The Women’s Super League season got off to an explosive start this weekend but what were the main talking points?
Four out of the six fixtures took place at men’s stadiums in front of larger crowds than normal, while the weekend marked the beginning of a landmark three-year broadcast deal, meaning matches were shown live on Sky Sports and BBC network TV for the first time in the competition’s history.
What impact did TV coverage have?
The season began at Leigh Sports Village with Manchester United’s victory over Reading shown live on Sky Sports.
Former England internationals Karen Carney and Casey Stoney provided in-depth analysis on the familiar touch screen.
And on Saturday, Everton’s defeat by Manchester City – live on BBC One – became the first ever domestic women’s league game shown on network free-to-air television.
The football delivered, with 11 goals scored in the three broadcast matches, and Sunday’s encounter between Arsenal and Chelsea a particularly enthralling encounter.
“The first weekend has been electric,” ex-England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis said on BBC Radio 5 Live. “We have had goals, mismatches, crowds, sunshine… you couldn’t ask for more.
“I am so excited and so proud. Generations before us have worked so hard to get to where women’s football is today. To see where it is now, that is a proud moment.”
Former England forward Rachel Yankey added on Football Focus: “I am hoping the game really explodes now. For all the young kids who can now see women’s football – when I was kid, I didn’t know there were female players playing. People have a dream now, they can see it and it is real.”
‘Like being second-class citizens’
But the TV coverage also highlighted areas the women’s game needs to improve.
With no video assistant referee or goalline technology, discussions were sparked when Reading were denied a goal despite Brooke Chaplen’s effort appearing to cross the line, before replays showed Beth Mead looked offside when she fired in Arsenal’s winner over Chelsea.
Managers Gareth Taylor, Marc Skinner, Kelly Chambers and Emma Hayes were among those who welcomed the idea of increased technology within the game.
“We have all got used to VAR and goalline technology so I feel by not having it in the women’s game, it is like being second-class citizens,” said Chelsea boss Hayes.
Skinner added: “If you can ever use technology I think that would be brilliant. There are other things in place that we need to get right as well and to continue the growth of our game.”
‘You get swept away with it’
The return of large crowds was a positive, with over 8,000 making the trip to Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
“I think football is about emotions,” said Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall, who celebrated wildly alongside fans in London as his side beat defending champions Chelsea 3-2.
“It’s about connecting people within the team, and with the team and the fans. We work so hard for it so if we don’t show emotions or celebrate when we score or win games then when are we doing it?”
Skinner said he felt the “energy” from the Manchester United fans and he got “swept away with it”.
But Everton captain Danielle Turner felt they “possibly let fans down” following their 4-0 loss to City at Goodison Park in front of almost 6,000 supporters.
“They really got behind us up to the last minute, even when we were behind. We’re disappointed that we weren’t able to get the result for them,” she added.
Was the occasion a distraction?
Manager Willie Kirk said: “I don’t know whether the occasion played a part in it. We froze a little bit.
“I got goosebumps when I heard the supporters and when the teams came out so maybe if we were away from home in the first game it would have been better.”
Will we have a three-way title race?
Last season only Manchester City were able to mount a title challenge alongside Chelsea but after investment this summer and the arrival of new boss Eidevall, Arsenal were poised to throw their name in the hat.
This weekend’s test against Chelsea was seen as the perfect opportunity to gauge the reality of their intent.
They did not disappoint – scoring three against the champions and stunning Chelsea in front of a rocking Emirates.
Eidevall said “some aspects” of Arsenal’s performance put down a marker but added: “It was a nice performance, a nice win but it’s one game out of many.”
On Chelsea’s defence of their title, Hayes said: “It’s a challenge for us but the league isn’t won or lost in one game.”