My personal blog on Scottish Women's Football
In what will undoubtedly be described in some sections of the media as the Battle of Britain, the UEFA Women’s Champions League draw has seen Glasgow City drawn against Chelsea Ladies in the Round of 32. And despite the fact Chelsea are making their debut in the competition, they will start the tie as favourites.
You only have to look at the Chelsea squad to see why. 2014 WSL Player of the Year Ji So-yun, England stars Eniola Aluko, Claire Rafferty, Fran Kirby and Katie Chapman, Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl. And of course, this year Chelsea won their first major honour by winning the 2014-15 FA Cup – beating Notts County 1-0 at Wembley Stadium.
However, it will be Glasgow City going into the tie with the European pedigree, having reached the Quarter-Finals in the last campaign, losing to PSG 7-0 on aggregate. The second leg in Paris had that season’s highest attendance before the Final, with the advantage of the game being played at Parc de Princes. So why is it that one of the bigger names in English football is only making their European debuts now?
Since the 2009-10 season, when the competition was rebranded from the UEFA Women’s Cup to the current Women’s Champions League – the top 8 European leagues have been awarded two entrants, which has always included England. It should be noted that the expansion in the 2016-17 tournament where the competition will have a possible 67 sides, it will be the top 12 leagues that get two entrants which will include Scotland for the first time.
The simple answer to why Chelsea are dipping their feet into European football is that historically, the English games has been dominated by Arsenal Ladies. They won the FA Women’s Premier League 12 times, the predecessor to the current summer Women’s Super League of which they won the inaugural two tournaments. If you combine the two leagues, they won the English top league nine seasons in a row. Go back to the 2000-01 season, in that run where they won 14 out of 15 seasons with Fulham Ladies denying them in the 2002-03 season. In the 2006-07 season, Arsenal won the treble – winning the UEFA Women’s Cup, in a squad that included City’s Julie Fleeting. It means that currently, Arsenal are the only British side to have conquered Europe.
Generally, the team that has been pushing Arsenal was Everton Ladies. In the final five seasons of the Premier League (as the top league in the pyramid structure), Everton finished runners-up. The first time Chelsea looked like they could break into Europe came in the final season before the introduction of the WSL, when they finished in third place.
Due to the gap between the final Premier League season, and the inaugural WSL – the 2011-12 Champions League saw England’s two entrants going to the English FA Women’s Cup Finalists: Arsenal and Birmingham City.
And when the inaugural WSL took place in 2011 (it had become a summer league, after the successful change in the SWPL), Chelsea looked like a struggling side. Arsenal were champions, Birmingham runners-up with Everton in third. Chelsea finished in 6th, whilst future champions Liverpool were languishing last – as the WSL 2 had not been created yet, there was no relegation. The same pattern was shown in 2012, each of the mentioned teams finishing in the same spots.
But in 2013, both Arsenal’s grip on the league and the European places diminished as they finished third – partly due to Chelsea’s current captain Katie Chapman. In a WSL match against the eventual champions Liverpool on the 3rd August 2013, Arsenal played Chapman who was unregistered. The league docked them three points and this would prove critical as they finished one point behind the runners-up, Bristol Academy. Still though, Chelsea were struggling in the league, finishing 7th – four points ahead of the relegated Doncaster Rovers Belles.
Their fortunes changed dramatically in the 2014 season, as they were involved in a classic title chase. The signings they made, including Ji So-Yun and Katie Chapman improved the team, and the WSL title was decided on the final day – Chelsea 2 points clear of Birmingham City and 3 ahead of Liverpool. But they suffered a 2-1 defeat to Manchester City, Birmingham could only draw 2-2 with Notts County – and it was Liverpool who stole the crown with a 3-0 win over Bristol Academy. Incredibly, Liverpool won the title by just one goal ahead of Chelsea whose second-placed finished secured a place in the Champions League.
Chelsea are also notable as they are the only WSL 1 side who are managed by a woman, Emma Hayes who has called for a version ‘Rooney Rule’, where every coaching role would require a woman to be interviewed. For this to fully work, it will require an increase in female coaches taking the coaching qualifications. In a 2014-15 UEFA report, it showed in England 9% of coaches are female – although Scotland are doing much better where that level is 33%.