run during the same time as Feminine Division 1, Frauen-Bundesliga, and SuperLiga Women. Champions League fixtures will be played while the FAWSL is in season. The summer months will allow players proper vacation time.

Finding pitches in England that aren’t used by men’s football teams presents a huge challenge. Fighting for television and media coverage could also present a huge hurdle. The unpredictable weather may cause many untimely postponements. Families who have kids in school or after school activities may be less inclined to attend an FAWSL match if they are juggling other commitments.

The Equalizer caught up with a three highly acclaimed managers across the pond and a few FAWSL players to see what they make of the switch to an FAWSL winter schedule for September, 2017.

England Manager, Mark Sampson

“The link between the domestic game and the international game is really important. Fundamentally, the work they do on a day-to-day basis will dictate how well they will do as footballers. We’re there to try and polish them up and put the icing on the cake. It’s important that we get a domestic schedule right and the domestic game right. I think moving to a winter season will help that. I think it allows a consistency of fixtures. It will allow a good window gap between game to game. Which means we need to prepare, we need to play, we need to recover, but you also need to develop. I think we weren’t getting the develop part right. We’ve still got a long way to go with our pool of players to get them better, to get them to a level I feel they can get to. Hopefully that schedule will help, it’s always a bit of an evidence vs gut call, but in the end, you’ve got to look at the evidence and go in that direction, and go with your gut as well. I think our gut was telling us, that we should move towards winter. It was supported by a lot of evidence, so now it’s up to the game to make the most of it. Any decision can be the wrong or right one, it’s just a matter of how you react to that decision, and how you make the best of it. Hopefully we can all work together in women’s football to make sure that it is the right call and make sure that everyone benefits. Not just England, but the clubs, players, the game, and the supporters. We want everyone to benefit from that change, I believe they will.”

Nick Cushing, Manchester City Women manager

“I think it’s good, I think it’s good for ourselves, the schedule. I think it’s good for the international team and we always want our international team to play well. I think one thing for us, is to have our men’s and our women’s teams playing in tandem. I think today (Sunday, August 28) proves that we can do these double-headers, we can get our fans in and then they can walk across the bridge, and watch the first team. As a football club we’re proud of all of our teams. It gives this football club, and our football club a good opportunity to run these double-headers.”

Emma Hayes, Chelsea Ladies FC manager

“I’ve made no secret (about) the fact that it’s a step in the right direction. I think we need to asses the challenges during the winter months. When you’re using stadiums like Staines (Staines Town, Wheatsheaf Park) during the months of January and February, who’s going to take the priority, the men’s team on a Saturday, or the women’s team a Sunday. That needs to be looked at. Perhaps there should be a winter break, and perhaps I think the season should start earlier than September. It should start in August, perhaps we break mid-December, not play in January and February. Then when the pitches are in better condition we start again in March. I’m in favor of it, but I think there will be teething problems in the short-term. In the long-term I think it could resolve a lot.”

Toni Duggan, Manchester City Women

“It’s out of our hands, the league have decided to go ahead with it and as a professional footballer we have to just go with it. I’m just happy to be playing football, whether it’s winter or summer. I don’t think it affects us in any way, shape, or form. Obviously it’s going to be hard, but I’m sure we’ll be ready and prepared come September.”

Lucy Bronze, Manchester City Women

“I think as a Man City player, I’m happy. The way our club supports the women’s team is unbelievable. Nothing is going to be taken away from the fact that we’re playing around the men’s season, because at City we’ve got the stadium both next to each other. The clubs are fully involved and that includes us. We’re going to have a better fan base because you can intertwine those kind of games together and just hop across the road, here’s the men’s, and there’s the women’s. For us as well at Man City, the Champions League is a big deal and to be playing Champions League within season, it’s going to be better. Not just for us, obviously this year it’s not going to happen, but for next year, whoever gets Champions League, it’s going to be a big deal for those teams to be able to compete with the Swedish, German, and French teams that ultimately dominate in the Champions League at the minute. They are the teams that are doing so well internationally as well. I think if we change that, it could be a small step in international football as well.”

Karen Carney, Chelsea Ladies FC

“I haven’t really thought too much about it to be fair. We take each game as it comes. We believe it’s going to be a healthy change, so we support that. We had a winter league beforehand and that was quite successful. The support that we’ve been having now for women’s football, and the stereotypes that have gone now. Hopefully we should have a good, new league in the winter.”

Jess Clarke, Notts County Ladies FC

“Yeah, I feel that it’s not going to be much difference in it. We’ll obviously prepare the same and nothing will really change in terms of that. Us girls, we just want to come out and play football. We’re not bothered when we play, as long as we get to play.”

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