The news came out on Monday Morning that the line-up for the new FA women’s league structure would not include Sunderland Ladies. The lasses had a decent season, finishing 7th in the top division. It wasn’t our strongest, and certainly didn’t finish well, but we took the game to a lot of bigger and better clubs and we were proud of it. So why aren’t they a part of the new league?
Mainly, The FA only want teams with money, something Sunderland Ladies didn’t have anymore. The FA decided to restructure the league, making the top tier the FA Women’s Super League fully professional, and the FA Women’s Championship below would be semi-pro. Clubs therefore had to apply for a license to play in either league. Sunderland ladies had reverted to a semi-pro structure before this season began as an effort to cut costs, so for us to remain in the top division was always going to be a struggle.
The bid for us to enter either of the top two tiers was, as far as I know, backed by Northumbria University rather than SAFC, after Short and Bain had decided we weren’t important enough to fund. However, this bid wasn’t considered a high enough standard by the FA, and we were therefore replaced in the top two leagues by teams such as West Brom Ladies, who finished bottom of their league in the third tier this year; and Manchester United Women, who don’t even exist yet.
This news came as a disappointment for many reasons, for a start, it affects the livelihood of the players themselves. The likes of Rachael Laws have spent years playing for this club, and Tori Williams felt that the lasses were responsible for reigniting her love for the game. In theory they could stay, but being quality players would they want to drop down to the third tier with us? I’m not so sure. Plus, this is their pay cheque at the end of the day, and my guess is it’s going to be a dramatic decrease to drop that far down the ladder. Players from abroad surely want better than the third tier of English football, maybe closer to home, or just of a higher quality. But not only the players, it’s the physio, the coaches, the manager, the general manager, the social media person, who could all lose their jobs. We have also been a major part in the history of English women’s football, England internationals such as Steph Houghton, Beth Mead, Lucy Bronze and Jordan Nobbs have all come through our ranks, and the thought of that no longer happening is incredibly sad. Durham is now the only North East team in the top two tiers. And of course, the fans will suffer too, the quality of football we now see will be much lower if we stick with them. Which we will of course.
However, are things really all that bad? Surely just like the men, this is a chance to rebuild. We never had a shot at being one of the top teams when they have so much money to throw around. Now we can restructure our own team, get funding back from the owners Steward Donald, should he choose to invest in the women’s side. I would hope he could improve our bid while we have a chance to appeal the decision, even if it is unlikely any changes will occur. Hopefully that will include returning our training to the academy, playing our games at Eppleton and being seen as part of the club again. We can get back to where we belong on footballing merit, not because we bought our way in. I’m optimistic, and maybe that’s the delusional Sunderland fan in me, but I’m certain this team can survive it. We’ll lose players sure, we’ll lose staff, but we can come back. You can’t keep SAFC down. Ha’way The Lasses!