I was lucky enough to be invited to the FA Women’s Football Award 2018. It was the 20th annual edition celebrating the best of women’s football.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to attend the awards, as fans don’t normally get an invite to these events. It’s a shame, because some fans are really big supporters of the game and have been around for 15-20 years. Others have been there for less time but are extremely dedicated to following their team, and deserve to be there as well.

Maybe I could have got an invite as press, but because I exclusively cover Arsenal in England and not the Lionesses, or the FA WSL overall like the other journos, I am not on the FA women’s football journalist list, and probably rightly so.

I do attend England games at every level from the u15 to the seniors, even those behind closed doors. Only when they play France though, as the FFF get me in as press for the website www.footofeminin.fr.

No invite as a fan, no invite as press, I wasn’t expecting to go at all until two days before the awards, when I got a message from Watford Ladies inviting me as their guest. So I attended the awards with Ed, the general manager, and Armand, the manager of Watford Ladies.

Watford are one of the clubs that have been demoted to the third tier, following the rejection of their Championship bid, and it was an eye opener to hear about the struggle behind the scenes and the complexity of the problems to be solved. Fans don’t know how hard it is to manage a team in the FA WSL on and off the pitch. They only see the tip of the iceberg, i.e. the product on the pitch.

We were seated at table 37 alongside a few people who didn’t actually turn up, and some friendly players from Larkhall, including the FA WPL Division 1 Players’ Player of the Year Nicola O’ Connell.

It was a very interesting evening. There weren’t many players attending, as they were nearly all on holidays, or at a hen do for Steph Houhgton and Ellen White. But many managers and general managers were around to chat and share all the gossip. The awards are actually a good place to discuss business and hear the latest trending topics.

Suffice to say the recent changes in the FA WSL mean there is a lot of movement coming in the transfer window, and the financial arms race that started a few years ago has now gathered full pace.

You do worry about the clubs’ sustainability. Budgets have to grow every year and the revenue stream is still very limited. This is also valid for the championship teams as budgets go up and clubs get stretched more and more. The growing influence of agents is another worry as players ask for more money, even for clubs with limited budgets, and sometimes move away from clubs for non-football reasons.

On the social side, it is quite awkward to be drinking and on a dance floor with players around that you are used to seeing on the pitch. You don’t want to go and tell them “you had a good/shit season” at those events, and the few players I know well enough to have a chat with were not around.

Jordan Nobbs and Leah Williamson from Arsenal were there, but very busy. In the end I managed to say hello to one former Arsenal player who now plays for City and that was it. I had more fun chatting to the numerous journos I meet on regular basis in the press box for Champions League games. They are a good bunch of guys and gals, and it was a pleasure to catch up with them.

Overall, it was certainly an eye-opening event, and I was really happy to attend the awards for probably the only time in my life. That’s one for the bucket list done. I have to say the food was excellent, even if only in small portions for the whole 3-course meal.

In the end, it was a nice evening, and the FA honoured a lot of players and staff as well as the godfather of women’s football, who has been doing press and covering football since the beginning and has now retired. The one and only Tony Leighton.

Here is the full winners list:

Vauxhall England Player of the Year – Ellen White, Birmingham
Vauxhall Young England Player of the Year – Beth Mead, Arsenal

FA WSL Head Coach of the Year – Emma Hayes, Chelsea Women
FA WPL Manager of the Year – Riteesh Mishra, Charlton Athletic Women

FA WSL Club of the Year – Chelsea Women
FA WPL Club of the Year – Derby County Ladies

FA WSL 1 Players’ Player of the Year – Jill Scott & Ann-Katrin Berger
FA WSL 2 Players’ Player of the Year – Zoe Ness
FA WPL Players’ Player of the Year – Leigh Dugmore
FA WPL Division 1 Players’ Player of the Year – Nicola O’Connell

FA WSL 1 Save of the Season – Sophie Baggaley
FA WSL 1 Top Goalscorer – Ellen White
FA WSL 2 Top Goalscorer – Jessica Sigsworth
FA WPL Northern Division Top Goalscorer – Rosie Axten
FA WPL Southern Division Top Goalscorer – Kit Graham
FA WPL Division 1 North Top Goalscorer – Jodie Redgrave & Yasmine Swarbrick
FA WPL Division 1 Midlands Top Goalscorer – Jordan Atkin
FA WPL Division 1 South East Top Goalscorer – Allesandra Barreca
FA WPL Division 1 South West Top Goalscorer – Natasha Knapman

Best Participation Initiative – Future Fives
Unsung Hero – Jackie Batten-Lincoln
Special Award – Tony Leighton & Sue Lopez