Arsenal all set for exciting new Super League era

Arsenal and England captain Faye White on an historic week for women’s football

ARSENAL Ladies will take the first step into what they and the FA hope will be a new era for women’s football when they face Chelsea next Wednesday.

The game is the opening match of the Women’s Super League – the new breakaway elite division which is set to revolutionise the game.

Arsenal, the reigning champions of the Women’s Premier League which they won a record 12 times, will start as favourites to dominate the new league which will be played between April and September.

For the Arsenal and England captain, Faye White, the launch of the new league finally brings to fruition an idea that the women’s game has been planning for years.

“It has been talked about for a long time, and so the fact that we are finally there now is really exciting for all of us,” said White.

“The idea of making women’s football a summer sport was first brought up quite a few years ago, but there have been quite a few problems actually making it happen.

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“Not only will we be playing on better pitches and in better conditions, but obviously the men’s game won’t be going on at the same time for much of the season and we hope that lots of football fans will watch us instead.”

The Women’s Super League has adopted a similar structure to that of rugby league, with clubs being awarded two-year ‘franchises’.

The eight founder clubs, with semi-professional players, are Arsenal, Birmingham City, Bristol Academy, Chelsea, Everton, Doncaster Rovers Belles, Lincoln City and Liverpool.

A television deal has been agreed with satellite channel ESPN which will show Wednesday’s curtain-raiser.

“Games being live will make a big difference, that is how we can attract a new audience,” admits White. “Of course we want people to come to watch games too, but that is more likely if they see that our games are entertaining on TV first. ”

With the WPS League in America having launched last year and taken with it a big number of English stars, White is hoping that England’s own alternative can restore the balance – and some of the players – to the game in this country.

“There are a lot of good young players coming through over here, and the long-term hope is that the other clubs become a bit more like Arsenal,” adds White. “We lost players to America last year, but Katie Chapman has already come back to Arsenal and hopefully more will follow.”

There is only one hiccup facing the new WSL – and that is the fact that the 2011 Women’s World Cup is in June, and will include England.

However, White believes that only adds to the excitement around the women’s game this year, with England having beaten the world’s No1 ranked team, USA, 2-1 in a friendly on Saturday to confirm that they are serious contenders for the world crown in Germany this summer.

“The World Cup being at the same time is going to be great,” says White. “There is so much going on this year and the women’s game is going to get a lot of attention.

“The league is going to take a break. There are only 14 league games but we won’t have any scheduled for a month or so, so we can focus fully on the World Cup.

“Beating the US was an amazing feeling, the first time we have done it for 23 years. We lost to them 3-0 in the last World Cup in 2007, so it shows how far we have come since then. We know we are a really good side now,” admits White, who will captain her country proudly again later this year.

“I imagine it will be my last World Cup, I am pretty old now,” jokes White, who is 33 and has been at Arsenal since 1996 – even before the arrival of Arsene Wenger.

“It is true I have been here longer than him – Bruce Rioch was manager when I arrived! But I have had some great years here and whether I have got one or more season left in me we will see, but I am as excited as I have ever been about this one.”

There is one trophy that has eluded White in those 15 years, however, and that is the Women’s Champions League. But an away goals quarter-final success over Linkoping of Sweden last month has set up a semi-final with French side Lyon.

The first leg is in France on Saturday, with the return at Boreham Wood FC a week later on April 16, and White is hoping the side can reach the final, especially as this year it is in London, at Craven Cottage in May.

“I said to the girls before the last game, we have to get there. It’s in our city and it would be wrong if Arsenal are not in that final.

“Lyon will be favourites, they got to the final last year, but we are playing well and if we can survive over there in the first leg, we will have a chance back at our place.”