W-League 2019-20 season preview: 10 reasons to be excited | Football


They say absence makes the heart grow fonder; Australian football fans should be able to attest to that, having endured an extended off-season that will finally come to an end on Thursday. After the end of the NWSL season opened the floodgates for some of the biggest player signings in recent years, the buzz around the domestic 2019-20 season has grown ever louder and there is plenty to look forward to once the latest edition of the W-League gets underway.

The Matildas bump

The W-League will once again be home to the vast majority of the Matildas as they prepare to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Although they fell short at the World Cup in July, the enthusiasm generated by the competition has carried over into various domestic leagues around the world, especially the US and England.

With almost all of Australia’s World Cup heroes now back on home soil, we can expect a similar boost in media coverage and match attendances. This enthusiasm has only grown following last week’s announcement of the new pay deal, coupled with a record-breaking friendly game against Chile, and the possibility of a competitive home Olympic qualifier in February. There’s never been a more exciting time for the W-League. (SL)

Hersday’ night football’s back

With Fox Sport’s Thursday screenings attracting an average of 11,462 viewers and attendances being slightly higher on average than regular standalone games in 2018-19, Hersday night games are back for a second season.

W-League attendances have been shown to benefit from leveraging off A-League games (see below), but the women’s game also needs the space to grow its audiences independently, and work its way into the consciousness of the footballing public on its own terms. And what better way than dedicating an evening to W-League football alone, to kickstart the weekend’s football? (ER)

Western Sydney Wanderers

The introduction of Melbourne City to the W-League in 2015 fundamentally changed the game in Australia. Their star-studded squad, supportive back-room staff, and world-class facilities set a new benchmark for how a professional W-League team should be run. The rewards were almost immediate: City won the premiership-championship double in their first season and won the latter twice more in consecutive years.

Now it could be Western Sydney’s turn. From a new head coach and a revamped squad to the unveiling of a world-class stadium and training base, the Wanderers have laid all the right groundwork for a W-League side with ambitions of greatness. What’s more, we may finally get the competitive Sydney derby the competition has been crying out for since the Wanderers’ introduction in 2012. (SL)

Matildas clusters

If, amongst the hustle and bustle of late signings and squad announcements, you’d only had a cursory glance at the W-League squad lists, you might be forgiven for thinking permanent Matildas satellite training camps had been set up in Queensland and in the sky blue half of Melbourne.

Brisbane Roar and Melbourne City each boast six national team players in their ranks. For Ante Milicic, the benefits of these clusters are clear. And in the case of the Brisbane Roar’s cohort of Queenslanders – three of whom (Tameka Yallop, Elise Kellond-Knight and Clare Polkinghorne) are club foundation players – it also helps to inculcate the sense of local identity vital for celebrating the W-League and its developing traditions. (ER)

The league is more accessible than ever

With anxieties swirling about viewership numbers and questions still lingering around that $30m government grant, it was not clear what the W-League might look like on TV this season. After the rumoured deal with Channel Ten fell through and with SBS out of the picture, there was little hope women’s football would be back on free-to-air television anytime soon.

Enter the ABC. As the largest national FTA broadcaster, the ABC offers the league the opportunity to embed itself in the habitual culture of Australian sport the same way Friday night footy or Sunday afternoon AFL have done. Coupled with every W-League game now being streamed live on Kayo (and ESPN+ for US-based fans), the league has positioned itself to reach the greatest number of domestic and international fans than ever before. (SL)

The W-League kicks off on Thursday night when Western Sydney Wanderers play Adelaide United.

The W-League kicks off on Thursday night when Western Sydney Wanderers play Adelaide United. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Double the football, double the fun

The big question in the wake of the global success of the World Cup this year was how to translate its success into domestic leagues – especially for increasing attendances. In Australia, as the one-club philosophy is implemented by its professional clubs, one mechanism is double-header games of the W-League with the A-League. This season there are 11 of them.

Double-headers are something of football’s great coriander debate. Either you love them or they leave a funny taste in the mouth. If not carefully marketed, double-headers can run the risk of casting the W-League end of the bargain as preludes to the “main event” of the corresponding men’s fixture.

But the data shows that double-headers get bums on seats. In the 2018-19 season double-headers attracted on average around three times the attendances of standalone matches. Aligning W-League games with their A-League counterparts also offers W-League players the opportunity to play in bigger stadia with better pitch quality – which the PFA’s annual end of season report has repeatedly shown is what the players want. (ER)

The rise of generation next

Unlike its male counterpart, the W-League has always leaned into producing talented youngsters, providing them with a relatively strong platform to be noticed by bigger, more competitive, and more lucrative leagues overseas. One need only look at Sam Kerr’s career trajectory – having started in the W-League as a teenager– to see the kind of springboard it can offer.

Much of the 2019-20 season hype has surrounded the increasing calibre of the international imports various clubs have attracted, while a new generation of players have been slowly working their way onto the domestic stage. As more senior players jet off to greener pastures overseas, this might finally be the season that these young players make their mark. (SL)

An increasingly competitive league

Cast your eyes back over the last few W-League final season standings. You’ll see that, year-on-year, the margins at the top of the table are becoming increasingly narrow.

That the 2018-19 season saw second and sixth on the table separated by a mere two points, and fourth and fifth by a goal difference of two, tells its own story. And the fact that the contests themselves are increasingly tight (the number of goals per game dropped from 3.5 in 2016-17 to 3.2 last season) attests to the W-League’s increased depth. But that will come as no consolation to Melbourne City and Adelaide United, who missed out on finals football by a whisker.

Add to the mix a cornucopia of upsets – such as a young Newcastle team’s surprise defeat of Perth Glory at the end of last season – and it’s hard to shake off the cliche that on their day, any team has the chance to do well in the W-League. Look away from this season for a split second at your peril. (ER)

Taking women’s football outside the major cities

One of the biggest gripes in some quarters with this season’s draw was stadium-hopping. Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City will be most affected by inconsistent stadium use, with neither Victorian team playing home games in Melbourne until round five – and even that match, the Melbourne derby, will be played in the suburb of Broadmeadows, which takes almost an hour to get to by train from the city. Relatedly, Sydney FC will play a total of four (possibly five) “home” games at different stadiums, including one in Wollongong.

There is a silver lining, though: taking the league outside city centres is an opportunity to attract more fans. As the Matildas’ 2018 friendly against Chile in Penrith showed, when accompanied by engaging match-day experiences, accessible transport options, and appropriate facilities, it can be one of the biggest sporting events in the region. (SL)

Deepening rivalries

Sport thrives off drama and this season’s W-League will be no different as old rivalries are reprised and new ones established.

The fixture quirk of three of Melbourne City’s new signings against their former clubs in the opening three rounds (Emily van Egmond against Newcastle in round one, Ellie Carpenter against Canberra in round two and Emma Checker against Adelaide in round three) is one. This Sunday’s Big Blue which pits old foes Melbourne Victory against Sydney FC – champions against premiers – this early in the piece is another.

The requisite Sydney derbies – looking to be all the spicier for Western Sydney Wanderers’ off-season overhaul – and Melbourne derbies this season will also whet the appetite of even the most otherwise drama-averse observer. Get the popcorn ready. (ER)


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