Welcome to the W-League, where the game has changed

Here’s some words you wouldn’t have previously used with the W-League: Blockbuster. Bank. Big time.

Where once we might have used phrases like grassroots, community and humble to describe the best attributes of this competition, the goalposts have moved. Faster than any of us could have planned for.

Yes, there’s still all those positive, unassuming attributes about the W-League but the shift is underway as women’s football reaches up for the commercial apple, a branch that has always been out of reach. Not anymore.

As the W-League launched in Sydney on Monday morning, a mood of expectation now exists. Where once the wider football community nodded respectfully to the existence of the W-League without doing much more, it is now actively – aggressively – engaging.

What a difference to the A-League, which has been allowed to wither as we await what happens to the sport over the next month. Club owners have frozen investment in a sport they don’t run, while the FFA is in standby mode – FIFA’s normalisation threat is real and World Cup qualification will determine all budgetary movements anyway.

By Christmas, the entire landscape may be different. There’s so much negative energy in the men’s game right now.

Thank god for women’s football, which, without fail, will put a smile on your face. It combines the feel-good and the fearless.

Make no mistake though, competitive tension is emerging. Fans are starting to care who their team is signing, who is coaching and how they are playing. Winning matters; this year more than ever.

Of course, there is a community of W-League die-hards, who can tell you what Steph Catley ate for breakfast, but this isn’t about them. (Some advice: don’t be offended if not every newbie doesn’t know everything just yet. Just be pleased you got in first).

This is about reaching the casual fans beyond the core, the ones falling in love with the women’s game without even realising. They come without an agenda and stay because, put simply, it’s entertaining.

Getting the message out there about the quality has always been the tough sell. With little mainstream coverage, nobody knew where to look. Even worse, there was no easily accessible narrative to follow.

Being able to watch games on SBS this year is a massive leap forward – not just for the exposure, but for the fierce, honest critiquing.

This is not meant to sound disrespectful but the days of cheap cheer-leading for the W-League have sometimes done more harm than good.

Besides, it’s time to talk about the W-League like we talk about women’s tennis or elite athletics. There’s an inherent push in the media of those sports to be the very best; merely taking part is not enough to warrant praise.

Not only will this benefit the W-League but the Matildas, too. The nation that scrutinises women’s football closer than anyone else is the US and their discussion on the National Women's Soccer League is forensic. The outcome? Crowds of over 5000 to every game and a gold-standard national team.

Granted, nobody has ever written out a cheque (equivalent to A$38 million) to develop professional football here like they did in the USA after the 1999 Women’s World Cup, but the brick-by-brick evolution of the W-League has become a house to be proud of.

We all know women’s sport is now a beach serviced by many waves. Cricket (especially the women’s Big Bash League) is going well. AFLW has made an impressive splash.

But football, with its unparalleled global reach and unbelievable participation rates, is a tsunami steadily building up, a long way from shore. For some time, we’ve heard it without seeing it. Now it’s there on the horizon.

For us, that’s the W-League. Yes, the one that's produced Lisa Devanna, Kyah Simon, Tameka Butt, Emily van Egmond and Elise Kellond-Knight. Plus Alanna Kennedy. Don't forget Lydia Williams. Did we mention Caitlin Foord? All the names you've been hearing so much about in recent months. We can't list them all because there's simply too many. Wonderfully, this is still their league.

And there’s this girl named Sam Kerr. She might be the best in the world. Blockbuster? You bet.

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4 min read
Published 23 October 2017 at 6:27pm
By Sebastian Hassett