Western United have launched a bold push towards W-League representation, formally lodging an application with FFA to compete in the competition from 2022 and sealing a partnership with local NPLW power Calder United to immediately provide the club with a full junior girls setup.
Announced on Friday, the two clubs' shared vision foresees a Western W-League side being the final destination of the already established pathway at Calder - a women and girl’s club in Melbourne’s west that features sides from Miniroos to a senior NPLW team.
While several other W-League sides already feature teams competing in junior NPLW competitions, Western’s proposed setup would be the first in the country to provide a pathway from Miniroos to the W-League all under the same banner.
“Calder is looking forward to being able to continue with the development of female footballers while working closely with Western United to build a platform for the successful transition of players through mini Roos, NPLW and the W-League,” Calder United President Amanda Stella said.
“Both clubs will continue to work with Football Victoria and Football Federation Australia in ensuring our partnership delivers the ultimate goal of creating and developing female footballers in Victoria."
With the demographics of the W-League shifting and a recently completed FFA study highlighting the gap in girls' development below the Matildas, the move would provide a Western W-League club with near year-round access to their players for monitoring and training purposes.
The move would provide a potential developmental leg up, which Western CEO Chris Pehlivanis told The World Game was an important consideration in the move to partner with Calder.
“We’re excited by the pathway, the ability to work with girls from the age of five to seniors,” he said. “And then the ability to help turn these girls that are operating under one coach's supervision each week and then hopefully transition into the junior Matildas and even Matildas.
“That’s what’s exciting for both us and Calder. This is more than one W-League team. We’re building our whole women’s pathway.”
Western intends for its future W-League side to be based out of the recently announced training facility to be built next to its promised boutique stadium in Wyndham - which the club says is on track for delivery by the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup - as part of a one-club approach.
With that venue planned to feature a pitch with a 5000-person stand, it would also be suitable for hosting W-League matches should the main stadium be unavailable.
“Firstly, the ability to work with an existing program and not re-invent the wheel [was important], Pehlivanis said.
“The second part was the ability to not be seen as competition to the existing pathways in clubs - we’d rather work with an existing club to enhance what they’re already doing.
“We’ve got to be careful we don’t just go in and steal all the best girls because we created something.
"Our vision was always to create the pathway, and now we can work with existing community clubs to help grow participation.
“This is massive for the club, it’s one of our biggest ever moves.”
Established in 2016 to compete in the first-ever iteration of the NPLW Victoria competition, Calder quickly established themselves as one of the most professional and dominant sides in the league, most recently completing a quadruple of Community Shield, Nike FC Cup, Premiership and Championship in 2019.
That trophy-laden season saw Calder win 24 of their 27 regular-season games while scoring 133 goals and conceding just 23 times - good for a goal difference of +110.
Though the 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID, they were able to add another Community Shield to their cabinet before it’s cancellation; defeating 2019 Grand FInalists FC Bulleen Lions 5-0 at City Vista Reserve - the home of their new partners Western.
“The opportunity this gives for more girls to have pathways into the W-League is so important,” Calder United’s senior head coach Mark Torcaso told The World Game.
“We’ve never had this many opportunities [with W-League demographics changing] and there’s another opportunity - another pathway now for young girls.
“Right from the bottom up, they can have one existing structure that can feed them into a W-League system.
"They’ve got the right progression, from a community aspect, into an NPL aspect, into a W-League aspect - which is unique, I don’t think anyone in Australia has got this.”
Torcaso, who has already met with Western coach Mark Rudan on a number of occasions as part of the two clubs' integration process, said that year-round consistency for players that were with both Western’s W-League and NPLW side would be a boon to their development.
"The fact that you’re able to have one consistent message that goes right from the start of the season, into the off-season and into another pre-season, you’re giving the same messages and there’s one consistent theme,” he said.
“I think that sometimes in the past, players come back, rightly so being in different W-League environments, and they’re getting different messages from different coaches and they’ve got to readjust yet again.
“With this situation, you’re allowing one consistent message right through the different environments. You’re getting players in there training year-round the way you want them to train - one consistent message. That’s 100 percent better for their development."
Due to Football Victoria licensing requirements, the club will compete under the Calder United banner during the 2021 NPLW Victoria season, but it is understood it’s the intention of the two parties for the partnership to come under the same 'Western United' identity from 2022.
Even if that doesn’t happen, however, the partnership will continue.
While the Western and Calder accords bode well for girls pathways, particularly girls from Melbourne’s west, it also throws down the gauntlet to Western’s local rivals.
Both Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory have heavily tapped into Calder’s strong ranks to build their sides in recent years, with Tokyo 2020 hopeful Angie Beard perhaps the most notable player to pull on a Calder shirt.
The ability for those players to now reside in a single setup year-round while maintaining a W-League presence will present difficulties in City and Victory’s attempts to keep them.
Despite both clubs in the past having explored the possibility of launching their own sides previously, resistance from within the existing Victorian ecosystem means that neither City nor Victory has sides for women and girls below their W-League teams.