Barclays FA Women’s Super League, Arsenal Women start their UEFA Women’s Champions League season against defending champions FC Barcelona next week, 20 years after their inaugural campaign in which Angela Banks (now Taylor-Banks) has scored his very first goal in European competition.
This season, each team participating in the revamped tournament will earn a guaranteed minimum of â¬ 400,000 ($ 467,908) to play six games in a new group stage with a centralized television contract and specific sponsors for women’s football, such as Visa, Hublot and Just Manger. Yet when the competition was founded in 2001 as the UEFA Women’s Cup, no awards were offered.
Then, as now, Arsenal represented England, fielding many of the best players in the world. This season, the North London team are the beneficiary of the expansion of the competition, one of two teams that finished third in their domestic championship after going through two qualifying rounds to reach the stage of groups. 20 years ago, only champions from each country were eligible. Arsenal won the domestic treble in 2001 with Angela Banks scoring the only goal in their FA Women’s Cup victory over Fulham, one of 42 they have scored in that campaign.
âThey were the best team I’ve played for for sure,â Banks tells me. âI enjoyed playing alongside Jayne Ludlow and Ciara Grant in midfield, they had great energy and great leadership. Same with Faye White and Casey Stoney, great back presence for us. Emma Byrne was such a great goalie, the best at the time. Kirsty Pealling and Marianne Spacey both had such precise passing ability, they always picked my runs. Marianne was great to play with, such a natural ability. “
Arsenal’s first-ever European game took place on October 1, 2001 away from Swiss champions Bern, who hosted a four-team group stage with champions Poland and Israel as well. At the stroke of half-time, Banks opened the scoring for the champions of England, the first of 256 Arsenal scored in the competition, only the seven-time Olympique Lyonnais scored more (409).
Banks celebrated her historic goal with a knee slip, the only one she’s attempted in her entire career. âThere was so much build-up and hype around a new tournament, abroad… New teams, the unknown. It was exciting. It was great to be able to play against other teams. from different countries “.
Banks is one of only nine Arsenal players in history to score more than 100 goals for the women’s team. The latest to join this elite “club of the century” is Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema who has already scored five Champions League goals this season as Arsenal beat three preliminary opponents to advance to the group stage at sixteen teams.
Unlike Miedema, Banks has never been a full-time professional football player with Arsenal. Previously employed as a printer in a factory, Banks, like many of her semi-professional teammates, was employed by the club, in her case as a football development manager, between training sessions a week with the team. Back then, the idea of ââearning a salary to train and play women’s football seemed light years away. âWe all got bonuses if we won the cups or the league,â Banks told me. “There was no game fee at that time.”
Nonetheless, the new concept of a European club competition for women’s football seemed like a new dawn for Banks and his Arsenal side. “It definitely looked glamorous, it was really exciting to travel abroad. The way Arsenal Ladies (now Women) was so well supported within the club, we had the financial support and the facilities to participate.”
âWe flew on normal scheduled flights. The club paid for everything. We stayed in the same hotel as the Israel team. Everything was covered. We were even allowed to give away our game kit and training for other teams after the group stage was over! “
A recorded audience of 500 watched the game, Banks cannot recall any of the families of the players who traveled or any English media covering the game other than the club’s official photographer. By contrast, for the first time, all 61 matches in this season’s competition will be streamed live worldwide for free on the DAZN Group YouTube Channel.
Like Dennis Bergkamp, ââArsenal’s star striker at the time, Banks suffered from an aversion to the plane. Although he took a British Airways Fear of Flying course at Heathrow Airport in an attempt to overcome it, Banks eventually left international football in 2002 a few months after serving as England captain for the first time at the Algarve Cup.
She continued to play for Arsenal until 2005, twice reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Women’s Cup. After scoring 133 goals in 143 appearances for the club, Banks worked one season as a player-coach at Whitehawk before returning to her old factory job where she is now production manager. While she would love to work in football again, her only current involvement in the game is coaching her six-year-old twins and following current Arsenal players on Instagram.
She is full of admiration for the progress the players have made in recent years to now play in a fully professional league. âI think it’s amazing, and now a lot more teams can be involved. The level of the game is now and the support is so much better at all the clubs, so it’s not just one team from each country, it is much more who can now participate financially â.
Arsenal won the UEFA Women’s Cup in 2007, before being renamed the UEFA Women’s Champions League in 2010. They remain the only English team to win the competition. Under new coach Jonas Eidevall, they have successfully recruited five international players, including the United States World Cup and Olympic champion Tobin Heath, winning every game they have played so far this season. Banks think they are well equipped to go far in the Champions League, “they have a great squad and under the new manager they seem to be playing very well and focused. So I see Arsenal as the favorite but I think Chelsea will be strong too. “.
“I am very proud of all of us who helped back then, the players, but also all the volunteers. Without them a lot of the way clubs operated on a daily basis and on match days would not have happened. I was called a trailblazer and it’s so nice to feel that we’ve helped put women’s football in the spotlight. Arsenal were a great women’s team and really showed the way back then. “