By David Williams
The Women’s Super League kicks-off this weekend and Wales’ most-capped player will be hoping she can keep up with the new pace of the game.
Jess Fishlock is back in the big time in British football having signed a loan deal with Reading Royals. The last time she played here she was at Bristol Academy and wasn’t sure exactly where the game in the UK was going.
Her wanderlust, and desire to better herself as a player, has taken her to Scotland, Holland, Germany, Australia, the United States and France.
Wherever she has gone she has been a major success, but now she probably faces the biggest challenge of her career.
The midfield ace used to play in the top-flight in England when she was at Bristol Academy before heading around the world. Her view then was that the WSL of old lacked tempo, but now 33, and over a serious knee injury, she will be hoping she can keep up with the pace that has been injected into the game.
Fishlock is a student of the sport as well as a fantastic player and holds strong views on the development of her sport. When she speaks, people have to sit up and take notice.
“When I was at Bristol there were four players who were full time. Now it’s all full time and there are great facilities and great training grounds everywhere,” she said.
“Everything has taken major strides forward since I was last here. Everyone is on a professional contract and we’re training every day, not twice a week.
“It still has a way to go, but it’s definitely taken strides. I’ve said from day one the WSL lacks tempo and it lacks competitiveness, but I think right now that probably goes out the window.
“It’s closing that gap massively, but the one thing I’d like to see is everyone just talk about the football. I think we talk too much about men’s clubs investing in women’s teams or the women’s crowds.”
Fishlock has joined the Royals on loan from Washington-based club OL Reign – the same club as Manchester City’s loaned Amercan star Rose Lavelle.
One of four new signings at Reading, Fishlock will be hoping to help her new teammates bridge the gap on the top three teams, starting with a tough opening clash with Arsenal in Round 1.
As well as 114 Welsh caps and an MBE for her services to football, she also has a sack full of medals from her travels:
Dutch League Title – 2008, 2009 (AZ Alkmaar)
FA Cup runner-up – 2011 (Bristol Academy)
Australian Women’s League Championship – 2014 (Melbourne Victory)
Australian Women’s League Premiership – 2014 (Melbourne Victory)
Uefa Champions League – 2015 (FFC Frankfurt)
— Welsh Football Fans For Independence🏴 (@indywalesfans) November 7, 2019
US National Super League Shield – 2014, 2015 (Reign FC)
US National Championship runner-up – 2014, 2015 (Reign FC)
Australian Women’s League Championship – 2016, 2017, 2018 (Melbourne City)
Australian Women’s League Premiership – 2016 (Melbourne City)
Uefa Champions League – 2019 (Lyon)
French League Title – 2019 (Lyon)
French Cup – 2019 (Lyon)
The WSL is now fully professional and has had a lot of money invested into it. The eyes of the footballing world will be focussed on its development week in, week out this season after new TV deals were signed with broadcasters from the US, Germany, Australia, Italy, Scandinavia and South America.
It starts today with Aston Villa at home to Manchester City and then five more games on Sunday.
The WSL is fast becoming a rival to some of the more established women’s leagues around the world and Fishlock is hoping to help it really takes off as she masterminds Reading’s bid to break the monopoly of the top three – Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal.
Steff Houghton’s Manchester City side will be favourites to wrestle the title away from Chelsea, who were awarded the title on a points-per-game basis after the season was brought to a premature halt due to Covid-19.
That meant the Welsh captain Sophie Ingle joined Liverpool and Wales youngster Neco Williams in winning a domestic football league title.
Chelsea have already broken the world women’s transfer record by recruiting Danish forward Pernille Harder for £300,000, while City have added US World Cup winners Lavelle and Sam Mewis on loan.
Adding to the global imports into the 12-team league are the Aussie international trio of Lydia Williams, Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord at Arsenal.
There will be plenty of Welsh interest at the top table and Wales manager Jayne Ludlow will be delighted to have so many of her players training with many of the best talents in the world game – as well as earning a living.
The former private equity backer of Formula One (F1) motor racing is plotting a bid for a stake in the Women’s Super League (WSL) amid pressure on the finances of English football’s governing body https://t.co/czTa8d1P86
— SkyNews (@SkyNews) September 4, 2020
Here are the Welsh players to look out for in the WSL this season:
Brighton & Hove Albion: Kayleigh Green
Bristol City: Gemma Evans, Aimee Watson, Megan Wynne
Chelsea: Sophie Ingle
Everton: Elise Hughes
Manchester United: Hayley Ladd, Chloe Williams
Reading: Jess Fishlock, Natasha Harding (captain), Angharad James, Rachel Rowe, Lily Woodham
Tottenham Hotspur: Josie Green (captain), Anna Filbey