Football

Crystal Palace promoted to Women’s Super League for first time: How they did it and what comes next

Crystal Palace secured promotion to the Women’s Super League after an exciting Women’s Championship title race, but they must now ensure they can build on this success.

A record 6,796 fans flocked to Selhurst Park to see Palace Women lift the trophy on Sunday, and they will hope to build on this momentum as they embark upon their WSL journey.

The Eagles will be hoping to avoid the fate of Bristol City who were in their position this time last year, with the Robins relegated back down to the Championship after just one win all season. Here’s how Palace did it and the challenges they face to avoid the same fate as Bristol City…

How did Crystal Palace secure promotion?

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With only one promotion spot to the WSL available, Palace had to make sure they won the Women’s Championship, which was no easy feat.

After back-to-back top-five finishes in the 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons, the Eagles fought hard to beat second place Charlton and third place Sunderland to the top spot this year thanks to a number of positive changes.

Palace hired their first head of women’s football, Grace Williams, last May, demonstrating their intent to grow their women’s team.

Two months later, they appointed a new head coach, putting their faith in Laura Kaminski, whose previous 15-year career had only extended to assistant head coach roles.

The move proved inspired as she brought together the staff and players to achieve promotion to the top flight, something that Palace Women had not achieved in their 32-year history.

Their summer signings of attacking midfielder Shanade Hopcroft and centre-back Hayley Nolan also proved vital to Palace’s season, as they cemented themselves as regular starters.

Palace played most of their home games this season at the VBS Community Stadium, Sutton United’s home ground, having moved from Hayes Lane.

This higher quality and real grass pitch helped them produce a better standard of football and it is these small gains that sets a team apart from its competitors, especially within the women’s game.

Palace finished the campaign as top scorers in the Championship, scoring 55 goals, 16 more than any other team and averaging 2.5 goals per game.

This impressive attacking force was led by reliable striker and Golden Boot winner Elise Hughes, whose partnership with Annabel Blanchard made up a big part of their promotion, scoring 27 goals between them.

Hughes’ 16-goal season ended with a devastating ACL injury in their penultimate match against Lewes, but she didn’t let that ruin her celebrations on Sunday.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “I said in the changing room before the game that if you’d have written my story and told me that this is how the season’s going to end, as upsetting as my ACL injury was for me personally, I would’ve taken it. Because every person in the team means more to me than my right knee at the minute.

“It’s one of the hardest days of my life, but I couldn’t be more proud, so it’s one of the happiest days of my life as well.”

Hughes’ injury is undoubtedly a huge blow to the Eagles, and could hamper their chances of success in the WSL if a viable replacement is not found as she recovers.

The challenges Palace will face

Newly-relegated Bristol City were one of two teams in the WSL this season who did not have the backing of a Premier League side, with Leicester City being the other.

With Leicester City’s promotion to the Premier League guaranteed, it means all WSL teams will have a Premier League counterpart for the 2024/25 season.

Prior to Bristol City, Reading and Birmingham City were relegated in 2023 and 2022 respectively. This lack of Premier League presence can be damaging for WSL clubs, with less funds available to invest in the women’s side.

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Palace join as the fifth London-based team in the WSL and at a time when the two biggest women’s sides in Arsenal and Chelsea have been breaking attendance records.

Eagles fans really engaged with their team’s title race this season so they must try to capitalise on the increasing excitement of women’s football in the capital city, as well as continue their attacking football that secured their promotion.

But with new signings, more resources and the move to being a fully professional outfit, there is no reason Palace can’t extend their WSL stay at this pivotal moment in their history.

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