Rich Laverty’s first Offside Rule column looks at what promises to be a bright year in the WSL and reflects on a career that began on this very website.
They say things come full circle. I started working with The Offside Rule back in 2013 as a bright-eyed and bushy tailed student about to graduate university.
It was a small team but one which grew into what it has become today, part of The Athletic’s network of podcasts.
For me, to run the website for several years and work with aspiring editors and writers was a privilege, but it was The Offside Rule which largely kick-started the career I have now in the women’s game.
I’ve seen people I worked with voluntarily go on and work for Premier League Productions, The Guardian, Goal.com and other large companies, a few of which I shared an experience with at the Women’s World Cup in 2019.
I’ve largely now worked within the women’s game since I became part of The Offside Rule team almost eight years ago, have covered a World Cup, a Euros, several FA Cup finals at Wembley, major league games and interviewed dozens of the very best footballers the women’s game has to offer.
I’m delighted to be back working with a production which offered me so much and while I’ve grown into a regular writer within the women’s game, as well as a media officer for Sheffield United Women, The Offside Rule’s growth itself is testament to not just Kait and Lynsey, but to all of us who gave so much effort during its early days to grow various different areas of the company.
I’d briefly had experience of the women’s game around the start of the FA WSL era in 2011 while still at university. I worked closely with Leeds United on a project and watched players such as Millie Bright, Amy Turner, Leah Galton and more live, almost a decade ago, before they became such household names.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to stay in the women’s game, but it never felt like there was an opportunity. TV games were limited, there was very little media coverage, but The Offside Rule showed a real commitment to its coverage alongside promoting women in the media.
Through a partnership at the time with long-term women’s game sponsors Continental, we created a magazine ahead of the generation-defining 2015 Women’s World Cup, the access we were granted was the spark for me to pursue further opportunities in the sport.
Five years on, I’ve been to a World Cup in France, with articles published in the Mirror, Independent and Bleacher Report.
I was in the Netherlands for Euro 2017 and Mark Sampson’s last press conference before he was sacked and I was in Phil Neville’s first just months later.
I’ve reported on more than 200 women’s games, including a Champions League final, a World Cup final, major league games and Wembley cup finals.
I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with Ada Hegerberg, Julie Ertz, Pernille Harder, Vivianne Miedema, Steph Houghton and many others, all thanks to the platform The Offside Rule first offered me.
In 2016, I created the first ever Top 100 Female Footballers of the Year list, which we published on our own website for two years, before The Guardian approached us in 2018 to merge. This year will be our third year collaborating with a major national newspaper.
There has never been a more exciting time to cover the women’s game. While the COVID-19 pandemic has put a dampener on things, the opportunities it has offered the FA WSL in particular is something we couldn’t have imagined back in January.
Top players such as Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Christen Press, Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis, Pernille Harder and Jessie Fleming are all playing in our league, our country.
With Team GB heading to the Tokyo Olympics, a home European Championships still on the horizon and Sarina Wiegman set to take over the England national team, covering women’s football has never been more exciting when you think of what is to come.
The weekend’s action offered a first glimpse of what we look to be set to enjoy this season. Mewis, over the course of the week, has shown the quality she is going to offer Gareth Taylor’s Man City, while both Heath and Press made their Manchester United debuts.
The top young players continue to thrive too. Alessia Russo scored her first senior goal for Casey Stoney’s side and her future is as big as she wants it to be.
In the Championship, a league I have become overly familiar with working with Sheffield United, things are as competitiveness as pre-season promised.
Three games so far between the established top four have ended in draws, and any one of those sides look as likely as the next to put forward a promotion challenge, but the fact three will miss out is a huge shame and the FA should look closely at expanding the FA WSL in the next year or two.
Now coming back and finishing off that circle, I’ll be offering opinion and insight on the women’s game on a weekly basis, using my knowledge and experience of the sport to discuss the most interesting aspects of the women’s game.
Follow Rich on Twitter @RichJLaverty