The FA Women's Super League: 20 things you might not know

Wednesday 23 Mar 2016
Will Man City go one better than last year?

While we all know that WSL stands for Women’s Super League, there might be a few other bits of information that you are not quite sure about.

When did it start? Who has won the most titles? Who was the first top goalscorer?

Well fear not, because we have the answers for you as we continue to build towards what promises to be an explosive 2016 season.

1. From humble beginnings

The FA Women’s Super League began in April 2011 and saw an initial eight teams compete in one division, replacing The FA Women’s Premier League as the top level of women’s football in England.

2. And then there were two

A second division (FA WSL 2) was introduced in 2014 and saw a further 10 teams added to the roster, while there are now a total of 19 teams across the two divisions, with nine in FA WSL 1.

The top two teams in FA WSL 2 earn promotion to the top division while the team finishing last in WSL 1 will be relegated.

3. European adventures

The team that finishes top of The FA WSL 1 table will take home the silverware and the runners-up will join the winners in qualifying for the UEFA Women's Champions League the following season.

The current continental campaign saw Liverpool knocked out of the round of 32 by Italian side Brescia, while German’s Wolfsburg beat Chelsea 4-1 over two legs in the next round.

4. Arsenal and Liverpool double up

Arsenal took the title for the first two seasons, each time pipping Birmingham to top spot, while Everton had to settle for third.

But in 2013 and 2014 Liverpool claimed the crown to join the Gunners on two title wins, while last year Chelsea claimed their first-ever title.

Liverpool Ladies celebrate lifting the WSL title in 2014.

Liverpool won the league title in 2013 and 2014

5. Top of the Pops

Although Birmingham City finished runners-up in the first FA WSL season, they could at least boast the top scorer after Rachel Williams notched 14 times.

The following season Kim Little topped the charts with 11 goals as she helped Arsenal claim back-to-back titles, before Natasha Dowie hit 13 for champions Liverpool in 2013.

The next season Birmingham’s Karen Carney was the top scorer with eight, before Beth Mead hit 11 last time out for newly-promoted Sunderland.

6. Scoring a score

But these goalscoring exploits have been overshadowed somewhat since the introduction of WSL 2.

In its first campaign, in 2014, Fran Kirby hit an incredible 24 goals, earning a move to Chelsea in the process, while last season Courtney Sweetman-Kirk hit 20 as Doncaster Rovers Belles earned promotion.

Sharpshooter Sweetman-Kirk

7. Gunners fire on all fronts

Arsenal topped the pile in the inaugural FA WSL season in 2011, collecting their eighth consecutive English title in the process.

But they didn’t stop there, as they won The FA WSL Continental Cup and The FA Women’s Cup for an impressive treble.

8. Cloud nine

Not even a break for the 2012 London Olympics could stop Arsenal as they won a ninth straight title the following season.

And they secured back-to-back doubles as they once again beat Birmingham in the Continental Cup Final, although the Blues got their revenge by lifting The FA Women’s Cup with a Final victory over Chelsea.

9. Rising like a phoenix

The 2011 and 2012 WSL seasons saw Liverpool finish bottom on both occasions, registering just one win each time.

But the tables were turned in 2013 and having relocated from Skelmersdale to the Select Security Stadium in Widnes, Liverpool went on to be crowned champions, mainly down to the goals of Dowie (13) and midfielder Nicole Rolser (10), while Louise Fors chipped in with seven.

10. All change please

Not only did 2014 bring the introduction of FA WSL 2, but also a number of teams taking on new forms.

Lincoln moved to Nottingham and were renamed Notts County Ladies, while Barnet became the London Bees.

Durham were a new team admitted to FA WSL 2, but they couldn’t prevent Sunderland from earning the first promotion, while Liverpool defended their WSL 1 crown.

11. Chelsea come right back

A final-day victory for Chelsea in 2014 would have made them champions, only for the Blues to lose 2-1 to Manchester City.

However, they ensured lightning wouldn’t strike twice the following campaign and beat Sunderland 4-0 to secure a maiden league triumph, having also won the first-ever SSE Women’s FA Cup Final to be staged at Wembley.

Claire Rafferty (left) and Katie Chapman lift the SSE Women

Claire Rafferty (left) and Katie Chapman lift the SSE Women's FA Cup

12. Chelsea’s Cup winner

Chelsea lifted their maiden SSE Women’s FA Cup thanks to a single goal from South Korean star Ji So-Yun.

But the accolades didn’t stop there as Ji was named PFA Women's Players' Player of the Year in April 2015 and was also named in the PFA WSL Team of the Year.

13. Yankey Doodle Dandy

A lot of Arsenal’s success can be linked back to England legend Rachel Yankey.

She played for the club between 1996 and 2000 before rejoining in 2005 and hasn’t looked back since.

At 36 she is still going strong and has recently signed a new contract.

14. Williamson on the charge

While Yankey might be coming towards the latter stages of her illustrious career, her Arsenal team-mate Leah Williamson is only just getting started.

In fact, Williamson’s debut for the Gunners came in 2014 when she replaced Yankey in the 81st minute, and since then she has gone from strength to strength.

Leah Williamson in England action

Williamson has captained England at U17s and U19s level

15. Kirby’s enthusiasm

Kirby joined her home town club Reading aged just seven and went on to score a remarkable 67 league goals in just 42 games.

That record alerted the Chelsea scouts and she joined the eventual WSL 1 champions in July 2015, shortly after helping England finish third at the World Cup in Canada.

16. Two peas in a pod

Current Chelsea coach Emma Hayes has worked with star winger Karen Carney at Arsenal and Chicago Red Stars.

It is no surprise then that she describes the 28-year-old as ‘world class’ – and who could blame her as Carney has recorded 113 England caps to date.

17. History girl Houghton

England captain Steph Houghton plays her club football for Manchester City, having spent three years at Arsenal after beginning her career with Sunderland.

Houghton came to prominence at London 2012 by scoring three goals in Team GB’s four games, including winners against New Zealand and Brazil, while she made history in October 2014 by becoming the first female player to adorn the cover of Shoot magazine.

18. New surroundings for Dowie

After winning two titles with Liverpool, this WSL season will see Dowie line up for Doncaster Rovers Belles. And she will bring bags of experience with her, having been a star of the game for more than a decade.

She is also the niece of former Northern Ireland striker Iain Dowie.

19. Premier League promotion

Sheffield FC became the first team promoted from The FA Women’s Premier League to FA WSL 2 thanks to a 1-0 victory over Portsmouth last season.

Sheffield FC celebrate winning The FA WPL Championship Play-Off

Sheffield FC celebrate winning The FA WPL Championship Play-Off

They begin life in WSL 2 by hosting Durham.

20. Not slowing down

Nineteen teams will compete in 2016, while next year each division will have 10 teams as the competition continues to grow and grow.

Watch this space…

By FA Staff