That there are serious problems with the Liverpool Women’s team is hardly news. Things have been dire for a very long time, and we here at TLO have covered those problems for an equally long time. Regular readers—and anyone else who has been paying attention—have known there are issues.
However, things are worse than they appeared. Maybe far worse.
Sarah Shephard of The Athletic recently took a deep dive into the treatment and conditions that the Liverpool Women’s team have been dealing with for years, including confirming the speculation surrounding Neil Redfearn’s sudden departure just two matches into the 2018-2019 season and the departures of stars like Lucy Bronze, Gemma Bonner, and Siobhan Chamberlain. She endeavoured to answer the question: what the hell is happening over there?
For those without a subscription to The Athletic, it’s an eye-opening look at the steps that the club have taken—or not taken in many cases—to maintain what it is clear in their eyes is the lesser side of the club. Including, as we’ve commented many times before, neglecting to include the Women’s team in any way in their massive new training ground and Academy setup at Kirkby. The lack of foresight when it comes to the Women’s team is quite frankly appalling—and probably at least as unsurprising for anyone who has been following this team in recent years.
Case in point: Lucy Bronze, seen as one of the premiere stars of the Women’s game in England, played for Liverpool from 2012-2014. She was part of the two time league title winning squad, then left for Manchester City in 2014. She was allowed to leave for just £4,000. She has since gone on to win trophies with City and Lyon, where she won the Champions League.
The massive departure of talent from Liverpool Women is unsurprising, with the nature of their contracts such that they are more likely to leave anywhere than stay. While Liverpool has done better in recent seasons of rewarding their best players with better contracts, it took the Great Departure of 2018 to make that happen. Losing talent like Alex Greenwood and Siobhan Chamberlain should never have happened, and Chamberlain even went so far as to say in her departure statement that “it was important for me to be in an environment that challenges me every day and one where I can enjoy playing football” and that she wanted “to know that I was part of a project that was doing the most it could to develop women’s football.”
That was in 2018, and even with the club’s adoption of a “two teams, one club” ethos, they have yet to truly prove that they are in any real way committed to living up to that.
“Playing at Tranmere’s ground, training at Tranmere’s ground, basically Tranmere Women,” was one rival player’s verdict. “They’re being looked after a lot more by Tranmere than they are by Liverpool, which is not right at all when you look at the two clubs and the fact they are Liverpool Women not Tranmere Women.”
They’re not wrong. Despite a push on social media to show the Women training more often and the presentation of their brand new, Liverpool-decorated dressing rooms—that, with no official confirmation, we have to assume are in Prenton Park—the truth is that Tranmere is shouldering much of the care for the Liverpool Women’s team, care that their own parent club seemingly refuses to give them.
And while Tranmere’s efforts might in isolation be commendable, the problems with their Prenton Park stadium have been well documented. Meanwhile, even with The Athletic saying that “their partnership with Tranmere is considered a mutually beneficial” by both clubs, “future plans for Liverpool Women are being discussed” and “all options remain open.”
There isn’t likely to be any real movement towards a new ground in the midst of a pandemic that threatens even the FA Women’s Super League’s existence, but it remains difficult to understand how Liverpool could have ever thought League One playing conditions and an at times unplayable pitch were acceptable.
“This is where the women’s game was five years, or maybe even longer, ago,” an anonymous source said of the ground Liverpool Women call home. “The attitude is that you should be grateful for whatever you get. But the game’s moved on now and it’s professional. It’s people’s jobs and livelihoods, so giving them a certain standard of things isn’t something they should be grateful for. That’s just how it is now and it should be standard.”
Another problem highlighted by The Athletic is the squad’s experiences over the summer. There are some far from great stories that emerged from the US pre-season tour, where the Women’s team traveled stateside with the Men’s team for the first time. They travelled with the Men’s team on their private plane for the photo op but then were mostly left to their own devices for the rest of the tour.
The pre-season experiment is largely seen by some of Shephard’s sources as more detrimental to the Women’s team than beneficial. Between the travel and community work, there wasn’t much time for training, and the teams that they played against were part of, essentially, the second tier of Women’s football in the United States. They weren’t playing to teams up to, or above, their standards, and their level of play has seemingly suffered this season for that lack of proper preparation.
In short, it seems clear that the majority of the club’s statements regarding their Women’s team are more about covering up problems than a reflection of any genuine attempt to solve them, a problem we have been banging on about for years. They may say that they “remain absolutely committed to the continued growth of the Women’s game,” but it’s clear that that supposed commitment has yet to be seen by the players and staff within the club.
Nothing proves that feeling more than by the £50 million, state-of-the-art training facility for the Men’s team and the Academy, that the Women’s team are left to look at from across the river rather than having had space made for them within it.
That in the end is what’s so disappointing. That a club of Liverpool’s history, prestige, and clout have let their Women’s team languish in this way—and all the while propping them up as little more a PR tool, a chance to make noises about wanting to do the right thing without having to ever actually do it.
Liverpool like to talk about “two teams, one club” when it suits them but otherwise have left Liverpool FC Women to languish on outside looking in. Walking alone.