Women's football steps into a new era

Women's football took its first step into a new era this evening as the new Women's Super League kicked off in front of an excited young crowd.

The opening game of the first ever semi-professional league in England saw Arsenal Ladies triumph 1-0 over London rivals Chelsea Ladies.

Having moved to a summer season - played between April and September with a break for the Women's World Cup - the WSL hopes to attract new fans to the women's game.

A noisy young crowd at The Hub in Tooting, south west London, gave a positive early indication that they will succeed in that aim.

Over 2,500 people, many of them families, gathered at the home of Tooting and Mitcham FC to witness the much-publicised league opener, whilst ESPN also provided live coverage of the game.

The broadcaster will provide a weekly highlights show along with live coverage of five other games throughout the season, fronted by Kelly Cates, daughter of Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish.

The early kick-off and Easter school holidays contributed to the turnout and caught the hosts a little off-guard, with people still queing at the gate as the game kicked off.

But once inside, the young crowd were treated to lively atmosphere off the pitch, including live performances by pop group Parade along with games and an interactive 'Call the Shots' zone, part of the WSL's fresh new approach to the game.

On the pitch, a 33rd minute Gilly Flaherty goal gave Arsenal the start they were looking for but the favourites for the inaugural WSL title didn't have things their own way in a close-fought contest.

A hard, bobbly pitch often meant the game failed to flow, but the football as well as the occasion proved a worthy first step into this new era for the women's game.

Arsenal captain Faye White said: "It's nice to play in front of a big crowd. It's about young girls and boys, but more so the girls, coming down and watching us and aspiring to be in our position one day."

"We're trying to build the profile of the game. The fact that the games go on outside the girls' season will help them come along and watch and either aspire to play in it [the WSL] or just give them the encouragement to keep playing in their own leagues."

Eight teams will compete for the inaugural Super League title, with each of the remaining six teams in action this week.

If the WSL can maintain the same interest, enthusiasm and happy faces in the crowd as seen at today's curtain-raiser for the rest of the summer, then the future of women's football looks a bright one.

Dan Pope, Club Website editor

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