Scottish Women’s Football (SWF) have confirmed a number of changes to the structure of the girls’ and women’s game ahead of the 2020 season and beyond.
These changes come after a review of the competition structure via a club survey at the end of 2018 and a further six month consultation period with SWF’s member clubs during 2019 which led to the proposal passing unanimously at an EGM on Monday 16th September.
The changes will impact the whole of the game but the biggest aspect of the proposal will see a separation of the ‘Performance’ and ‘Recreational’ parts of the game.
The senior performance arm will consist of the Scottish Women’s Premier League (SWPL) One, which will remain an eight team league, SWPL 2, which will become a 10 team league and the newly formed Championship which will sit below the SWPL 2 and comprise 2 x regional leagues
As with the SWPL, teams will need apply to participate in the Championship and meet relevant criteria. It’s expected there will be two Championship leagues (North and South) with approximately 12 teams in each league.
Automatic promotion and relegation spots will remain the same in all performance divisions. This means the bottom placed team is automatically relegated from SWPL 1 with the winner of SWPL 2 automatically promoted. The two bottom sides in SWPL 2 will be automatically relegated with from the champions of each Championship league gaining automatic promotion to SWPL 2.
Additional to automatic promotion and relegation is the introduction of new play-off matches. This will mean that the seventh placed side in SWPL 1 will play the second placed side in SWPL 2 in a one-legged play-off match. The sides finishing second in both Championship leagues will face-off against each other for the chance to play the side that finished eighth in SWPL 2.
SWF Executive Officer, Fiona McIntyre, said: “In 2016, our competitions underwent a significant restructure which has been hugely positive for the game. However, the game has substantially developed in recent years and continues to advance, meaning we need to continually evaluate and review our structures to ensure they provide the optimal platform and pathways for player and clubs of all levels to develop.
“The biggest area of feedback from our members was the need to recognise and split the ‘Performance’ and ‘Recreational’ parts of our game. We’ve successfully done this in our youth game in recent years with the introduction of National Performance Leagues and seen the positive impact at both national and regional level. Our elite youth players are playing in a performance environment every week, aiding their development, whilst our regional game is thriving with a growth in player numbers and a reduction in players ‘dropping out’ from this part of the game
“One of the most exciting developments within the revised structure is the introduction of promotion and relegation play-offs. As the game has progressed, the quality at all levels of the game has increased. We therefore think it’s a suitable time to introduce these play-offs and give teams more opportunity to earn promotion. We also believe this will add further excitement and exposure for the whole game at the end of each season.”
The Scottish Women’s Football League will continue in 2020 and beyond but will now sit outside of the ‘Performance’ part of the game and the national pyramid. The SWFL will focus on providing regular, competitive football with a recreational-centred philosophy.
The leagues will involve no promotion and relegation, no obligation to enter the Scottish Cup, and the relaxation of rules to possibly include rolling substitutes and the option for games to be played at neutral mid-way venues.
“We have pilotted a more recreational league already this year with the introduction of the Highlands & Islands League” added McIntyre. “This has been extremely successful, providing access to football for women on a regular basis with increased flexibility in a number of areas to encourage participation.
“By rolling this out across Scotland, we are very excited to be providing an opportunity for all women, regardless of ability, to play football. The key aim of the SWFL will be to provide regular access to regional football for all within a more relaxed format than the current pyramid structure and governance model
There will also be changes to the SWPL Cup. This formerly involved a seeded 1st Round, with SWPL 1 sides guaranteed to face an SWPL 2 side, before open draws for the remaining rounds.
As of 2020, the teams finishing 1st and 2nd in SWPL 1 in the previous season will get an automatic bye to the Quarter-Final of next year’s SWPL Cup. The remaining 16 SWPL sides will be entered into seeded groups of four.
The teams finishing 1st in their group and the top two best placed 2nd placed sides will then enter an unseeded Quarter-Final draw. All other sides, bar the two worst placed bottom sides at the group stage, will go on to enter the newly created SWPL Plate competition.
“This is a significant and exciting change to one of SWF’s biggest competitions” added McIntyre. The fact half of competing teams currently only get one game is not good for the development of the game or the competition itself. The new structure will mean teams can expect at least three games and more likely four or more with the introduction of the plate, which provides an opportunity for teams to win silver wear.”
“We hope that the new structure of the SWPL Cup will also provide extra motivation to finish in the top two of SWPL 1, with a place in the Quarter-Final guaranteed for these teams.