Arsenal Women start their season with a home match against West Ham United Women on Sunday afternoon at Boreham Wood’s Meadow Park. For the under / semi-initiated, I thought I would put together a beginner’s guide to the Arsenal Women’s team. You can find a full profile of the squad here.
I have tried to avoid this becoming a Wikipedia style effort and want it to be something a bit more useful. If there’s any information missing you would like to know, let me know in the comments and I will be happy to update the article. But given the sums of money involved, I don’t think it’s really fair to go into detail on player salaries.
WHERE DO THEY PLAY?
Arsenal play their home games at Boreham Wood’s Meadow Park ground. Most home matches take place on a Sunday afternoon so there is no clash with Boreham Wood fixtures. Arsenal paid to have a desso pitch installed last summer, which is kind of a mixture between synthetic and grass, so the playing surface stays in good condition.
HOW DO I GET THERE?
Meadow Park is a 10-15 minute walk from Elstree & Borehamwood station- don’t be caught out by the electronic boards on train platforms, which often simply refer to it as “Elstree.” Elstree is famous because the BBC studios are situated there and television programmes such as Eastenders are filmed in the locality. The Big Brother house was in Borehamwood during its heyday.
When you arrive at Elstree & Borehamwood station, walk towards the main road on your left, turn right and keep walking down the high street until you get to the McDonalds. Chuck a left at McDonalds and you will be able to see the floodlights. Just walk through the car park towards the turnstile.
Elstree & Borehamwood is served by London Thameslink, so trains go through Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon, St. Pancras International and West Hampstead Thameslink. It’s a 22 minute train journey from St. Pancras. The service typically runs half hourly on Sundays.
WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT AT MEADOW PARK?
It’s a non-league ground, so there is terracing behind both goals (both of these ends are uncovered). The West Stand is only two years old and is all seater, the East Stand is also all seater but a little bit older and with a little less leg room. However, if you have children who want to interact with the players post-match, the East Stand is your best bet.
It is situated near the tunnel and the players absolutely always stay behind to sign autographs and pose for selfies with no exception at that side of the ground. Meadow Park holds 4,500 but the average attendance at a women’s game is around the 1,000 mark (it will veer towards 2,000 for games against Chelsea and Manchester City, but might dip to about 500 for a midweek match against less glamorous opposition, or if the matches clash with the men’s team). But the West Stand has a bit more space at the front if the wee ones get a little bored and fancy running around.
So there is plenty of room. The atmosphere is very akin to Sunday league, it is very family friendly and at most games, there is a local girls’ team or school invited to attend matches. The back of the East Stand near the tunnel tends to be where the Supporters Club sit and they get the chanting going. There is rarely segregation between away fans unless a team brings an especially large contingent, in which case they usually take over a block in the West Stand.
WHERE CAN I EAT OR DRINK?
Meadow Park does have 2 food and drink kiosks, but Borehamwood high street contains every single fast food outlet you can think of- including Nandos. If you want a pre match pint, there are 3 pubs. The Alfred Arms is closer to the station and has Sky Sports, but it’s not really a family pub. The Wishing Well is situated half way down the high street, but the Hart and Spool, a Wetherspoons pub, is further down the high street on the right hand side of the road. It is about a 5 minute walk from the ground.
HOW DO I GET TICKETS?
You can buy a membership, which entitles you to entry to all home games for £60 adults and £30 concessions. You can buy tickets online, where they will cost £6 adults and £3 concessions. However, you can buy on the gate for every single game without hassle- but the price goes up a tad for £10 adults and £5 concessions.
Arsenal like to encourage people to buy online for marketing information purposes. For the FA Cup and FAWSL Continental Cup this season, U-16s get in for £1 regardless of whether bought on the gate or online.
WHICH COMPETITIONS DO ARSENAL WOMEN PLAY IN?
The league is called the FAWSL (FA Women’s Super League) which, after a recent restructure, has 11 teams. Every side plays one another home and away once each just like in men’s football. The other teams in the FAWSL are; Chelsea, Manchester City, Reading, West Ham United, Bristol City, Yeovil Town, Birmingham City, Brighton & Hove Albion, Everton and Liverpool.
