Can Manchester City now gatecrash women's football?

Phase two of Etihad revolution starts on Thursday in Super League against champions Liverpool

sports news correspondent

It is a mouth-watering prospect: Liverpool, the defending champions, hosting Manchester City – rich, ambitious and the envy of just about every team in the league. It is a fixture that has more than a ring of the men's game about it but on Thursday night marks City's debut in the Women's Super League (WSL).

For the Football Association, the enthusiastic creators of the WSL whose new season kicks off tomorrow night, the arrival of the richest club in the land as a serious player in the women's game – and City insist they are in it for the long term – is a sizeable fillip. With Liverpool integrating their women's set-up, and funding the spending spree that helped turn them from the league's bottom side into champions last season, it means Manchester United are the only one of the five major clubs not to have a side in the WSL, and there are hopes that may soon change.

This will be the fourth season of the competition, for which a second tier of 10 teams has been introduced below the eight-strong top flight. It is the next step towards what the governing body hopes will be a full-time first division and a semi-professional second within four years, and is a rate of progress that has drawn applause from such giants of the women's game as Germany.

The English domestic game, as well as the national side, remains some way adrift of its German equivalent with its thriving, well-supported independent clubs, but there is a buoyancy around the WSL and its FA overlord. The FA points to more money than ever coming into the women's game – a ball-park sum of seven figures is floated, not huge by the standards of the men's game but significant on this side of the fence – and an enthusiastic broadcast partner in BT Sport, which will show Liverpool against City as the first of 14 live games during the summer season.

Not everyone is delighting in the FA's version of progress. Doncaster Belles, for so long pioneers in the women's game, were unceremoniously bundled out of the top flight to make way for City, while Lincoln Ladies were transformed into Notts County, much to the annoyance of Nottingham Forest Ladies.

For clubs like Bristol Academy, last season's runners-up, it will be a daunting challenge to compete in the long term against the likes of City, who benefit not only from their parent club's financial support but also their facilities, medical staff and the know-how of their coaching staff. Nick Cushing, City's manager, attends weekly sessions with Manuel Pellegrini and the rest of the club's coaches. City's players prepared for the new season in La Manga, Spain.

Steph Houghton is one of four England players to have joined City recently (Getty) Steph Houghton is one of four England players to have joined City recently (Getty)
"I'm not sure it will ever be a level playing field," said Dave Edmundson, Bristol's new manager following Mark Sampson's departure for the England job. "But sport rarely is a level playing field – there are always winners and losers and somebody is going to get relegated.

"If you look around the world there are different ways to achieve success – in Spain's La Liga some teams only pick players from their own area and if they can be competitive it proves that you don't have to have the exorbitant budget that some teams do. Is it easier, is it quicker? Yes it probably is. Bristol, in that case, will have to be smarter and I think they are doing that already by looking at a bigger picture – we've got a centre of excellence, we've got a development side, we've got a college programme."

The FA accepts it will become tougher for the likes of Bristol, but insists the sustained interest of the traditional big clubs is the way forward. "That can only help benefit the women's game," said Kelly Simmons, the FA's director of the national game and women's football.

"We wouldn't want to discourage clubs who aren't integrated into a men's club but obviously it is a huge benefit having their expertise, their marketing, their commercial expertise, their facilities.

"[For Bristol] it's challenging. But they have some of the best partners and commercial revenue coming into the game. They have fantastic facilities. There is a chance for them to compete."

The WSL is tightly controlled by the FA. Clubs have to demonstrate a four-year commitment to their women's side, including showing the FA details of separate bank accounts. It is designed to prevent clubs cutting their women's side adrift should the men be relegated or following a change of ownership. Clubs operate under a salary cap and are allowed to pay only four players more than £20,000.

Steph Houghton was one of four England players recruited by City, joining from Arsenal, the dominant force in the women's game until Liverpool's transformation. The England captain was convinced to move by City's long-term plan and rejects the idea that City's introduction is anything but good for the game.

"A lot of people have seen it in a negative way – a big club coming in and trying to be the best straight away, but I can't see what's wrong with that," she said. "Ultimately, they want the game to go professional, so I don't really understand if these people are disagreeing with that. From a women's football side, it's good to see a club go, 'OK, we want to do this professionally, we want to be the best and to give you the best, give you the opportunity to try and play and improve yourself.' As a player, you want to thrive on that."

City have seven full-time players and 11 part-time, with the bulk of the squad made up of those who were competing in the old second tier last season. How Cushing, who has never coached in the women's game before, having been moved across from City's youth set-up, moulds the two groups together will be key to whether his side can find immediate success against the likes of Liverpool, Bristol and Arsenal. City are, unsurprisingly, keen to dampen expectation.

"We are trying to build a new team," said Cushing. "It would be unrealistic to think we can go and roll teams over and win leagues. There is an expectation because of what our men's team have done. With our women's team we have to be realistic."

How WSL works

There are eight teams in the Women's Super League, playing 14 games, 10 in the second division, with one up and one down – provided the promoted club meets ground requirements. BT Sport will show 14 live games and a weekly highlights show.

Wednesday

Birmingham City v Everton

Notts County v Arsenal

Thursday

Bristol Academy v Chelsea

Liverpool v Manchester City

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone