Women’s Sports: Just how important is the Conti Cup to women’s football?

Everton Women v Manchester United Women - FA Women's Continental League Cup

The Continental Cup has once again been questioned over the weekend following the sheer lack of available live coverage for fans to watch the games.

Unless you were there in person or clubs took it upon themselves to stream the game (i.e. Manchester United streaming they're away tied against Everton on MUTV), you probably missed most of the action. 

While Championship side Lewes pushed Chelsea to the 80th minute when captain Magda Eriksson secured the three points, Brighton came up with a big performance against Arsenal holding them to a 0-0 draw within 90 minutes before beating last year’s finalists on penalties.

After a strong start to the league with roaring attendances across games – notably those hosted in bigger stadiums - the Conti Cup almost seems like a crash back down to reality with plenty of work still needed to be done to continue the growth of women’s football.

From making games accessible to the promotion of fixtures, there needs to be a greater presence felt across league and cup games – but, is the Conti Cup as important as the FA Cup or the league going forward?

‘Get rid of the Continental Cup’

The structure of the Conti Cup is different to normal cup competitions in that rather than having straight knockout rounds, it’s in a group format. The top two sides from each group then advance to the quarter-final stages and beyond.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the competition is that the games are played on weekends, in place of league fixtures, making it virtually impossible to build any league momentum with the constant interruption.

Frustration over this competition is nothing new, however. Chelsea manager Emma Hayes recently revealed her doubts, asking a key question: ‘why are we diluting our product [the WSL]?’ – insisting the FA should get rid of the competition, or only have it for Championship clubs should they feel it is necessary. 

Everton Women v Manchester United Women - FA Women's Continental League Cup

It’s hard to disagree, especially when between Chelsea’s home win against Arsenal to their league fixture against Manchester United it will have been five weeks without a home game thanks to both the cup and the international break.

It’s all well and good discussing strategies for boosting attendances, but without the platform of successive home games to do so, it makes it extremely difficult and becomes detrimental to league success.

Integral to youth

The main argument in favour of the Conti Cup is its platform for youth development, with many teams opting to play a number of their up and coming players in games – especially against teams in the Championship.

It presents unique opportunities for those players to show what they can do at the top level, opportunities that come few and far between in terms of league action.

But in order to accommodate the platform for youth development – even though many teams use near full-strength squads irrespective of opponents – it comes at the expense of the games own development. 

There are potentially ways to accommodate both the competition without risking the continuity of the top two tiers – including scrapping the group stages and just having knockout rounds and having games played during the week instead of across weekends. 

Emma Hayes even suggested teams play each other three times, rather than just twice, which would present an opportunity to extend the length of time the league runs throughout the year as well as help with the current issue of momentum and crowd building between games.

As of right now, it’s difficult to identify just how beneficial the Conti Cup is for the women’s game while it continues to compromise the growth of the leagues. It wouldn’t necessarily be a great loss should the FA scrap it, but something’s got to give because we’re stuck in a catch-22 situation with no resolution on the horizon.

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