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
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
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

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little