Women’s football in England has grown rapidly over the past few years and the influx of Australian players and coaches has increased its profile and interest levels here.
But how should Aussie fans choose a side and how much pain or celebration will that choice bring?
Here are some things to consider about the sides that Aussies have joined and what might be expected of them in England.
Chelsea boasting Matildas superstar Sam Kerr in their squad is not new information to Australian fans, but the worlds highest paid female footballer joined a team stacked with attacking talent that plays in a style to get the most out of them.
Kerr is joined by the 2019/2020 Player of the season Beth England in attack and the pair are supported by Norwegian winger Guro Reiten and South Korean playmaker, Ji So-Yun. Until unfortunately she was struck by illness, Fran Kirby added even more class to the side who play a fast attacking style of football.
Chelsea recruited aggressively after missing out on Champions League places in previous seasons and the result was an unbeaten season, with 12 wins and two draws, albeit one that was cut short by the Covid19 shutdown. In March, Chelsea defeated the highly successful Arsenal team to win the Continental Cup and will face Everton in the upcoming F.A Cup quarter finals.
Head coach Emma Hayes, likes her team to dominate midfield and get the ball to Kerr and England, while the defenders tend to stay back, bucking the modern trend of attacking full backs. Chelsea fans should expect lots of goals as they scored at least four times in six games last season, including a 6-1 win over Bristol City and an 8-0 triumph over West Ham.
They have come a long way since 2008 when the captain of the men’s side John Terry personally helped finance the women’s side and they are a team intent on improving even more, with Sam Kerr intent of Champions League glory with her new club.
Arsenal has long been the benchmark for women’s football in England and Joe Montemurro has triumphed at a club that has tradition of success. Between 2003 and 2009 they enjoyed a run of 108 undefeated games and scored a staggering 199 goals in 22 games under then coach Vic Akers.
Until overtaken in the league by Chelsea and Manchester City in 2020, Montemurro’s side were the team to beat, having won 18 out of 20 games in 2018/19 and scoring 70 goals on their way to being crowned champions.
Although they finished third this season, they recruited three of the very best Matildas, Caitlin Foord, Lydia Williams and Steph Catley in hopes of improving on that result. Foord made an immediate impact, scoring on debut against Lewes and impressing the fans in the Continental cup defeat to Chelsea
Arsenal are spearheaded by Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema and the goal machine is supplied by a talented midfield headlined by Kim Little, who should be familiar to Australian fans from her time at Melbourne City.
The Gunners play with Irish winger Katie Mccabe at full back and it is hoped that Catley’s arrival will allow her to play in her best position, while the rest of the team benefits from one of the worlds best left backs.
It’s evident from their transfer dealings alone that they expect to reclaim the title again next season. With Foord, Catley and Williams joining the likes of Lioness winger Beth Mead, this is a highly watchable team with the strongest Australian flavor in the league.
West Ham United
West Ham United were signing Australians before it was the fashionable thing to do when they secured the Perth Glory prodigy Jacynta Galabadaarachchi on a two-year deal in 2019.
West Ham finished eighth last season, a slight backward step from their seventh place in 2019 where they also reached the F.A cup final against Manchester City and played in front of a bumper crowd of 43, 264 fans. The Hammers are becoming accustomed to some of the largest crowds in the league including an attendance of 24,790 people against Tottenham Hotspur.
They are well known for their 20-year-old director, Jack Sullivan, The appointment of the son of the clubs owner initially seemed like an insult to women’s football and it remains controversial (it’s inconceivable that he would be given a similar role in a top flight men’s side) but Sullivan has provided investment and supported coach Matt Beard and the players in their efforts to improve the team.
The Hammers have made five new signings in the off-season, including Matildas Goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold and Swedish striker Nor Mustafa. They do not struggle to create chances and the highly rated Mustafa will help their goal difference but a defeat to Reading after leading 2-0 demonstrates they can be scored against. Arnold along with defender Maz Pacheco will be expected to help solve their lapses at the back and things are looking positive for West Ham next season.
West ham have been a mid table team but as their form in knockout competitions shows they are capable of beating anybody on their day. They boast a longtime Australian fan favourite in Arnold and one of the most promising players of the next generation in Galabadaarachchi who has individual skill can be a delight to watch.
A year of Jacynta 🤩 pic.twitter.com/y5vrCZ6pEH— West Ham United Women (@westhamwomen) July 19, 2020
Everton had some highlights in the 2019/2020 season, a 1-0 win over local rivals Liverpool in front of 23,000 spectators being the most notable, but the loss of their star striker Chloe Kelly might see them struggle in mid table again unless a certain fast, fearless Australian can thrive in her place.
Hayley Raso, is one of Australia’s most dangerous and popular players. She is the type of attacker that excites fans as soon as she gets the ball and her ability to put a team on the back foot regardless of the momentum of the match will be vital for an Everton team that can find itself without the majority of possession.
Toffee’s manager, Willie Kirk is a long time admirer of Raso and considers her to be “a great asset to the club,” he will be hoping that she can link up with new Danish striker Nicoline Sorensen who signed from Brondby in July.
Everton finished in sixth place out of 12 teams and that is reflected by their goal difference of zero, having conceded and scored 21 goals, even a slight improvement at either end of the ground will improve their position as they did not suffer any blowout defeats last season ad never lost by more than two goals.
Everton are not likely to attract many neutral fans on their style of play or results, but Raso has been admired wherever she has played and her new club should be no exception.
Bristol City might not enjoy the profile of their rivals, but they are a admirable club that Australian fans should identify with and might enjoy supporting.
In the most recent season, Bristol only just escaped relegation finishing 10th and struggling defensively, conceding 38 goals.
Surviving the relegation battle was an achievement as Bristol has an operating budget roughly five times lower than some of the other WSL clubs. Their survival in the league is largely credited to their Australian manager, former Perth Glory player and qualified psychologist Tanya Oxtoby, who considers her academic background to be a large part of her managerial success. “Psychology’s a massive part of football, especially when teams are under pressure. My background’s made me very conscious of players’ body language and the way I communicate with them.” She told The Guardian upon taking charge.
To improve on last season’s close call Oxtoby has recruited two Australian midfielders, Chloe Logarzo from Sydney FC and Ella Mastrantonio from Western Sydney Wanderers. Bristol struggled to control games last season and these midfield reinforcements might be the difference between the WSL and relegation. Logarzo’s ability to score some spectacular individual goals should help improve the tally of a side that only managed to beat the keeper nine times last season.
Bristol have the strongest Australian representation outside of Arsenal, and for fans looking for a team who love an underdog, they are an option, especially as they have one of our heroes of the last World Cup campaign.
Something To Consider
It might be simpler for some fans than others, but these are relatively new professional teams creating their own legacies and while family tradition or local ties might be a factor, it is OK for most of us to support Liverpool in the EPL but wear a Raso shirt for the WSL. It is unlikely that the men’s sides consider WSL results on or field incidents as their motivation or to fire themselves up on match day, so pick a team or just cheer on all the Aussie players and coaches in their English adventure.