Sport on TV: The ladies who launch are not afraid to get their hands dirty

 

Liverpool versus Manchester City: the drama, the emotion, the large numbers of blond ponytails swishing in the Widnes wind. Who needs the Premier League title race? As the new Women’s Super League kicked off last week, champions Liverpool took on newcomers City at the Vikings’ less than salubrious Select Security stadium.

It was not quite as glamorous as last Sunday’s epic contest at Anfield – and a lot muddier. Those ponytails will have needed some serious shampoo and conditioner. That’s probably sexist, and anyway Martin Demichelis no doubt spends a lot more time on his hair.

The Liverpool Ladies are nothing like the breed who totter around Aintree on Ladies’ Day, though they could have done with some high heels to get a bit of purchase in the rugby league mud.

It remains a mystery why so many of the WSL teams carry the suffix “Ladies”, it seems so old fashioned and daft in an era when they want to attract interest – and women’s sport is crying out for greater participation.

City are new to the top flight, this was effectively their first game since a complete overhaul of the club, and they are defiantly known as Manchester City Women. It’s not because they are not ladylike, though like their moneybags menfolk they are trying to buy success. It’s not too sexist to say they have been doing a lot of shopping: we are told they have bought 11 players, which sounds suspiciously like a completely new team.

Manchester United still don’t have a team in the top two divisions. “Most of the clubs are really making an effort and you’d think one of the top clubs in the world would do that,” said pundit Lucy Ward. “They’ve chosen not to do that,” she added rather witheringly.

Liverpool were given a boost last season, we are told, when they went full-time, were allowed to use the training ground and were addressed by Brendan Rodgers. But perhaps it’s the women who inspired the men. They won the title first, after all.

Ward pointed out that for male managers it’s “easier to coach women but more difficult to manage them”, presumably because when the gaffer tells them tactics, they think they know better.

The men’s game could learn a few things from the WSL. They don’t tend to argue with the ref, even when a goal was disallowed for a dubious handball by Katie Longhurst. She just looked stunned, like she had been slapped in the face – which she probably had been, by the ball. Their manager Matt Beard was still chuntering about it to the fourth official half an hour later.

And it’s nice to see them wiping the mud off each other’s faces like it was some kind of spa treatment. Ward suggested they checked Longhurst’s hands to see if there was any mud on them after the goal was wiped off. Commentator Steve Bower said: “I thought you had let that one go.” Clearly female pundits keep griping as much as their male colleagues, presumably on the principle that if you throw enough mud it will stick.

One comment that you might not normally hear from the male pundits after a hard tackle is “I bet she’s got a right burn on her leg after that”. But it maybe simply be a variation on the old favourite “he’s literally on fire”.

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