Women's Football: The undoing of Liverpool Women

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Funny old game isn't it?

This morning it was confirmed that Liverpool Women would be relegated from the Women's Super League after managing to pick up just six points this season, but in a couple of weeks, the men's team will more than likely be lifting their first-ever Premier League trophy having dominated the top-flight league this year.

In a statement addressing their relegation, the club, in a rather foolish manner, tried to shift the blame from themselves onto a global pandemic that caused the season to finish early. They went onto add that the club "are committed to continuing to grow the women's game," but even as a lifelong Liverpool fan - I believe that declaration to be far from the truth.

Liverpool Women are being left to sink into the abyss of underfunded, undersupported female teams and I, as a fan of both the club and the women's game, am struggling to sit by and watch in silence.

For those more familiar with the men's side, I'll quickly bring you up to speed. Liverpool Women were first linked with Liverpool Football Club in 1994 and spent the rest of the nineties competing in the National Premier League but a lack of support and investment (sound familiar?) led them to relegation in 2001. Three years later they were promoted back, only to be relegated at the end of the season after winning just two games. They'd then go onto secure another promotion in 2007, followed by another relegation in 2010, followed by another promotion (can you keep up?) in 2011 which then ensured Liverpool would become one of the FA WSL founding teams, and from then on, things looked pretty good.

In 2013, Liverpool won their first WSL title and retained it the following year with a squad boasting names such as Lucy Bronze, Fara Williams, and Whitney Engen. As Liverpool looked to build on that success, they spent the next few years recruiting the likes of Siobhan Chamberlain, Alex Greenwood, Laura Coombs, Caroline Weir, Beth England, Sophie Ingle and Casey Stoney. Sounds like a squad destined for greatness?

It should've been. Instead, what has followed is a slow descent down the WSL table that most fans link to a lack of support, funding and put bluntly, care from the club. Liverpool watched from the sidelines as former players went onto win trophies-a-plenty and lead happier careers with rival teams whilst they struggled to keep up as the women's game progressed. If you've been watching closely, you would've heard the alarm bells sounding long before today's relegation announcement.

When first taking over the women's team, Liverpool Football Club, like most male clubs that are connected to a female side, signed accounts to declare themselves as the parent company of Liverpool Women which leaves them with a responsibility of substantially funding that team. By doing so, the club confirmed that they would "continue to provide financial and other support" to their female side, but that said support, both financial and other, is nowhere to be found.

As Liverpool Men have embarked on their historic campaign of picking up a Champions League trophy, Super Cup, World Club Cup and, I hope, a Premier League title in the space of just over twelve months, the women have been without a satisfactory stadium, stuck using unfit training facilities and, as The Athletic's Sarah Shepherd put it, left feeling that they are second-class citizens to Jurgen Klopp's men.

Whilst top-table finishers like Arsenal and Chelsea spent this season challenging for the title at their home grounds Borehamwood and Kingsmeadow, Liverpool were scrambling around the north-west in search of a stadium after it was finally admitted that Prenton Park in Tranmere wasn't up to scratch. The quality of the pitch was so bad, Chelsea's Emma Hayes refered to it as a "stain on the club". On top of stadium issues, when the club announced the development of their new £50 million Kirkby training facility two years ago, there wasn't, and still hasn't been, any inclination that the women would be allowed to train there alongside the men's first team and U23s.

Fans of Liverpool, and the club for that matter, may continue to ignorantly dismiss these logistical setbacks and turn a blind eye, but what they can't ignore are the questions surrounding the women's team's wellbeing.

Since COVID-19 brought the 19/20 WSL season to an abrupt finish, four players have already announced their departure from Liverpool, doing so with concerning messages that focus on thanking the fans rather than the club, suggesting that there's been an unhealthy atmosphere encompassing Liverpool Women for the past few years.

If these statements were from the likes of Van Dijk, Alisson and Mo Salah, there'd be immediate scrutiny surrounding the state of Liverpool. What's caused this upset? How has the club fallen from grace? What is going on behind closed doors? Why aren't Liverpool helping? However, the reality is that, without pressure from fans and media to hold the club to account, we may never receive these answers from Liverpool who seem to see their women's side as more of a PR stunt to tick boxes rather than a football team.

As we look to the next few months that will now be without any English women's football, undoubtedly the focus will shift from Liverpool's relegation to Liverpool's first ever Premier League - a prize that I have waited all my life to see the Reds win and will celebrate wholeheartedly. I just hope that, when the celebrations settle and women's football returns, those in charge are left with a sour taste in their mouth as the realisation that our own demise was for all this time, preventable. If this relegation is nothing more, let it be an understanding that Liverpool Football Club have not done enough for the women's game.

As Liverpool's number 20, Rinsola Babajide, put it so simply this morning on Twitter:

"All I'm asking for is to stay consistent with your decisions across the board for both the women's and the men's side... that's all I've got to say."

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