On Wednesday night in The Hague a unique experiment begins when the leading women's teams from the Netherlands and Belgium come together in the joint BeNe League.
Last year it was decided between the Royal Belgian Football Association (URBSFA-KBVB) and the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) to merge their female top flights, with the UEFA Executive Committee giving its approval on a three-season trial basis during its March meeting in Istanbul. In the autumn the top eight teams from each nation competed in two separate groups – the BeNe League Red for Belgium and the BeNe League Orange for the Netherlands. The front four in each have now come together to form Group A, with the remaining sides in Group B, and every team will play all seven opponents home and away between January and May, starting back on zero points.
Group A launches with a fixture between ADO Den Haag – last season's Dutch champions – and RSC Anderlecht. The rest of the section is made up of the Netherlands trio of AFC Ajax, PSV/FC Eindhoven and FC Twente, plus Belgian title holder Standard Femina de Liège, K. Beerschot AC and VVD Lierse SK. The highest-ranked club from either country will be their respective representative in the 2013/14 UEFA Women's Champions League, even if the qualifying team from a nation is fifth overall.
The aim is to improve clubs' quality and experience by widening their competition, and for the Dutch sides this means a change from the previous Eredivisie where the same teams played one another four times. "Now we will structure more matches and there will be more rhythm in the competition," Ajax defender and Netherlands captain Daphne Koster said.
"This will also be more interesting commercially and for the media. Now the best players in the Netherlands will be able to measure themselves against the best of Belgium, which is a beautiful challenge."
From the Belgian perspective it is an opportunity to close the gap on their northern neighbours, where the female game is further advanced. Indeed, the Netherlands are preparing for UEFA Women's EURO 2013 having reached the semi-finals four years ago. "Where the KNVB has 125,000 female members, we have 21,000 – much too few," said URBSFA-KBVB CEO Steven Martens.
"With the BeNe League we want more attention for women's football and more members through that. But we need to create examples for the girls to look up to. That is why we want to create female heroes."