The W-League and A-League: A case for football solidarity

When Neymar departed the 2014 World Cup with a fractured vertebrae, hearts collectively fractured around the world.

The hearts I wondered most about, though, amid the myriad and occasionally mocked footage of Brazil’s fans weeping openly in the stadium in subsequent matches (don’t mention the Germany game), were those of female footballers.

Theirs was a wrenching story that paralleled the country’s own of bankrupting itself to stage the world’s largest footballing spectacle.

The story is from a few years ago, but it’s one that’s not well known and warrants revisiting. Santos gave Neymar, now at Barcelona, a 50% pay increase to keep him playing at the Brazilian-based club. Neymar ended up in Europe anyway, but went on to be the golden child of the nation, single-handedly embodying and carrying their footballing hopes and dreams.

But his success—financial and amid fan-acclaimed fervour—came at an expense: that of its entire women’s team. There’s only so much money in the buckets, and the women’s bucket almost always seems to be emptied for the men’s (or, more gallingly, man’s). Nor is the Neymar–Santos case an isolated incident—there are famous examples of female footballers doing the men’s team’s laundry to earn their keep while the men earn layers of cash.

It’s debateable whether ditching Santos’ women’s football team was worth it. Neymar flourished through money-afforded opportunities, no doubt, but he was arguably talented enough and the men’s competition (and scouting and agent efforts) established and professional enough that he would have been picked up anyway. Neymar’s Brazilian-based services and signing were always going to have an end date.

By investing in Neymar in the short term, Santos (and, more widely, Brazil) failed to invest in many more players and women long term. The Santos women’s team, while not a huge cash-earner, was successful on the pitch.

It also boasted five-time FIFA women’s player of the year (and drawcard) Marta during its 2010 and 2011 seasons. Hence my thoughts heading to those female footballers after Neymar’s injury: What would have been going through their minds before—and especially after—he was ruled out of the tournament?

So what does Neymar have to do with the about-to-kick-off W-League?

The either–or dichotomy.

We’re entering Season 7 of the country’s domestic league, yet it remains the overlooked, invisible poor cousin to the A-League. And I mean that both financially and supporter-wise.

A recently acquired FIFA grant is injecting some much-needed funds into developing grassroots women’s football. The premise is that it will provide clear development and a pathway for Australian women to progress.

That’s a long-term project, though, and one we won’t see the benefits of for some years. There’s instead something that can be done now, and better: it can be done by us fans.

The FFA continues to drag the chain on obtaining live streams and/or television coverage for every single W-League game (a pithy match of the round scheduled before the season and not adjusted as required by the season’s results doesn’t suffice). But it has taken some small steps forward by setting up some double-headers with the A-League.

Those double headers mean there’s no excuse for the either–or dichotomy I too often hear from men’s football fans. That is, that they’d attend women’s football if:

  • the men’s and women’s matches were on back to back at the same pitch
  • they didn’t have to travel to faraway grounds
  • they could see the games (FOXTEL will likely broadcast said double headers)
  • you could get in for the price of one ticket (if you have a ticket to the co-scheduled A-League match, you have a ticket for the W-League one—just come along two hours early)
  • they knew about the double headers (this is your first heads up, and suffice to say with FOXTEL broadcasting the double headers, you’re more likely to get some promotion and forewarning)
  • they can drink beer (A-League venues are licensed, which means W-League matches played at A-League venues are also licensed).

While women’s football in Australia isn’t about to get Neymarred (that’s a verb), it’s nowhere near as shored up as it should be financially or in terms of its fanbase.

Put simply: The double headers and the attendant broadcast coverage won’t continue or be extended if the double headers specifically and the league more broadly don’t get decent support. This is one of the few times we fans have the power to truly influence the FFA’s decisions, to demonstrate that there is a women’s football viewing demand.

So I have only one request and hope of these impending W-League and A-League seasons: not that they’re the best ever (although that would be great); nor that they are incredible preparation for the 2015 Men’s Asian and Women’s World Cups (although that would be great too); but that they’re what I’ve been calling rather cheesily, but accurately, in my head The Seasons of not Or but And. Turn up to support the A-League as you already do, but make sure you turn up for the W-League too.