FA to restructure women's football pyramid at elite level

Wednesday 27 Sep 2017
(l-r) Liverpool duo Laura Coombs and Caroline Weir

The FA has today announced plans which will see a restructure and new licensing criteria for the highest performance tiers of the women’s football pyramid.

The announcement followed a detailed review of women’s and girls’ football competitions conducted for The FA by Wharton Consulting. It also stemmed from the work to build a sustainable and successful high performance system and thorough consultation with all 20 FA Women’s Super League (FA WSL) clubs.

The changes will be implemented from the start of the 2018-19 season and will see the current FA WSL 1 expanded to a top tier of up to 14 teams with full-time professional players.

A new national league will be established at tier 2 of the pyramid providing a semi-professional, part-time environment allowing for a maximum of 12 teams. Teams in tier 1 will also be subject to updated licensing criteria.

Tiers three and four, the current FA Women’s Premier League [FA WPL], will maintain a regional structure with promotion and relegation applicable across all tiers of the pyramid.

The FA WPL clubs will embark on a consultation process at a meeting on Saturday 7 October looking at a number of areas including the size of divisions, player contracts and transfer windows. All tiers will continue to align with the traditional football calendar.

The restructure is central to The FA’s ‘Gameplan for Growth’ strategy which outlined the approach to transform the future of the women’s game via three core goals: to double participation, double the fanbase and for England teams to achieve consistent success on the world stage.

Katie Brazier, The FA’s head of women’s leagues and competitions, said: “This announcement is a landmark moment for women’s football in this country.

“The changes will continue our journey to transform key elements of the women’s game.

“Providing an elite performance environment that will produce more and better players, increase the interest and excitement via a more competitive league, attract a greater number of fans and in turn deliver improved commercial viability for clubs and the leagues.

“The decision was made following a full review of women’s and girls’ football competitions and extensive and valuable dialogue with the clubs, who have been really supportive of the changes being introduced.”

The changes will help improve the performance of the women’s game both on and off the pitch and develop a stronger commercial model for the league and clubs.

Man City are the reigning FA WSL 1 champions
A new ‘Academy’ structure at tier 1 will extend and enhance the talent pathway, ensuring appropriate high-quality player development and increased support (including dual career opportunities) for the 17-20 age group. Research has been commissioned into how tiers 1 to 4 could be branded and a further announcement will be made in due course.

Existing FA WSL 1 and 2 clubs have been invited to apply for a license for either tier 1 or tier 2 of the pyramid. The FA will continue to provide funding to clubs at both tiers to support day-to-day operations and future development.

Clubs applying for tier 1 will be required to commit to having full-time professional playing staff delivering a minimum of 16 hours of daytime contact per week (plus matches), increasing to 20 hours by the 2021-22 season.

Clubs will be expected to commit to fulfilling further criteria to ensure an elite performance environment including strength and conditioning, performance preparation, medical and player welfare. Clubs will also require detailed marketing and commercial plans to support an increase in match day attendances and income generation.

Tier 2 clubs will be subject to commitments including a minimum of eight hours weekly contact time (plus matches), with semi-professional players. Key minimum requirements are being maintained from the previous FA WSL 2 club licence with the addition of full-time general managers and separate marketing officers.

The deadline for current FA WSL club tier 1 and tier 2 applications will close at 12.30pm on Friday 10 November. Applications will be reviewed by a panel before decisions are made by The FA Women’s Football Board in December.

Subject to availability, applications from clubs currently outside of the FA WSL will be welcomed in March.

Find out more as The FA’s head of women’s leagues and competitions, Katie Brazier, answers some key questions.

By FA Staff