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Ten Years of Blues in the Barclays FA Women's Super League

Thank you to all the players and staff for their efforts over the past decade.

BCFC

To mark the ten-year anniversary of the Barclays FA Women’s Super League, BCFC.com looks back on a decade of Blues Women in the top-flight. 

Having been a mainstay in the FA Women’s Premier League since promotion from the Northern Division as comprehensive champions in the 2001-02 season and a regional powerhouse in the Birmingham FA County Cup, Blues were awarded a place in the Women’s Super League. 

This followed a stringent application process where 16 teams were whittled down to eight, with the successful application of then Birmingham City Ladies underwritten by Birmingham City Football Club. 

Described as an “innovative eight-team summer competition”, the Football Association pledged an initial £3 million investment in the BFAWSL. Such an injection included 20 central contracts for England Women’s players as well as a television deal with ESPN. 

There was also a salary cap imposed on all Clubs. As Blues assembled their squad, many of the names included in David Parker’s camp returned for another spell in the West Midlands. 

Three of them – Dunia Susi, Laura Bassett and Karen Carney – would represent England at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany, a tournament that, along with the 2012 Olympics in London, saw the league break to accommodate these global events.  

In the league’s inaugural season, Blues – who had finished tenth in their final FA Women’s Premier League campaign – performed heroically, only missing out on the title due to a final day draw against Doncaster Rovers Belles. Arsenal were crowned champions by a margin of just three points, but there was individual success for Rachel Williams who was the division’s top scorer with 14 counters and was awarded the FA Players' Player of the Year Award. 

The team lost just one game and went unbeaten in both meetings with the Gunners, including a 1-2 away success as they won their opening five fixtures. Parker’s side also recorded the biggest home and away successes of any outfit, the former coming by four goals to nil over Bristol Academy in the Club’s first-ever BFAWSL fixture. 

That second-place finish was mirrored a year later as Parker’s team still only lost twice in the league, with Jodie Taylor falling just behind Kim Little in the race for the golden boot as Blues again chalked up the biggest home win.  

This did not mean the Club went without silverware, having lifted the FA Cup earlier in 2012. At the showpiece event, Taylor was one of three Blues players on target as they overcame Chelsea on penalties at Ashton Gate after pulling themselves level first in regulation and then in extra-time. Further honour was bestowed onto Blues when they were named Club of the Year, a decade on from their first triumph in this category. 

2013 delivered another top half placing, although the two previous league finishes had qualified Blues for the UEFA Women’s Champions League meaning attention understandably homed in on these historic occasions. Their first stab on the continent saw the team exit in the round-of-32 stage during the competition’s 2012-13 version, before returning to reach the semi-finals a year on. Knocking out league adversaries Arsenal along the way, Blues bowed out to Swedish outfit Tyresö FF in the last four. 

Despite this coming just weeks into the 2014 Super League effort, Blues were not hungover by such European disappointment and recorded a third-place league finish – missing out on further Champions League football by a single point. 

Continued progression and achievement saw Blues move onto pastures new as they switched the home of Stratford Town for that of Solihull Moors’ Damson Park ahead of the 2014 season. There were also memorable victories over Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City as Blues recorded an unmatched seven-game unbeaten run and the prestigious accolade of Manager of the Year for Parker.  

That term, local hero Carney, now the competitions all-time assist maker, led the league’s scoring charts and the following year she became the first women to be inducted into the Club’s Hall of Fame, adding to the honour of reaching a century of international caps. 

Then, in her final season of two spells representing her hometown team, Carney – named alongside Jo Potter in the PFA’s team of the year – was instrumental in preserving Blues’ ever-present status in the top flight. Her nerveless penalties towards the end of the campaign in a crunch meeting with Bristol City helped pull the team clear of the danger zone and to a sixth-place finish. 

Keen to avoid such scares 12 months on, Blues regrouped and finished fourth in 2016. However, football was cast into insignificance when the Club mourned the loss of former captain Steph Williams who passed after a fight with cancer at the age of just 35. 

Parker dedicated victory over Doncaster to Williams’ memory during what would prove to be the long-standing manager’s last season at the helm. He finished his tenure with a 1-7 win on the final day of the season away to Sunderland having joined the Club in 2009, been technical director at the Centre of Excellence when its future was secured, before guiding the club to three Continental Cup Finals, one FA Cup glory and consistent attainment in the league. 

Exciting developments followed as the team was fully integrated within Birmingham City Football Club and the Blues Family ahead of the 2017 Spring Series – a competition designed to ease the Super League’s transition from a Summer to Winter calendar. 

Marc Skinner, formerly Regional Talent Club Technical Director, was promoted to the role of Head Coach and amidst this interim edition of the competition, Blues competed in the 2017 FA Cup final after overcoming Chelsea on spot-kicks in the final four. Following a nomadic existence for the showpiece event, this was the third Women’s final to be played at Wembley Stadium. However, there was not to be a repeat of Blues’ 2012 display as they were beaten by Manchester City who added to their recent league crown. 

Gains were then made from the Spring Series performances as Blues finished fifth in the 2017-18 season before successfully meeting new licensing criteria to compete in the full-time, fully professional top tier. 

Lucy Staniforth, who would receive senior international recognition whilst at Blues, joined in the close season as Blues blossomed into one of the division’s most formidable opponents. The focal point of this was Ellen White who claimed a league-high 15 goals and was named in the PFA Team of the Year, along with Aoife Mannion and Ann-Katrin Berger. This came a year on from Jess Carter’s inclusion where she was also named PFA Young Player of the Year. 

There was significance beyond football for Berger who, in November, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer before making a full recovery to return for Blues in February. She would share the league’s end of season Players' Player of the Year award with Jill Scott. 

Blues started the following campaign with three consecutive victories and were fourth when Skinner moved to Orlando Pride. But his departure failed to derail the team and they maintained their league position under the guidance of Marta Tejedor. Her first game in charge delivered a dramatic 2-3 victory at Kingsmeadow, the last defeat Chelsea would suffer before embarking on a 33-game unbeaten run.

Subsequent performances in April saw the Spaniard named Manager of the Month before the season was concluded with the Men's and Women's player awards held together for the first time in the Club’s history at the ICC Birmingham.

After a challenging summer where many of their prized assets departed, Blues embarked on a season that would culminate like no other. Curtailed in May after being suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team had claimed three points off Bristol City and Liverpool which proved pivotal come the final reckoning when the standings were decided on a points-per-game basis.

And although not played to a finish, positives could be taken from the development of young and hungry players, none less than goalkeeper Hannah Hampton who remains firmly on the international radar. It was the final campaign of a 20-year association with Blues for Kerys Harrop, as the stalwart, who played in Blues’ opener with Bristol nine years previous, signed off from the Club after 135 Super League appearances. 

The subsequent off-season heralded a new era as former Sheffield United boss Carla Ward took up the reigns, leading Blues to within 90 minutes of the FA Cup final in September 2020. Further achievement was right around the corner: in the next month, gutsy and glorious away wins were picked up and Ward was deservedly named October’s Manager of the Month. 

History beckoned come November and Blues duly delivered, winning the first Second City derby played on the Barclays FA Women’s Super League stage thanks to Claudia Walker’s thumping effort. 

2021 has seen the team build on these victories by adding further points to their tally, putting them in control of their own destiny between now and the season’s conclusion. 

This comes amidst the excitement of a new and improved broadcast deal announced for the BFAWSL, along with plans for a long-term home for Blues to facilitate fixtures. 

Thank you to all the players and staff for their efforts over the past decade and to our supporters: thank you and Keep Right On

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