When the pandemic hit, few if any football clubs were affected like Liverpool. The Reds were on the brink of their first league title in 30 years, with fans even having the unique luxury of planning the victory parade over three months in advance. It was set to be a title procession like no other, the scenes at Anfield for the remaining four home games would’ve created atmospheres to live long in the memory.
Instead, the title was won behind closed doors, no trophy parade took place, not even an iconic squad photo with the trophy for the following season - the first time in the club’s history.
From there, pandemic-hit finances meant planned transfers, such as the signing of Timo Werner, were scrapped. The expansion of the stadium by 7,000 extra seats was postponed for a year. The new training ground was pushed back six months.
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s women side were relegated for the first time in their history after the Women’s Super League was ended prematurely. Liverpool had suggested that relegation be scrapped, with a third of the season still to play. But Vicky Jepson’s side had won just once all season and were bottom of the table when The FA made the decision to curtail the season early.
The two-time WSL champions were relegated and a host of players departed. Behind the scenes, the departure of club chief executive Peter Moore also left the women’s side of the club without leadership. LFC Women’s turnover was reported to be over £2.3m and £1m fewer than Chelsea Women and Man City Women, respectively.
The club also faced criticism for not including the women’s side in the club’s new £50m training centre in Kirkby, with the women continuing to train on the Wirral at Tranmere Rovers’ training ground.
To many, it seemed like the women’s side were an afterthought at Anfield, with investment lacking and no real strategic vision. When FourFourTwo previously asked Liverpool’s former director of operations if the club intended to have the women at the new Kirkby base it seemed like an alien question, as did the suggestion of perhaps a mini-stadium to host women’s and academy games. Instead, Liverpool Women play at Tranmere's Prenton Park.
Dropping down a division, hopes were for LFCW to bounce back immediately, but they ended 2020/21 in third place in the Championship, 11 points behind the title winners Leicester. Jepson departed before the season was over, later taking up the assistant managerial role at WSL side Tottenham.
But all this has given Liverpool a proverbial kick up the backside. Susan Black, the club’s director of communications, has taken over the leadership of LFCW and with it a more strategic approach.
📸 Smile ladies, the new season is getting closer and closer! 😄 pic.twitter.com/I8vWoJbZeKAugust 5, 2021
There is an acknowledgement within the club’s hierarchy that they need to put more resources into the women’s side of the club, with even small changes like having sales of women’s replica shirts now going directly to the women’s side of the club.
The biggest change this summer has seen manager Matt Beard return to the club seven years after leading LFCW to back-to-back WSL titles, while there are also plans being formulated to give the women’s side their own training base within the city.
“We need the permanent home,” Beard tells FourFourTwo. “Ideally, we’d have the academy training alongside us. I’ve been consulted in the process, an ongoing process, but it’s an exciting process.”
FFT understands that there are four options are under consideration, with one of them being at Kirkby - but that would not allow for the women’s first-team and academy to be on the same base.
In the immediate term, the aim for Beard is clear. He has recruited strongly this summer, bringing in six new signings - all of them joining from WSL clubs.
“I think that we’re in a good position to potentially win the league this year,” Beard says. “The ambition is to win the division.”
Much has changed since Beard was last at the club, though, a time when investment in the women’s game was much lower and Man United didn’t even have a women’s side.
“There’s a lot of clubs going full time (even) in the Championship” he acknowledges. “The game has changed immensely, you only need to look at the broadcast deal with Sky and BBC to show the direction the game is going in.
“There’s a lot of players that want to come to England, it’s one of the best leagues in the world.
“I think competitive-wise, week-in-week-out, this is going to be the strongest division one and division two in women’s football going forward. It’s a different place to when I was here before, the game has moved on a lot, it’s a new challenge and one I’m looking to embrace.”
Those challenges and the increased competitive side of women’s football as a whole doesn’t stop Beard from having lofty ambitions for the future.
“It’s not just about this year, it’s about the future, the journey we’re going on,” he explains. “The ambition for us is to win a league title - there are not many players, coaches go through their career and win anything.”
Liverpool have cut the price of adult season tickets for the new season to £60 for all league and cup fixtures, and an adult-child season ticket is just £75. For live football that represents excellent value for money.
Ultimately, what will bring the fans in is success on the pitch when the season begins in late August. Promotion is needed and a permanent base for the club’s women’s side to show the long-term ambitions.
“This is a big football club, be it men or women,” Beard sums up. Now it’s about proving it.
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