Sunday 2nd May 2021 – The FA Women’s Championship – Hayes Lane, Bromley
The appeal of football is the thrill of the unpredictable nature of the game, where hope is most definitely a strategy and excitement builds to the final day of the season. Unfortunately, that crescendo of drama sometimes becomes a damp squib on that ultimate round of games when there’s nothing left to play for.
The final Sunday of the FA Women’s Championship arrived with all of the accolades decided and only a few final league positions to determine. Leicester City, crowned champions a few weeks ago, were finally allowed to play a game at The KingPower Stadium by their parent club, to collect the trophy; London Bees, relegated at the start of April, didn’t play as this was their week off in rotation; and the top four, with no chance of promotion, had nothing but pride to play for. No end of season play-off excitement down here in the second tier of Women’s football, again something that could add that additional bit of excitement and competitiveness to a league that has been dominated by one side. One perhaps to note for the FA, although I am not sure their thoughts and plans are often aligned with those of the clubs and the fans.
In the case of Lewes, fifth place was guaranteed after the win over Leicester City last week, the best finish the club had ever achieved in their history, but there was still one game left, away at bogey team Crystal Palace. The Rooks had lost their last three encounters to the Eagles and were hoping to finish the season reversing that trend. It would also be the 18th game of the season to be played in front of no fans – the last time spectators were able to watch Lewes was ironically back in December in the 2-0 defeat to Palace at The Pan.
With the increased revenues due to flow into the game from the Sky TV deal next season, the Championship landscape could be very different, with a number of clubs, especially those who are part of Men’s Premier League set-ups, investing heavily into their playing squads. Add in the prospect of a richer, more open Women’s Champions League (hat tip to Emma Hayes and Chelsea for their achievements this season) and the Women’s Super League really is the promised land that at least half a dozen clubs will be gunning for.
And herein could lie the issue. If you have half the league focused on a single promotion place, investing heavily in the process, what is the potential collateral damage? Will teams who can’t spend as much, who perhaps by Christmas know there is no chance to be in the mix cut their budgets accordingly? Whilst the majority of clubs playing staff are contracted for the season, there are other operational costs that could be reduced, to the detriment of the club and the league in general. This is a real danger with only one team able to progress upwards.
On the pitch Palace once again pulled off a late winner to stop Lewes ending the season on a high. A fantastic first half strike by Amber Gaylor from the edge of the box gave the home side the lead, which was then equalised by Dani Lane who finished off an excellent Lewes move down the right-hand side just after half-time. A draw would have probably been a fair result, but when was football fair, and deep down, when did we want it to be fair? Five minutes to go and a corner delivered into the Lewes box wasn’t cleared and from a tight angle Waldie slotted home to give Palace the lead, the three points and bragging rights for another season.
And just like that, the season was over. The best season in our history, one that provided so many barriers in respect to COVID-19 and “normal” operations but one that the club have time and time risen above thanks to the amazing jobs by those behind the scenes, on the touchline and the players on the pitch. 2021-22 promises to be a defining season for Women’s football, culminating in the European Championships held in England, which really could be a transformational point for Women’s football. Exciting times ahead.