The Women’s Champions League semifinals begin Saturday, and the four remaining teams are just as unsurprising in the women’s tournament as it would be in the men’s: Manchester City, Barcelona, PSG, and Lyon. But there are plenty of women’s clubs around Europe that are proving you don’t need a successful men’s club counterpart — or even a men’s club counterpart at all — to find success.
While Wolfsburg’s (and, to a lesser extent, Bayern Munich’s) women’s sides have dominated the Allianz Frauen-Bundesliga of late, for 12 years straight FFC Turbine Potsdam and FFC Frankfurt traded the title. In that time, from 2000-01 to 2011-12, the two rivals each won the league six times — for Turbine, that included four in a row from 2008-09 to 2011-12. In the Champions League the clubs won twice and four times, respectively.
They are two of the most successful teams in Germany as well as two of the most successful German clubs internationally. The same certainly can’t be said of Frankfurt’s men side, who haven’t won the Bundesliga since 1997-98 and whose highest finish in the Champions League was runners-up in 1959-60. Potsdam, on the other hand, has been unaffiliated with a men’s clubs for decades.
It’s a similar situation in France. Lyon has won the league every year since 2007, but FCF Juvisy has been constantly nipping at their (and now, PSG’s) heels from mostly second or third place. Juvisy has not been associated with a men’s club since splitting from ES Juvisy in the late 1980s, after a 14-year partnership. What’s more, Juvisy’s most successful run started shortly after this; they won their first Division 1 Féminine title in 1991-92 and added five more since, tied for the second-most in the league. Moreover, since the split, they’ve only finished lower than third on two occasions.
But perhaps the best examples of this phenomena can be found in Scandinavia. On the men’s side, the two of the more well-known teams from that region are Danish Superliga sides Brøndby IF and FC Copenhagen. On the women’s side, the teams that keep popping up at the top of their leagues and in the Champions League are Umeå IK, Fortuna Hjørring, FC Rosengård.
In Sweden’s Damallsvenskan, Umeå and Rosengård are constantly battling it out for the top spot; since 2000, only three other clubs have claimed a title. Umeå has also won the Champions League twice.
Umeå has found this success entirely without a men’s side, whereas Rosengård has had a more complicated relationship with men’s counterparts. The club was originally Malmö FF Dam, when they were partnered with Malmö FF. Although they were successful as such, winning the league a few times and finishing runners-up several others, they withdrew and rebranded completely into LdB FC Malmö in 2007. As this independent club, they won the league three times and they qualified for the Champions League for the first time. In 2013, they did enter a partnership with another men’s side and rebranded a second time as FC Rosengård — although that men’s side, FC Rosengård 1917, has never been promoted above the third division.
Similarly, Danish side Fortuna Hjørring has no men’s affiliate and has not finished below second in the Danish League in 13 years.
This is not to argue that every woman’s club should only strive for success on their own (nor that they should have to strike out on their own due to negligence from the men’s sides, which has thankfully not happened as frequently).
It is great to see men’s clubs and women’s clubs working together, and to see men’s teams take an interest in the women’s game. In fact, big teams that haven’t — like Manchester United and Real Madrid — have recently come under scrutiny for that fact, especially as the women’s clubs of their rivals continue to make headlines.
And whereas partnerships with men’s clubs can go horribly wrong — for the most egregious example, see West Ham United being accused of discrimination against its women’s club after having their access to training grounds restricted, having to pay for their own transportation, and having to play in last year’s kits due to lack of funds — when they go right, like with Manchester City and Barcelona, it can be an incredibly powerful partnership. This is especially true when that partnership can be a major influx of cash at a time in football when that is, in all ways, king. It’s still refreshing to know that it’s not the only way for women’s clubs to compete.