With no FA WSL games this weekend due to the 2019/20 FA Women’s Cup final at Wembley Stadium, I went to Lewes v Liverpool in the Championship and it was a fascinating game that showcased high quality and entertainment in a league that is not spoken about enough.
The league is extremely competitive with a mix of full-time teams and semi-pro teams who are punching above their weight and competing well with the full time clubs. The draw between Lewes and Liverpool on Sunday totally reflects this statement.
There is excitement at the top and bottom of the table as it will be the first season, since the FA WSL2 created in 2014 and renamed Championship two seasons ago, with relegation to Tier 3. Until now, it has always been a closed shop with no relegation and promotion from Tier 3, subject to licensing criteria.
This is an extremely competitive league from top to bottom and there were some huge wins at the bottom of the table for two London clubs. London Bees got their first win of the season against Charlton while London City Lionesses, who Arsenal play on Wednesday, defeated promotion chasing, and professional outfit, Leicester City.
The table shows that teams up to sixth place are in the relegation dogfight with London City Lionesses getting some breathing space. Coventry, Blackburn and Charlton have two games in hand over London Bees and potentially could get away from the pack. But games in hand do not automatically mean extra points later, especially at the bottom of the table.
At the top of the table, there are five teams currently fighting for promotion as they are all within three points of each other. The four favourites are in there alongside the surprise package Lewes.
Leicester City were surprisingly defeated at London City Lionesses. Liverpool only managed a draw at Lewes and Durham did not have a game as the league only has 11 teams. Sheffield United were the big winners that to their 3-0 home victory over Crystal Palace, while Lewes got an excellent point against Liverpool 2-2.
My trip to Lewes was a pleasant one despite the replacement buses between Three Bridges and Lewes stations that just added more time to the journey. Attending games under Covid-19 protocols is a pain, to be honest. All the games I have attended so far have been well organised: Birmingham, Chelsea, Brighton and Lewes have very clear protocols and stick to them.
I think the most difficult thing is the lack of human interaction. It is definitely missing because you can’t really go round the ground to chat to other people, journos or fans or even players. There was a Liverpool communications staff member not far away from me that I have known for many years, but because she was located in the team’s area and therefore not where I was allowed to go, I could not chat with her.
You obviously have to wear your mask the whole time you are in the ground and more or less only move out of your area to go to the toilets. It makes a strange atmosphere as you can hear everything from coaches to players and sometimes referees. Some of them have the curious habit of coaching players, telling them not to foul and so on.
On Sunday, I could hear the subs from both sides being very vocal and encouraging their teammates, something that I had not heard at FA WSL level before. The Liverpool substitute keeper was very noisy, giving instructions to all the players and making nearly as much noise as the nine Lewes subs.
The other benefit you get is you get a better understanding of what the coaches want from their players. You can hear them giving instructions and it is clear for all to hear when they give someone a bollocking.
You can see and hear who is a leader on the pitch and Rachel Furness is really impressive. To me, whoever manages Team GB needs to get her in the 18 player squad, although she faces big competition in Ingle and Walsh, Ingle being also a serious leader on the pitch.
The game was a superb battle between two teams with different game plans, one building up attacking play with a ball possession game. Liverpool alternated attacking through the wings and down the middle probing to find openings. Lewes were solid and structured making sure their defensive unit was solid and making sure their counter-attacking chances were taken.
The draw was a fair result with both teams close to winning it. Lewes had a shot that hit the post straight after their 2-2 equaliser, while Liverpool had a big penalty shout. I was just in line with the defender. She was running towards her goal and when the cross came, her arm was not close to her body and it hit her fully on the hand. The ball trajectory changed by at least 60 degrees and went for a corner. The referee consulted with her assistant as she did not have the best angle to see and a corner was given.
Games are won and lost by small margins and a roll of the dice, sometimes.
I now look forward to my next Championship game when I am not attending a FA WSL game as it is great entertainment value.