Thursday 3 October 2013

How Liverpool Ladies broke Arsenal's title monopoly

Liverpool Ladies’ title win shattered Arsenal’s decade-long grip on the FA Women’s Super League (FAWSL) title. Alex Lawson looks at how they achieved it. 
Liverpool Ladies midfielder Louise Fors could have been forgiven for feeling a little nervous as she stepped up to take a first half penalty for the Reds against Bristol on Sunday. The spot kick was a crucial moment in a title decider few would have predicted at the start of the season.
Liverpool top scorer Natasha Dowie
As the new season opened, Liverpool had notched just two wins in the previous two seasons as they finished rock bottom in each. However, the Anfield club’s US owners ploughed money into its women’s team and brought in new manager Matt Beard to lead the side.
Moreover, a handful of classy foreign signings from the US, Sweden and Germany – who were given English lessons funded by the men’s team – were brought in to gel with the core home grown talent in the side.
Under Beard, Liverpool became the first team in the FAWSL to train full-time and a winning mentality was bred. Beard’s publicly stated aim of a mid-table finish has been blown out of the water by a team which scored 44 goals on the way to Sunday’s title decider, spurred on by former Crystal Palace and Coventry manager Iain Dowie’s niece Natasha.
Dowie, the league’s top scorer with 19 goals, was snubbed by former England manager Hope Powell for the squad for the summer’s Euro 2013 finals but took the rejection in her stride.
She has also spoken of the incentive that hunting down Arsenal Ladies – a team which bore comparison to the relentless winning machine of Manchester United’s men’s side in the 1990s – gave the side. With foreign players on board, the stigma of beating the dominant Gunners has been quelled and both Liverpool and Bristol have outclassed them during this 14-game this season.
So when Fors stepped up, there was a deal of pressure to see through what has been a significant journey for Liverpool. But she cooly dispatched the penalty and when Icelandic midfielder Katrin Omarsdottir struck home from Dowie’s pass Liverpool had secured a momentous victory at the Halton Stadium.
So what does Liverpool Ladies victory mean for the game? Firstly, there’s a new sense of vitality and competition to the league as Liverpool became the first league victors who weren’t Arsenal since Fulham in 2003. Moreover, it provides some healthy coverage for the women’s game after the poor showing by England at Euro 2013 damaged perceptions of domestic women’s football.
However, the pattern of Powell’s sacking after a lacklustre tournament and a team with significant financial backing surging up the league to take the title via a raft of foreign players is a familiar one. While the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City have clinched the Premier League title with a handful of English players, neither can seriously claim to be aiding the blooding of homegrown talent.
The British spine of Liverpool’s team – namely Dowie, midfielder Fara Williams and captain Gemma Bonner – may take experience from this victory but there remains work to be done if the national side is to remain undamaged by the lack of opportunities for young home grown talent.
For Arsenal, who were deducted three points for fielding an unregistered player but would still have lost out to Liverpool, this may provide the shot in the arm to kickstart a fightback.
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