Women's football in England enters a new era on Wednesday when Chelsea Ladies play Arsenal Ladies in the first fixture of the new semi-professional Women's Super League.
Being played under the umbrella of the FA (as the men's Premier League once was, which is another story), the WSL was due to start a year ago but was postponed because of the unfavourable economic climate. There is still no title sponsor, and it is estimated that no more than a "handful" of players will be full-time, but Hope Powell, England's coach for the past 13 years, believes the project will improve the standing of the women's game as well as benefiting the national team, who beat the world champions USA 2-1 last weekend.
"I totally endorse a summer league," she said. "For a start, the women's game won't be competing with the men's for spectators, and it will be a great product to market. It will benefit England players too, even if the season will be taking a break for the World Cup [in July]. I'd like it to be an all-English league that encourages younger players coming through, but we obviously welcome the foreign players that are starting to join different clubs. Undoubtedly there will be teething problems and it will take a bit of time to lay the foundations but I'm sure it will grow."
The opening fixtures have been cannily arranged to give all eight teams the closest thing to a local derby: Liverpool play Everton, Lincoln meet Doncaster and Birmingham play Bristol. ESPN will show six live matches, including the Chelsea game at Tooting and Mitcham's ground (kick-off 5.30pm).
Can Chester zoom up league?
There was an understandable Freudian slip on the sports bulletin of BBC Radio 4's Today programme during the week when presenter Jonathan Legard, discussing Tottenham's tie with Real Madrid, mentioned "the Spurs manager Harry McNally", before hastily correcting himself.
Understandable since Legard is a lifelong supporter of Chester, whom McNally (a stonemason by trade and a former amateur with Skelmersdale United) served as manager from 1985-92, taking them from the lower reaches of the Fourth Division to promotion at the first attempt, after which they once beat Fulham 7-0. He died in 2004 but is fondly remembered by fans of the new Chester club, as they vie with Skelmersdale for the Evo-Stik League First Division North title in the first season after reforming; Chester City having been expelled from the Blue Square Premier League in February last year.
In a division where 14 clubs are averaging less than 200 spectators, Chester are regularly attracting almost 2,400 to the Deva Stadium.
Draw a Vale over red card
Remember the former Port Vale midfielder Chris Birchall? Having played against England and David Beckham at the 2006 World Cup for Trinidad & Tobago (his mum having been born there), he is now a team-mate of the great man at LA Galaxy.
Last week he did a transatlantic phone interview with BBC Radio Stoke telling them how well it was all going, what with getting to know Becks and hanging out with Vale fan Robbie Williams – "he's always on about Vale, he knows what's going on and he's a down-to-earth guy".
Alas, before it could be broadcast Birchall was sent off for violent conduct in a wild weekend match with Philadelphia Union that included eight yellow cards and two red, all in the second half. "Ref sucked" was the succinct summary by one fan on the official Galaxy website.
Black Cats and dogs abuse
And finally, while we were aware of Wearside's reputation as a footballing hotbed, it comes as new news that the knowledge and passion there extend to the canine population.
Sunderland's chairman Niall Quinn, asked how long the team's poor run could continue without Steve Bruce's position as manager coming under threat, responded: "It would have to be a really long, sustained period when the dogs in the street would know that he wasn't the right man."
Or maybe he meant the black cats?Reuse content