The rise and dramatic fall of Liverpool Women: Life as a supporter

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In September 2013, Liverpool FC Women, or Liverpool Ladies as they were then called, were the best women’s side in England. They had just won the FA Women’s Super League for the first time, ending Arsenal’s run of nine titles. What’s more, they did it again the following year, besting Chelsea on goal difference.

It seems almost inconceivable that, six years later, the same club has dropped from the top division.

How is it that Liverpool – one of the eight founding teams of the Women’s Super League – reached the heights of crushing Arsenal’s hopes of 10 straight league titles, but then declined steadily into the lower echelons of the WSL and eventually, nose-dived into the Women’s Championship?

GiveMeSport Women sat down with lifelong Liverpool fans and hosts of the RMTV Women’s Podcast, Amy Laurence and Lauren Black, to hear what it’s like following the ups and downs of Liverpool as a supporter.

Lauren, the Scouse half of the RMTV Women’s Podcast duo, sums it up pretty well: “You’ve had really good highs and then you’ve got probably the lowest lows.”

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The lowest of which came last June. As the men’s side picked up their first league title in 30 years, the women were relegated on a points per game basis. There had been eight matches left to play, but the coronavirus pandemic called a halt to the WSL.

“I definitely thought that it was going to be a turning point for us and that we were going to invest heavily,” Lauren says.

She hoped, despite the historic rivalry, that the club would follow in the footsteps of Manchester United’s women’s side. After being disbanded in 2005 and reintroduced into the Championship in 2018, United spent only one season in the second division, and with the help of club investment, they now sit proudly as contenders for a Champions League spot.

It is the view of many Reds that their women’s side should be competing alongside clubs traditionally considered in the men’s game as “the top six”.

“Ultimately, Liverpool should be challenging for everything at the top,” Lauren explains. “It’s not too long ago that we were back-to-back title winners and then all of a sudden, you’re relegated and you’re scrapping in the Championship.”

As Leicester claimed the Championship title this weekend and with it, the only chance of promotion, Liverpool are going to have to continue scrapping it out.

The RMTV Women’s Podcast hosts are hopeful that it is only one more year in the second division, and they are willing to give the club another chance when it comes to getting back into the WSL, but they do want the club to be transparent with their long term plans for the women’s side.

Amy says: “The proof is definitely going to be surrounding the new manager they bring in. I think that’s going to be quite a significant step for all of us to understand what the long term future is.”

The club are on the search for a first-team manager and the squad are currently under the control of interim boss Amber Whiteley. She was put in charge temporarily after Vicky Jepson, who had manager since October 2018, left by mutual consent.

The podcast pair feel like there needs to be more consistency in promoting Liverpool’s “One Club” mentality narrative.

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Lauren lists the times when that message has rang true, like back in the summer of 2019 when the two teams headed over to the United States for a pre-season tour, or when the official club photographs featured the male and female players standing side by side.

But all too often the "You’ll Never Walk Alone" trademark of Liverpool Football Club is a distant reality for the women’s side, and this has been reflected by players who have left.

Courtney Sweetman-Kirk offered the most scathing assessment of Liverpool. She left in May 2020, before the team were relegated. She criticised the clubs’ investment and spoke to Sky Sports News about the training ground circumstances: “When you look at your Chelseas, Arsenals and other squads’ training facilities, it is not on par at all.”

And it wasn’t just players who were in the team relegated in 2020 who condemned LFC. Goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain left in 2018 after Liverpool failed to renew her contract, and she painted a negative picture of what they were doing for the women’s game.

"I also want to know that I am part of a project that is doing the most it can to develop women's football,” Chamberlain said.

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Amy acknowledges that some of these players came in under Neil Redfearn, who resigned after one game with the club. Along with the possibility of relegation, it probably wasn’t the Liverpool experience they were expecting. There have also been players who have been overwhelmingly positive about their time with the team. 

Nevertheless, the negative comments were tough to take, as Amy explains: “The fact that it was the same voice coming from a few different players, there was a common theme.

“If there’s three or four of them coming out saying the exact same thing, there is obviously something within the system or within the club that wasn’t working well in terms of a player-club relationship.”

More recently, criticism of the club has revolved around the new £50 million Kirkby training complex – a 9,200 sq m facility which houses the men’s first team and under-23s players with no apparent room for the women’s side.

“There’s a multi-million-pound training facility ready and waiting and the women’s team aren’t involved at all in the plans. To me, personally, that’s just a lack of care,” Lauren says.

“It’s just so much more attractive for players or even a new manager coming in to be like ‘Oh wow, that would be amazing to be able to be based in that facility.’”

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Amy backs her co-host’s frustration: “I think it’s a massive missed opportunity. That was the perfect way to really strengthen that ‘one club’ mentality, having them all playing under the same roof.

“I think even for the female players themselves going in each day and seeing the likes of van Dijk and Mo Salah – these massive footballing names, being in and around the same environment, the mentality switch must be massive.”

Admittedly, Liverpool FC Women do have a contract with Tranmere Rovers, training at their The Campus facility and playing home games at Prenton Park. The pitch had issues with waterlogging during the 2019-20 season, but this was sorted after considerable investment from Tranmere. 

The contract with Tranmere is up at the end of this season, but Liverpool have not yet announced a decision on whether the women’s team will stay at The Campus or make the move to the lavish new Kirkby compound.

Currently in the WSL, ten out of 12 teams train at the same ground as their men’s side. That number is set to rise to 11 after it was confirmed Reading FC Women would move to the club’s main training site.

Fans of Liverpool Women don’t have to look very far to see how the club is failing. Lauren and Amy admit their rivals, Everton and the two main Manchester teams, almost make a mockery of the team they love.

“I really admire, in particular, Man City and the way they go about their business in incorporating the women’s team into the men’s side on more than one occasion,” Amy says.

Indeed, Manchester City are the exemplary template for how things should be done. They are the only club in the WSL that promote both the men’s and women’s content on shared social media accounts and the two teams celebrated their 2019 title successes together on a victory parade around Manchester.

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A recent report claimed that Fenway Sports Group – who own Liverpool FC – are planning to invest more into the women’s sports landscape and have a wishlist including an NWSL and WNBA team.

Lauren praises FSG for Liverpool’s success over the past decade and she admires their desire to invest more into women’s sports, but she is sceptical of the situation: “You’ve got a women’s team ready-made and established here so give that more attention, the attention it deserves.”

“They definitely need to build a proper foundation in one team and then they can really put that blueprint into other things,” Amy agrees. “It doesn’t seem they’ve got a stable grip on the one they already have at the minute which is probably something they should do before trying to go in elsewhere.”

Destined to stay in the Championship for another season, it will be interesting to see if anything changes with Liverpool FC’s outlook towards their women's team.

The club deserves the criticism it has received in recent years. The glory of the 2013 and 2014 seasons has been quickly forgotten and the decline of the women’s side has been dramatic.

As the women’s game continues to grow, Liverpool have continued to fall, leaving fans disappointed and feeling like they are missing out on the riches that women’s football in England is starting to reap.

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