Steps, levels, tiers, divisions, the football pyramid can be a confusing system to navigate, so we’re here to explain just how it works and more importantly how our Berkshire teams fit in.
For the clubs and teams of women and girls, it is most commonly referred to as the Women’s Football Pyramid, but this can be interchangeable with the term National League System. The current system was created back in the season of 1991/92 by the Women’s Football Association, known then as the Women’s National League divisions.
The Football Association (FA) took over operations in the 1994/95 season and the top division was renamed the FA Women’s Premier League National Division, until 2009/10 and in the following season the Women’s Super League 1 (WSL) became the top flight division in women’s football. From 2011 to 2013, there was no promotion or relegation system in place and the WPL National Division was replaced by the FA WSL 2, with licenses awarded to 10 teams.
Whilst all this change took place at the top of the pyramid, the Women’s Premier League continued to run concurrently from 1991, before being renamed the FA Women’s National League (FAWNL) in 2018. A point of note from 2014 when, for the first time, a National League team could earn promotion to the WSL 2. This would be the first step to creating a whole pyramid system linking all the leagues together. As with the FAWNL, a restructure and name change came for the FA WSL 2 as it was now referred to as the Women’s Championship, this was in an effort to streamline the women’s game with the men’s system.
Regional Premier Divisions, Regional Division Ones and County Leagues have typically remained unchanged throughout their existence. Perhaps, one thing of curious interest is the fact that between the years 2011 and 2016, the WSL was played through the summer, from March until October, instead of the traditional winter season. The National Women’s Soccer League in America operates on this premise.
The pyramid is comprised of seven tiers, Tier 1 being the top and Tier 7 the bottom, the teams of our county are served by the Berks & Bucks County FA.
Tier 1 consists of just one league, the Women’s Super League, becoming fully professional during the 2017/18 season with 12 teams competing. Teams were required to re-apply for licenses to qualify as professional and meet strict criteria to do so, including offering their players a minimum 16-hour a week contract and forming a youth academy. In 2019, Barclays announced they were to become title partner of the WSL, which was deemed the biggest brand investment ever in women’s sport in the UK.
The first of our Berkshire teams to feature in the pyramid is Reading FC Women, who won promotion from the WSL 2 (Championship) to the WSL 1 (WSL) in 2015. Reading continue to compete for a top-half place in the table and made some unexpected but revered signings in the summer signing window of 2020.
Tier 2 also known as the Women’s Championship with 11 teams competing for promotion to the WSL. At present, there are no Berkshire teams competing in the Championship. Fran Kirby was still a Royal during Reading’s 2014 promotion campaign nabbing top-goalscorer status with 24 to her name, but this wasn’t enough for them to secure the top spot.
Tier 3 consists of the top two divisions under the branch of the Women’s National League, the Premier Division and the Southern Premier Division with 24 teams competing across the two. A number of the teams in these divisions have top flight men’s equivalent teams, for example Burnley and West Bromwich Albion. As with the Championship, there are currently no teams competing in either of these divisions of the FAWNL.
Maidenhead United Women are our only Berkshire team competing in Tier 4 in Division One South West, one of four divisions in this tier of the Women’s National League. Division One South, Division One Midlands and Division One North make up the rest of the regional level. Each division consists of 12 teams, except the South West after the disbanding of Southampton Saints in 2019.
Maidenhead has been in existence for 13 years, formerly known as Burnham LFC, they gained promotion to the FAWNL in the 2014/15 season after winning an impressive 17 out of 18 league games with a 14 point lead at the top of the table. 2013/14 saw Newbury crowned champions of Division One South with Rachel Panting, who now plays for Southampton FC. Whilst, Woodley won the Southern Region Women’s Football League Division One North in April 2018. Both now play in the tier below.
The first tier to host more than one of our Berkshire teams, Tier 5 is home to the Regional Premier Divisions, with a total of 8 divisions, the North West, North East, West Midlands, East Midlands, Southern Region Women’s Football League Premier Division, South West Regional, Eastern & London and the South East. The league was established in 1990 but it would be over a decade before we’d see any of our current divisions teams formed, Ascot United Ladies (2005), Newbury Ladies (2003) and Woodley United Ladies (2011).
Another tier with just one Berkshire team, Tilehurst Panthers find themselves in Tier 6 of the Pyramid in the Regional Division Ones. There are two divisions competing in this tier, the Division One South and Division One North, of which Tilehurst compete in the former.
And the final tier to complete our Women’s Football Pyramid, is Tier 7 where the majority of our Berkshire women’s teams compete, twenty to be precise. This league is referred to as the Thames Valley Counties Women’s Football League and you will find a Berkshire team in six of the seven divisions. The league was established back in 2002 works on a system of three promotion and relegation movements. Division One hosts eleven teams, including Caversham AFC Ladies, Eversley & California Ladies, Tilehurst Panthers Women Development, Wargrave Women and Wokingham & Emmbrook Ladies. Whilst just Holyport FC Ladies occupy Division Two. Division Three is split four ways regionally with the West being added just this season to accomodate the ever expanding number of women’s teams in the Berkshire and Buckinghamshire area. There are however no Berkshire teams in the West division nor the North.
Division Three East consists of Ascot United Ladies Reserves and Slough Town Ladies. The most abundant of our divisions is the Division Three South who accommodates eight Berkshire sides in Caversham AFC Women, Mortimer Ladies, Newbury Ladies Development, S4K FC Berks County Ladies, Slough Town Rebels, Taplow United Ladies, Thatcham & Newbury Ladies First, Wargrave Womens Reserves. The league also sustains a Development Division of which there are four Berkshire clubs, AFC Henley Ladies, Shinfield Rangers Women, Thatcham Town Ladies, Wraysbury Village Ladies competing in.
The TVCWFL is completed with two U18 divisions, a North and South with 15 teams competing. Maidenhead Boys & Girls U18 and Maidenhead United U17 Ravens can be found in the Northern Division. Whilst, Berks County U18 Girls, Caversham AFC U18, Sandhurst Town U17 Rockets, Tilehurst Panthers U18 Women, Wargrave Girls FC U18, Winnersh Rangers U17 Stingers and Wokingham & Emmbrook U18 all compete in the the Southern equivalent.
Each league and division, bar the youth divisions of the TVCWFL, feeds directly into the one below or above to centralise promotion and relegation. There are a number of cup competitions that run nationally and regionally too, but that’s for another post! If you want to find out some more in depth history on women’s football in Berkshire, we’ve got just the read for you here.