“Maybe it was written in the stars.”
That was how manager Matt Beard reflected on Liverpool’s promotion back to the Women’s Super League – eight years after he led them to back-to-back titles in the top flight.
They wrapped up the Women’s Championship title on Sunday with a 4-2 win over Bristol City in front of a league-record 5,752 crowd who created a carnival atmosphere at Ashton Gate.
It felt like a pivotal moment in the club’s illustrious history because it marked a return to England’s elite after several years of turbulence on and off the pitch.
Liverpool’s women’s team were relegated on a points-per-game basis in 2020 because of Covid-19 – in the same season their men’s team won the Premier League.
There was criticism over a lack of investment, scrutiny of poor facilities and, even when Beard returned to the club last summer, there was player unrest.
Having failed to secure promotion back to the WSL at the first time of asking, the pressure was on Beard and his staff to deliver. When that moment finally came on Sunday, there was an outpouring of emotion from fans, players and staff.
“You can see the atmosphere over there,” said Beard, as he stood pitchside drenched in water after an ice bucket had been thrown over him during celebrations.
“That’s what it is like day-in, day-out. The players work hard. All the staff work incredibly hard. They deserve it.
“Everyone thought Liverpool would go straight back up [to the WSL] but nobody has a divine right to be anywhere. You have to earn the right and we have this year.”
‘We have had our tough times’
Liverpool won the league with two games remaining and a 14-point lead over second-placed Bristol City having only lost once all season.
But it was not all plain sailing.
The team had to come together to deal with the personal tragedy of the death of assistant Paul McHugh’s parents and a serious injury to goalkeeper Rylee Foster after a life-threatening car accident.
However, Beard’s introduction of a “family-like culture”, changes to boardroom staff – including the arrival of women’s team director Russ Fraser – and increased investment in resources and facilities, have all helped Liverpool’s push for promotion.
“Liverpool is a huge club. We have had our tough times in recent years. The fans have stuck with us,” said captain Niamh Fahey.
“We have restructured and different things have come in to help us be competitive and get back up there. We’re looking forward to competing in the top league again.
“To be celebrating and have some positivity around us is a welcome feeling for sure. It’s a testament to the whole squad. We’ve had each other’s backs the whole way.”
Beard said the club have already been planning for a future in the WSL and there are targets in place for the next five years.
“We’ve been working behind the scenes all along but until it was done, it could only be talk,” he added.
“Now we can really work on plans for next year. We need to consolidate ourselves in the WSL first and foremost. We need to be competitive.
“It’s not an easy league to go back into but we have a great group of people here. There will be changes in the summer too and our aim and ambition is to be sensible then progress each year.”
‘We’re 100% ready for the WSL’
Liverpool will return to Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park on 24 April to collect the WSL trophy after their match against Sheffield United.
Republic of Ireland striker Leanne Kiernan is expecting about 40 family members to fly over for the celebrations.
“[Bristol City] is the one game my family haven’t been to I think!” she said.
When Fahey lifts the trophy in front of Liverpool’s home fans at the end of the month, Kiernan said it will be “an incredible feeling” after the relief that came with their victory over Bristol City.
“Now we can relax. We can switch off a bit in the international break and come back to a massive home crowd hopefully,” she added.
“We came here with a mission to get promoted and we’ve done it. We’re really relieved and we’re ready. We’re 100% ready for the WSL.”
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