Carol West, chair of the Women’s Premier League, says the fact Sunday’s national Championship play-off final is being staged at Bramall Lane gives the event “extra gravitas.”
The fixture, one of the biggest on the sport’s calendar, takes place just hours before Sheffield United Ladies are scheduled to learn if they have been granted WSL2 status.
Some of the leading figures within the game, including director of women’s football Baroness Sue Campbell, have confirmed they will visit United’s ground to watch northern title winners Blackburn Rovers face their southern counterparts Charlton Athletic (kick-off 2pm).
Although the match is hugely significant in its own right - the winners will gain promotion providing they meet the FA’s licencing criteria - West said: “It’s a stand-out game but the fact it is taking place somewhere like this, the oldest professional football stadium in the world, is brilliant. It brings extra gravitas.
“Both teams have played at Ewood Park and The Valley so they’re used to this type of environment. But I think, when they walk down the tunnel at Bramall Lane and then out into the arena, it will really bring that home.”
United dispatched a delegation to Wembley, including general manager Lee Walshaw and manager Carla Ward, to submit the their application for a place on the second tier of the women’s football pyramid earlier this year. Having been officially brought under the club’s umbrella and granted permission to host a regional training centre, United have built a strong case for membership of the revamped competition. Both Walshaw and Ward have confirmed “nothing will change” if the governing body decides not to promote United. Indeed, the latter insisted “only our time-frame to reach that level” will alter yesterday. “We’ll just have to try and do it with back to back promotions rather than going straight there,” Ward said.
West, who is set to attend the clash between Rovers and Athletic with Baroness Campbell, hopes both the venue and the occasion helps fuel interest and participation in the women’s game even further.
“We’ve been the fastest growing sport in the country for several years now,” she said. “And this game has it all.”
As part of a drive to further the development of referees from the region, local officials Mel Burgin and Natasha Wilson have been appointed as assistants to Lucy Oliver. Lindsay Robinson, who took charge of the recent SSE Women’s FA Cup final, is fourth official.
“Mel and Natasha are rising stars,” West added. “Experiencing this should be invaluable for them too.”