Crystal Palace Women: A football club rapidly on the rise

Crystal Palace’s journey to the WSL has been one born out of ambition, affinity, deliberate planning and, like most footballing stories, a little bit of luck.

The Eagles were one of the founding members of the rebranded Women’s Championship in 2018. Their original application to enter the league was rejected as they failed to be granted a licence for the newly restructured second tier.

The south London club were just an amateur outfit at the time, relying on players to pay subscription fees. Controversy surrounding the team’s financial situation also prompted former Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha to make a make a substantial donation to support them.

Now, fast-forward six years, Crystal Palace have been promoted to the 2024/25 WSL for the first time. But how have they done it?

Women's Championship

From ‘Ladies’ to ‘Crystal Palace Football Club’

In 2019, Crystal Palace announced that the club would be changing their name from “Ladies” to begin the 2019/20 Championship campaign as “Crystal Palace FC”. While trivial, this highlighted a change in mentality from the club.

Housing both the men and women’s side under the same name showed they were considered under one club with one vision. Moving away from ‘Ladies’ also acknowledged an ever-evolving women’s game that had seen Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal do the same.

This signalled the beginnings of a new era for women’s football in south London and its growing importance within Palace’s internal sporting structure.

Crystal Palace won the Championship title and will play in the WSL next season
Crystal Palace won the Championship title and will play in the WSL next season

Footballing restructure

The Eagles followed up their first three years in the Women’s Championship with back-to-back top five finishes. But it was in the summer of 2023 – less than 12 months ago – that Crystal Palace’s future vision for the women’s team began to take real shape.

They firstly made their biggest signal of intent of progression by announcing a head of women’s football, Grace Williams.

The club would later announce a change of stadia. Since 2014, the women’s team played their home matches at Hayes Lane, the home of National League side, Bromley. In July 2023, Crystal Palace announced an agreement to play their home games at the VBS Community Stadium, which is also used by Sutton United.

Crystal Palace Women moved to the VBS Community Stadium last summer
Crystal Palace Women moved to the VBS Community Stadium last summer

A 30-minute drive from Selhurst Park, a move to Sutton meant Crystal Palace were still local to the area. The main reasoning behind the relocation, however, was because of the WSL’s grass pitch requirement, further highlighting a commitment to the growth of the football club.

Further to the appointment of Williams and a move to the VBS, Crystal Palace’s restructuring was catalysed by the appointment of a new progressive coach in Laura Kaminski. It was her first managerial role, following assistant stints at Charlton, Spurs and five years with the FA coaching England’s U19 team.

Kaminski’s experience – even without a head coach role on her CV – made her a standout candidate. During her time with Tottenham, she played a key role in their first-ever promotion to the WSL in 2019. She has received compliments for her firm but approachable style of management that captures the spirit of Crystal Palace.

And Kaminski’s approach has been a huge contributing factor to the Eagles’ success this season.

Crystal Palace goalkeeper Fran Kitching lifts the Women's Championship title
Crystal Palace goalkeeper Fran Kitching lifts the Women’s Championship title

Crystal Palace have been a side transformed. They finished the 2022/23 campaign among the teams with the worst defensive record in the Championship. This season, only three teams have kept out more goals

But it is in attack where Kaminski’s side have excelled – Palace finish the season as the overwhelming top scorers in the Championship finding the net 55 times. That is 16 more goals than the next closest team, Southampton.

The attractive football on display kept fans coming too as they continued to break their own records for attendances. In March, Crystal Palace welcomed 5,566 fans to the VBS – their highest attendance at that time.

That was broken again on the final day of the season when their 0-0 draw against Sunderland – played at Selhurst Park – saw 6,796 spectators watch them lift the Championship title.

Players that inspire

Crystal Palace’s playing squad have an average age of 22-years-old, making them one of the youngest sides in the Championship. Their youth brings an enthusiasm displayed on the pitch, which is reciprocated by the fans, and all tied together by captain Aimee Everett.

Everett, 22, joined Palace in 2021, and has previously been promoted to the WSL with Liverpool and Leicester. She won Player of the Season in her debut campaign, before being named captain in 2023, leading Crystal Palace into their new era.

Naturally a midfielder, Everett has played a vital role at centre-back. Tasked with breaking lines with passes out of the back, Everett’s composure in possession allows her to start attacks from deeper positions and contributing to Kaminski’s forward-thinking approach.

Crystal Palace's Aimee Everett during the Adobe WFA Cup fifth round match at Kingsmeadow, London. Picture date: Sunday February 11, 2024.
Crystal Palace captain Aimee Everett has spearheaded her team to promotion

Everett’s teammate – Annabel Blanchard – had a similar journey, also representing Liverpool, Leicester, Blackburn and England at youth level.

Blanchard wears the number 10 for Crystal Palace and lives up to the number in every sense. Her game revolves around creating chances, but also contributing to goals in a huge way. The midfielder found the net 11 times and set up seven goals to help her side gain promotion this season. No player contributed to more goals than the 22-year-old.

Blanchard has not only gained plaudits for the number of goals she has scored, but for the quality of her finishes. She netted two hat-tricks during the campaign, one of them coming in Crystal Palace’s record breaking 9-1 win against Durham.

In that game, she scored a perfect hat-trick. with the first of the three earning her goal of the month for a thundering strike on her left foot.

Crystal Palace's Shanade Hopcroft (left) and Crystal Palace's Annabel Blanchard warm up ahead of the Adobe WFA Cup fifth round match at Kingsmeadow, London. Picture date: Sunday February 11, 2024.
Annabel Blanchard (right) has been key to Crystal Palace’s success this season

Whether it be games at the VBS or fixtures at Selhurst Park, you don’t have to look too far to see young fans sporting a ‘Blanchard 10’ shirt, inspired, wanting to see more of the player who quickly established herself as a fan favourite.

But Blanchard has not carried the burden alone – Elise Hughes has also been key in Crystal Palace’s success.

The 23-year-old started at Everton as a defender before transitioning to a No9. She also played with Blanchard while on loan at Blackburn in the 2020/21 season.

The Wales international has shown a lethal edge in front of goal to help her side win the Championship. She sustained an ACL injury in Crystal Palace’s penultimate game of the season, but nevertheless ended the campaign as the Golden Boot winner with 16 goals.

Hughes has been a key beneficiary of the expansive football that Crystal Palace have adopted. One of her most notable performances came in that historic Durham win where she scored four times.

Hughes’ relationship with the likes of Blanchard and fellow forward Molly Mae-Sharpe ensures she can remain a focal point for those around her, while still receiving the ball to do what she does best – finding the back of the net.

Women's Championship

An exciting addition to WSL

Crystal Palace may have begun their Championship campaign hoping to match their previous back-to-back top five finishes, but their promotion is no accident.

They are a side progressing in an enthusing way, benefitting from thorough planning from the club’s hierarchy and staunch fans support.

Everyone involved at the football club will hope their promotion can be the start of the Eagles rise in England’s women’s football pyramid.

Sky Sports secures broadcast deal for 2024/25

Sky Sports will show up to 44 Women’s Super League matches in the 2024/25 season – more than any other broadcaster – extending the partnership with the league.

Sky Sports first secured the rights to the WSL in 2021, signing a three-year deal alongside the BBC, and has now renewed terms for next season.

The games will be available to Sky Sports customers and streamed on Sky Sports with NOW.

Since 2021, viewing on pay TV has increased four-fold. Each season on Sky Sports, fans have watched in record-breaking numbers, with the Manchester derby on March 23, 2024 achieving a peak audience of nearly 600,000 and an average audience of 485,000.

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