Liverpool Ladies have finished bottom of the FA Women's Super League for two years running, but the club are still the envy of perennial winners Arsenal Ladies.
For when Liverpool Ladies take on Lincoln Ladies on Sunday in the first FAWSL game of the season, they will run on to the pitch as the only side in the league to be training full time. Even Arsenal, trailblazers in women's football, train only twice a week.
Investment from Liverpool FC, bringing the Ladies in-house this season for the first time, has indicated a strong commitment to supporting women's football, elevating the team's status from serial no-hopers to potential Champions League material. Throw in a training session with Brendan Rodgers and the men's first team, the announcement that Anfield is to stage its first women's football game when Liverpool host Arsenal in the semi-finals of the FA Cup on 26 April, plus a new home in the form of the 13,000-seater Halton Stadium, shared with rugby league's Widnes Vikings, and Liverpool look like a club to watch in the coming seasons.
The manager, Matt Beard, previously in charge at Chelsea Ladies, says he could not hope for a better working environment. "It's not a PR stunt; it's genuinely what the club are trying to do," he says of the training session with Rodgers and his team. "Sometimes when these events happen, it's set up and the people go through the motions; it wasn't like that. People enjoyed it and they treated each other like colleagues. You probably saw the picture of Luis Suárez going in for a tackle on Gemma Bonner, it was a great experience … I know all the staff would like to do it again."
Beard says Rodgers has kept in touch, with an open invitation to watch the men train anytime. "It's good for my development to watch world-class coaches coach. I know it sounds a bit corny, but this one-club mentality really exists, everyone wants to do well."
Having brought in six foreign players for the new season, raising the number of Liverpool's recruits to 12, Beard has had to adapt to the challenges of working with a mix of nationalities in his dressing room. "Just being able to talk to Brendan Rodgers about managing different cultures – because he's been in Spain and he worked at Chelsea when they started signing all the kids coming through from abroad – to be able to speak to a Premier League manager about things like that, I would never have got that at Chelsea."
From working as an estate agent to pay the bills during his days as Chelsea manager to a full-time post with Liverpool – with backroom staff, and administrative and marketing support – life has changed dramatically for Beard over the past six months. "My wife used to get the hump – I'd come in from work and be straight on the computer working for Chelsea, whereas now I've got the hours to do the job I need to do, plan out my training sessions properly, and I've still got time to have my family life as well."
The full-time approach is paying dividends for the team, too. England internationals Fara Williams and Natasha Dowie, niece of former Crystal Palace manager Iain, transferred their allegiance across the Merseyside divide to join from Everton, lured by the offer of full-time training, and the team's fitness levels are up, which Beard believes will have a big effect over the summer. "This year's going to be the best competition ever with all the investment that's gone into the clubs," says Beard, who cites the Olympic effect as having helped to raise the profile of the women's game. "Faye White [the former England and Arsenal captain] described us as almost a completely new team, with the 12 new players, so it will take us a while to gel, but a top-half finish is the minimum requirement this season."
In June, the FA will announce which teams have secured contracts to be in the FAWSL next season. "Hopefully we'll be selected and we can put together a four-year plan after that," says Beard. "The ambition of the club is to be playing in the Champions League and, next year, competing for the title."
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