The eagerly awaited 2019/20 Barclays FA Women’s Super League kicked off over the weekend, with record attendances highlighting the growing demand and appetite for the women’s game since the immensely successful Women’s World Cup during the summer.
The biggest story of the weekend was the 31,213 attendance at the Etihad Stadium, where Manchester City hosted Manchester United in the WSL’s first-ever Manchester derby. It was a huge new WSL attendance record, around six times the previous league-high of 5,265.
City took the points and local bragging rights with a 1-0 victory thanks to a stunning strike from Caroline Weir early in the second half.
Newly promoted United were playing their first-ever top-flight game after only forming last year and taking the Women’s Championship by storm. But they can take great positives from the game after losing narrowly away from home to a team that will be challenging for the title.
United had better chances on the day, with only a wonder save from emerging England star Ellie Roebuck stopping them from taking the lead themselves. Later, it was the post and a fortuitous bounce that denied Netherlands international Jackie Groenen a deserved equaliser.
City would normally play home games at the adjacent Academy Stadium where the capacity is 7,000, but the huge uptake more than justified the switch to the much bigger Etihad.
It wasn’t the only WSL game that was moved to a larger venue for the opening weekend either, with Chelsea hosting newly promoted Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.
While City had sold tickets for the Manchester derby at the Etihad, offering free entry for children, Chelsea opted to make tickets available for free for their clash as a special incentive and the game was billed as a sell-out after all 40,000 were eagerly snapped up.
A smaller crowd materialised in the end, but there were still 25,000 people inside Stamford Bridge to see new England international Bethany England score the decisive sole goal of the game. It was by far Chelsea’s biggest ever attendance for a WSL game.
It could well have been more than 1-0, but for several saves from Spurs goalkeeper Becky Spencer. At one point, Chelsea also struck the woodwork twice in a matter of seconds.
Playing at Ashton Gate, Bristol City recorded an attendance in excess of 3,000 for the visit of Brighton, more than double the capacity of their usual home at Stoke Gifford Stadium.
Disappointingly for the Vixens, they were held to a 0-0 draw by a side expected to struggle and could even have lost had it not been for goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley’s heroics.
Reigning champions Arsenal played a pre-season game at the Emirates Stadium, but the Gunners kicked off the new campaign at their usual Kingsmeadow home in Borehamwood for a 2-1 opening win against FA Cup finalists West Ham.
Just shy of 1,800 people were there for this one, as Beth Mead, with an early screamer, and later summer signing Jill Roord scored the decisive goals. New Hammers striker Martha Thomas pulled one back for the visitors in the second half but it was only a consolation in the end.
A major story of the day for Arsenal was the return of England star Jordan Nobbs, who made her first competitive appearance since suffering a serious knee injury back in November.
Elsewhere, a Liverpool side hoping to improve on a poor eighth place finish last season were left disappointed in their opening game after a good Reading team snatched a 1-0 away win.
The only goal was the result of a pinpoint free-kick from England veteran Fara Williams, a player who previously won back-to-back WSL titles with Liverpool in 2013 and 2014.
Birmingham also got off to a poor start after a difficult summer that saw a number of key players, including England hero Ellen White, leave the club that finished fourth last season. The Blues were beaten 1-0 by Everton after an own goal by defender Kerys Harrop.
The Birmingham-Everton game recorded the lowest WSL attendance of the weekend, with only 873 people watching the game at Solihull Moors’ ground. That being said, even that exceeded last season’s average WSL attendance, a figure BBC Sport reports as 833.
The important thing now is for the buzz to continue. The next round of fixtures will take place next weekend, with, among others, Manchester City travelling to Reading, Spurs hosting Liverpool and Manchester United welcoming Arsenal.