The FAWSL season begins on 9th September and ends on May 12th. Arsenal finished 3rd last season, but ought to harbour realistic ambitions of challenging for the WSL this year, though the competition from Manchester City and Chelsea is fierce. While it is true that City and Chelsea have invested heavily in their teams, so have Arsenal who are no poor relation financially. Think of them a little like Manchester United in the men’s game.
Arsenal also participate in the Women’s FA Cup, which they join at the 4th round stage in February. The final will be played at Wembley on Saturday, 4th May. They also take part in the FAWSL Continental Cup, which is a League Cup equivalent. It begins with a group stage and this season, the Gunners have been drawn with West Ham United, Lewes, Charlton and Millwall. The competition then breaks into a knockout tournament featuring the top 2 teams from each group at the quarter-final stage. Arsenal won the tournament last season.
International fixtures occur far more frequently in the women’s game than the men’s and the girls usually have central contracts with their national FAs and are paid to represent their countries. The 2019 Women’s World Cup takes place next June in France. The players also often negotiate sponsorship deals to top up their playing salaries.
Arsenal, like every other team in the WSL, is fully professional. They have their own section of the training ground and train 5-6 times a week. They have strength and conditioning coaches, video analysis staff and a full-time goalkeeper coach- mostly on a consultancy basis.
Arsenal’s is a small, but star studded squad. Jordan Nobbs and Kim Little are among the best midfield players in the world, while striker Vivianne Miedema is one of the world’s greatest strikers. Arsenal recruited Swiss international captain Lia Wälti, Austrian national captain Viki Schnaderbeck and German international Tabea Kemme this summer. The manager is Australian Joe Montemurro, who previously managed and coached at Melbourne City’s men’s and women’s teams. Arsenal also have an U21 Development team, per the licensing requirements of the FAWSL.
As with the men’s game, there are summer and winter transfer windows. Transfer fees are rare in the women’s game, so players move far more freely and contracts are generally shorter, much like they are in non-league men’s football. The FAWSL used to have a salary cap whereby only three players were allowed to earn more than £20,000 per year with their clubs.
Central international contracts tend to be worth a similar amount. However, this cap was removed in 2015 and now club wage bills have to accord with turnover. In reality, this is a big advantage for women’s teams backed by wealthier men’s teams who have bigger budgets. Storied women’s clubs like Doncaster Belles have struggled in recent years as they have not been able to keep pace, while teams like Chelsea, Manchester City and even now West Ham and Brighton, can afford to fund women’s teams quite easily.
Salaries vary pretty wildly in the FAWSL (and I don’t think it’s fair to cite personal examples here so I won’t) and a gap is opening up between the top 3- Arsenal, Chelsea and City- and the rest in England. That said, Wolfsburg and Lyon are the two foremost women’s teams in Europe and they are far from the richest in terms of the men’s operation.
ARE GAMES BROADCAST?
The WSL are getting better at this, but there is still some way to go. BT Sport and BBC Online often carry games, while many matches are streamed live on Facebook. The clubs are locked down by the TV contract with BT and BBC so cannot show league games independently. There is a WSL highlights show on Monday evenings- usually at around midnight- on the BBC, but the episodes are stored in the iplayer for later viewing. Highlights tend to be released on a Tuesday afternoon on YouTube after a batch of Sunday games.
WHY SHOULD I BE INTERESTED?
The quality of football is far better than people imagine (and I use the word ‘imagine’ advisedly) and absolutely offers value for money given the prices you pay for entry. The players maintain a closeness with the supporters and clubs make a lot of effort in particular to reach out to young female fans.
But don’t expect the same product as men’s football, women’s football is different and, having been banned by the FA for 50 years in the UK, it has a clear handicap when it comes to funding which is only just beginning to be addressed. Professionalisation has increased rapidly in recent years, which has not been without its administrative teething problems, but the quality of play has shot up as players have become full-time and work with specialised coaching and fitness staff. Ultimately, if you’re a little jaded by the commercialisation of the Premier League, Arsenal Women is a refreshing outlet.
GOOD TWITTER FOLLOWS FOR WOMEN’S FOOTBALL
For general women’s football, the likes of Kieran Thievam, Rich Laverty, Jo Currie, Girls on the Ball, Tom Garry, Sylvain Jamet and Sophie Lawson are good bets. Katja is very good for a wider European perspective.