The Women's National League kicked off last weekend, however last season's runners up, Capital had a bye, they start the season this Sunday with a game against Auckland. 

It's a game that can be considered as the oldest rivalry in New Zealand Women's football, before the federations came along in 1999, Capital were Wellington FA and Auckland were....well Auckland FA. The first games between the two associations happened in 1973, played on a home and away basis for the Roy Cox Shield, Wellington won 4-0 & 1-0. This started the dynasty that established them as the powerhouses of Women's football until the 1990's.

Women's football was club based with the best players from each association were selected at the end of the season to play in the week long National Tournament. It took 11 years for Wellington to lose a game, that was in 1984 when they lost 1-0 to Auckland. (they had lost the 1981 final, also to Auckland, however that was on penalties after the game was a draw).

To see how dominant Wellington were you just need to look at their first 100 games that span the period 1973 – 1989. They won 86, drew nine and lost just six, scored 365 goals while only conceding 37. During this time they produced many players that went on to become internationals (they weren't called the Football Ferns until recently), including Maureen Jacobson, Marilyn Marshall, Pauline Sullivan, Debbie Leonadis, Kathy Simeonoff, Cinnamon Chaney and Wendi Henderson.

The original Wellington Women's rep team 1973 Photo : Unknown

Things changed in the 1990's. The key factor was the shift of the NZWFA (along with the NZFA) from Wellington to Auckland. This started the trend of the better players moving to Auckland as the national team coaches were based there and the standard of the league was higher. Wellington, who had only lost to Auckland at the 14th time of asking, then went on a slide and only won one of the next 13 games against them.

Since the federation structure was introduced in 1999, it's Auckland who have dominated in the games, winning 10 to Capital's (as Wellington were renamed in the structure) five. This season Auckland, have on paper, the best squad in the league. But as we know football isn't played on paper and anything can happen as was proved by Southern United last weekend when they recorded a 3-2 win over Auckland, only their 9th win in 14 years, and their first ever over Auckland!

Capital Coach Emma Evans Photo The JourneyFan
It's results like these that back up Capital Football's coach Emma Evans statement that “every game is going to be a battle”. Evans, who is one of only three female coaches in the Women's National League and has recently completed her B-Licence, stepped up to the role of head coach for Capital this season. Last season's co-coach, Sam Morrisery, stepped into an assistants role, as due to personal reasons, he was unable to commit to the time required of the co-coach role.

Not much was expected of Capital last season, but with new coaches in place they stunned everyone by making it to the final, before losing to Canterbury United Pride (who won their third title in four years). This season they are looking to go one better. Evans said “last season we built a team and got the culture right, now its building on that even further and making sure the girls fully understand our playing model and what we're asking of them.......losing in the final is always going to stick with the team and they're always going to want to go out and get their revenge”

Capital have lost four key players in Briar Palmer (to France), Jayme-Lee Hunter (USA), Mikela Hunt & Emily Morison (both to Southern United). Which is something Evans says “while it's disappointing for Capital, they're doing really cool things and hopefully its the start of their footballing journey to become professional”. To offset these losses Capital have bought in 82 cap Football Fern, Sarah Gregorius, ex Swedish pro Klara Groenvik and two players with U20 International experience in Emily Stotter and Serena Murrihy. (who all except Groenvik are returning Capital players)

These are players that have experience of the national league. Gregorius has played and won the national league for both Capital and Auckland. Emily Stotter was a member of the 2011 winning Capital team (a team that included coach Emma Evans and a very young Kennedy Bryant, who is a stalwart of this team). Evans says “Their knowledge and their character that they bring to the squad has been awesome for this group of girls and they really know how to lift everyone up. Last year we put such an emphasis on this squad being one squad and really tried to incorporate everyone so while we've lost players it doesn't really feel like the squad's changed too much because that culture still remains which is the most important thing.”

Capital 2011 National League Champions Photo Ultimate NZ Soccer

With the league only being a one round affair (something that will change next year as NZF have said it will become a two round league) team culture is very important and watching the Capital team training after having a chat with Emma, it is obvious they have a very strong culture and that should be reflected in their league campaign this season.