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Honey I shrunk the football season

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It’s October! Yay, I love October. It’s up there with the best months of the year.

For starters, it’s a “ber”. Bers are great. Once you get into the bers you know three things – winter is over, Christmas isn’t far away, and Liverpool have replaced their manager.

October is unique amongst the bers in two big ways – one good and one bad. The bad part of October is Halloween. Kids these days have no appreciation of history. They all want something for nothing. When I tell trick or treaters they can have a chocolate bar for every member of Roma’s 1982/83 scudetto winning team they can name, they just look at me like I’m some kind of idiot. Unbelievable!

This is clearly a serious blot in October’s copybook, but it’s more than made up for by the fact that October also signifies the start of the best football league in New Zealand – the ASB Women’s League.

The ASB Women’s League is truly wonderful with only one proviso – it’s over far too quickly. The regular season is only seven short weeks long. Seven weeks! To illustrate how inadequate this is, I submit to you a list I have compiled of some other things that only last seven weeks:

  • The standard term of an Australian Prime Minister.
  • Christmas Day at your in-laws.
  • Any single Hobbit movie.
  • The average interval my last Italian car survived between important things falling off.

I’m sure you agree this is not long enough for a serious football league. And our female footballers, whose world ranking is 120 places higher than the blokes (Football Ferns vs All Whites), deserve a serious national football league.

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Are we committed to equality? I hope so because if we’re not then 1950 called and it wants its social order back. And if we are, the ASB Women’s League season should be the same length as the ASB Premiership season.

I may be a pasty white liberal all up in your grill on this when, as someone involved in the game at a much deeper level than a do-gooder like me, you probably know what the game needs and this might not be priority one. But perceptions matter. When we have an unequal structure it sends a message that female footballers are not as valued as males. Why should that be?

New Zealand Football’s National Competitions Review report, released last month, clearly spelled out that the ‘National League’ should be seen holistically as encompassing men, women and youth (presumably youth means young men). However when it comes to recommending a pathway forward, developing the women’s game comes across as a bit of an afterthought.

Male youth appear to be preferred to senior women given a ‘youth framework’ is to be rolled out between 2015 and 2018 – it’s unclear if that involves female youth. A fully equal women’s national league is only envisioned in the ‘preferred outcome’ to be implemented in 2018/19. Apparently at that point the ASB Women’s League could jump straight from 8 federations playing each other once to ten franchises and clubs playing each other three times – provided the entire structure is ‘sustainable’.

What are the realistic prospects of that threshold being met though? Sustainability is something the report itself takes pains to concede New Zealand hasn’t seen in the game since 1970.

The report cites, in the section titled ‘Why has it never really worked?’, a view that “the very best football and footballers are overseas” as one of the primary excuses for past failures. This may be true but it does undersell the fact that we have Football Ferns playing in the National Women’s League currently who, given they play for a top 20 ranked nation, are amongst the best players in the world. What appears to be lacking is any sort of marketing of that fact – for whatever reason.

The ASB Women’s League has been positively evolving as it should. We’ve gone from a youth league organised into conferences to a truly national league with everyone playing everyone once and no restrictions on who’s eligible.

Next step – home and away. Step after that – TELEVISED GAMES!!! Next step after that – flying cars, hoverboards, flux capacitors and all the other things we’re meant to have in 2015.

Anything else would be selling our outstanding female footballers short of what they deserve.

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Categories: NZ Women's National League

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: https://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/

4 replies

  1. Hi Enzo,

    I can empathise with your wish to see further structural development of women’s football.

    But if we are to draw comparisons with the men’s game, maybe we should do so in another respect.

    When a men’s national league was first introduced in 1970 (8 teams), it did so from a base of also having a northern league of 34 clubs, a central league of 40 clubs, and a southern league (running from Invercargill to Christchurch) of 18 clubs.

    The men’s national league evolved from this relatively strong regional base, with a further level of district competition lower down. While the men’s league has waxed and waned over the past 45 years, there has always been that solid broad rump of regional competition to fuel the demand for a national competition

    In other words, in building a men’s football pyramid, the base was built first.

    The issue is how we build the women’s football pyramid. Is it really possible to invoke change by just addressing the tip of the pyramid and magicking up a full national league?

    Or do we need a far stronger, broader regional and district club base for the women’s game before anything beyond a token league can effectively take root?

    When we contested the first Women’s World Cup, national (provincial) tournament – a one-week affair -was the pinnacle domestic competition.

    I haven’t been familiar with the broader state of women’s football since the early 1990s, so don’t profess to be an expert. But I would guess that the answer might lie in building a stronger base first. It all looks slightly brittle and patchy at the moment (though would love to hear the thoughts of those closer to the coal face).

    Congrats on a nice provocative column.

  2. Thanks for your nice provocative comment Bruce!

    My instinct is to say (with the proviso that I would love to hear from someone closer to the coalface too) that it depends on what the objectives are. If it’s to have a sustainable league for its own ends, I guess you are right that you need a broad base. But if it’s to develop female players and provide pathways to the Football Ferns and professional clubs for our players, then I think the structures should be set up to facilitate that. After all, that’s what all this FIFA money we get in should be for, right?

    I also fear that most clubs won’t invest in women’s football and help to build a base unless they are led from the top and given the incentive that if they don’t do it they won’t fit the National League criteria…

  3. Hi Enzo,

    If we accept the proposition of your final par, what do you make of the potential danger of football entities which have a real passion and flair for the women’s game being frozen out of top-level competition in future merely by virtue of not being appended to a male national league outfit (where it is highly likely the No 1 priority will remain the men’s national league)?

    Would we be better for the code to find solutions endemic to the various cities/centres for national league?

    I think of Claudelands Rovers, who do a bang-up job with women football, but would not even qualify to submit for a men’s national league berth under new criteria. (And then they’d have to dissipate their energy further in putting together a futsall thing as well).

    Is there an irony that at a time when criteria is being loosened in the male game (to allow either clubs or franchises) to compete for the national league, it appears to becoming more prescriptive on the women’s side of things (insofar as structural development in future must be linked to men)?

    I thought there might have been more views about this. Serious discussion. Does anybody out there care? Or just us anoraks?

  4. Well Claudelands, as an example, are frozen out of top level women’s competition now (if you accept that the ASB Women’s league is the top of the pyramid) so I’m not sure what would change there. They would still have the NRFL to compete in, as they do now.

    Ideally, instead of one or two clubs that take the women’s game seriously, the WaiBOP region would have at least one national league entrant doing it and two, three or more aspiring to the national league who are incentivised to by the entry criteria. Even if Claudelands suffer, I could personally live with that, unfair as it might seem, if it means we eventually (after some serious development) get three or four great women’s teams in the Waikato instead of one.

    There is some irony in linking women’s structural development to men but while the game is run by and for men primarily I’m open minded towards better ideas.

    I share your frustration that this debate doesn’t get engaged in enough. Even worse is whenever things like this come up here or on the forums it’s inevitably a selection of blokes pontificating on what’s best for women’s football which isn’t really ideal! 🙂

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