5 Smaller English Women's Clubs Who Enjoyed Surprise Periods of Success

15 June 2020 07:58

Over the past two decades, the women's game has traditionally reflected its male counterparts when it comes to teams who have enjoyed sustained success.


Arsenal dominated throughout the noughties, and they have since been joined at the top by Chelsea and Manchester City - with Liverpool chipping in with a couple of league titles in between.


However, occasionally some smaller fry will come along and mix it up with the traditional elite for a few seasons, throwing a spanner into the women's game's usual narrative.



Birmingham City (2011-2014)


Birmingham celebrate victory in the 2012 FA Cup final

Birmingham came oh-so-close to finally knocking Arsenal off their perch during the WSL's maiden season in 2011. Having led the title race for most of the campaign, the Blues finished second, losing just once in the league all season and missing out on top spot by three points.


It was a runners-up spot once more the following season, but Birmingham tasted success in the FA Cup with penalty shootout victory over Chelsea in the final. This was a really excellent Birmingham side, boasting the likes of Karen Carney, Jodie Taylor, Eni Aluko Jade Moore, Laura Bassett and Joe Potter - all of whom would represent England at the 2015 World Cup in Canada three years later.


The Blues could have won the 2014 WSL title, but slipped up on the final day of the season against Notts County.


However, arguably their greatest achievement had come six months earlier, when they reached the Champions League semi-finals with victory over Arsenal in the last eight.



Bristol City (2011-2013)


Spanish international Laura del Rio

Bristol City (then Bristol Academy) were one of the founding members of the WSL in 2011, and really came into their own during the league's early years.


Under future England boss Mark Sampson, Bristol reached the FA Cup final twice in the space of three years - only to be beaten by Arsenal on both occasions.


However, it was in the league in 2013 where they particularly shone, thanks to exciting Spanish duo Natalia and Laura del Rio.


Bristol faced Liverpool on the final day of the season, knowing victory would secure the WSL title - anything else and their opponents would be crowned league champions. Bristol lost 2-0, but still secured Champions League football - ahead of Arsenal - for the first time in their history.



Charlton Athletic (2003-2007)


2005 FA Cup hero Eni Aluko

Charlton controversially took over the hugely successful Croydon FC in 2000. With the emergence of Arsenal as the women's game's dominant force, Charlton were not able to hoover up silverware at the same rate that Croydon had, but still enjoyed a successful handful of seasons before being hit by financial woes.


The Addicks were beaten finalists in the FA Cup 2003 and 2004, and finished runners-up in the league during the 2003/04 and 2004/05 seasons. Arguably their finest hour was overcoming Everton in the 2005 FA Cup final thanks to a goal from a teenage Eni Aluko.


Alongside Aluko, England international Casey Stoney and Katie Chapman also featured for Charlton during their glory years, but when the men's side were relegated in 2007, the club proposed slashing the women's team as part of their necessary budget cuts.


Although the team was eventually saved, and the majority of their squad had already moved on to pastures new.



Fulham (2000-2004)


Katie Chapman and Rachel Yankee celebrate FA victory with Fulham

For a few brief seasons, Fulham were real trailblazers in the women's game. Owner Mohamed Al-Fayed had been inspired by a trip to the USA and decided to pump money into the women's team.


The Cottagers made the unprecedented step of becoming professional in 2000 (pre Bend It Like Beckham). They were the first women's side in the country to do so - the WSL was not even a fully professional league until 2018!


Fulham's financial muscle enabled them to attract England internationals Katie Chapman and Rachel Yankey, in addition to Norwegian international Marianne Pettersen. Even in the early years of the WSL, foreign signings were still a real rarity.


When Al-Fayed started investing in the women's set up, Fulham were still in the South East Women's Combination League. They were a fully professional side effectively playing against Sunday league teams. Magical.


Fulham won the FA Cup in 2002, and completed the treble the following season. However, they reverted back to semi-pro status at the end of the season, and in 2006 the team was sadly disbanded.



Millwall (1991-1997)


Millwall Lionesses win the 1997 FA Cup final

Although Millwall were never able to sustain a serious title challenge, the Lionesses enjoyed substantial FA Cup success, and produced a selection of England internationals in the process.


Millwall won the FA Cup in 1991 for the first time in their history with a 1-0 victory over Doncaster Belles - winners of five of the last 10 women's FA Cups. The Lionesses won the competition for a second time in 1997, with England international Lou Waller scoring the winner.


Future England manager Hope Powell was a product of the Millwall youth system and was a part of their 1991 triumph, while Katie Chapman also came through the academy, making her first team debut as a 14-year-old.



Source: 90min