The Community Shield returns to the women’s game for the first time in 12 years on Saturday, reimagined as the first act of a double-header at Wembley four hours before the men’s event and marking the return of domestic women’s football after lockdown.
As Chelsea’s manager, Emma Hayes, prepared her team for the revival of their rivalry with Manchester City, she hailed the influx of top international players from the US to England, and to her opponents, as a “dream scenario”.
“Yeah, wow,” said Hayes when asked about Manchester City’s signings. “They spent a tremendous amount of money, bringing in some unbelievable players.
“I’m sure their fanbase will expect really big things from them and that’s understandable because they are already a very good team that have now improved what they’re doing to an even higher level.”
Those hoping to make their debuts for Manchester City on Saturday include the US World Cup winners Rose Lavelle and Samantha Mewis. Elsewhere, Arsenal have enlisted the talents of the Australians Steph Cately, Caitlin Foord and Lydia Williams. Chelsea set the tone in November with their purchase of the Australia forward Sam Kerr. Rather than any one side breaking through, Hayes believes that the teams are pushing each other to new levels.
“I expect that the competition between us will not change – it’s always neck-and-neck and I’m just so excited to see all this top talent come to the UK,” said Hayes. “It will improve all of our players and games will be even closer because of the quality on show. This is what I wanted for the league. This is, for me, a dream scenario.”
Such a distinguished return – the two best teams in England broadcast on BBC One from Wembley – presents a significant moment for the women’s game after a summer of unease about the effect of coronavirus on women’s sports. Although Hayes is against double headers in normal times with crowds, she noted the strong decision-making of the FA and she expects it to become a regular fixture.
“To think that [the Community Shield] hasn’t been in place seems very strange, but to bring it back at a time when people least expect it, I think is a great move because if we have the competition on the men’s side, we should have it on the women’s side,” said Hayes. “The fact that we’re both playing on the same day with no fans is a really great idea and one of the benefits of broadcasting differently during Covid and one where we can maximise interest in the women’s game and start the season as we mean to go on.”
The rivalry between Chelsea and Manchester City was already the biggest in the league and it will resume bolstered by recent events. The 2019-20 Women’s Super League was decided by the virus as an unbeaten Chelsea were awarded the title league by 0.1 points per game, an outcome that left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Manchester City players.
“It’s a bit weird when you see that number,” said Steph Houghton. “For us as a team it was hard to take but, at the same time, it’s probably given us a bit more motivation for this season coming. The main thing was everyone was fit and healthy over the Covid pandemic. But it’s more about us being extra motivated to hopefully finish top at the end of this season.”
The rivalry was intense enough last season as Chelsea won their home game in November 2-1, then the final matchday before the pandemic brought a delirious 3-3 draw in February. Although the intensity may rise, cordiality will endure.
“We don’t hate Chelsea,” said City’s Georgia Stanway. “We know a lot of them internationally so we get on. We’re women, we love spending time with each other and love football. It’s exciting that they’ve signed as many new players as we have.”