Yesterday the FA confirmed that, as of the start of the 2018/19 season, only full time clubs will be allowed to compete in the Women’s Super League.
This new sanction means Sunderland AFC Ladies will not meet the requirements and will have to play their football away from the top flight, despite earning the right to be there and having produced very creditable performances in their first two seasons (finishing 4th and 7th).
The Lady Black Cats had previously operated as a full time club for three years, however CEO Martin Bain decided to revert to a part time model at the beginning of 2017 in order to allow players the chance to focus on study and other aspects of their careers without sacrificing their passion for playing football.
It is possible for the club to revert to full time status before the new licence application deadline hits on November 10th.
This is something that the club could look into as WSL 1 clubs will receive £92,500 of funding from the FA this season (a number that should increase over time) and as the women’s side has been financially independent from the men’s for over a decade, they could certainly benefit from that income. However, it appears very unlikely to happen given the reasons for reverting to part-time status in the first place.
Earlier this summer it was announced that the lasses will no longer share the facilities at the Academy of Light. Instead they have been training at Northumbria University’s Coach Lane Campus in Newcastle and will play their home games at Mariners Park (also the home of men’s non-league side, South Shields) - a decision that has not had time to be properly judged. That said, hopefully it will lead to improved attendances over last season, when the Ladies saw the biggest percentage decrease in attendance in the whole league (24%).
If Sunderland’s application to compete in WSL 1 next year is rejected then they will instead be allocated to a newly-branded second tier along with other part-time sides as the FA looks to create a clear distinction between their professional and semi-pro teams.
This news will surely come as a blow to the lasses, who have shown they are more than capable of competing in the top flight of women’s football in England. And after the switch to part time has lead to the departure of star striker Beth Mead and other clubs like West Ham recently taking full financial responsibility over their women’s teams, there will be sense of jealously that our club can’t also do more for a team that wears our red and white stripes.