Awful news has emerged over the course of the last week: Sunderland Ladies have been dumped out of English football’s top two tiers after the FA revamped the women’s game.
This marks the very bottom of a sad decline for the women’s team, one that they could have done nothing about after posting very respectable results in the Women’s Super League over the last few years - often finishing as the best team out of those without full-time funding.
Their detachment from the men’s side was accelerated last year by former CEO Martin Bain, who deemed the losses too much to handle and shipped the lasses out to Newcastle to train, South Shields to play “home” games, and put everyone on part time contracts – meaning they were automatically ineligible for top flight status under the new format. In fact, their partnership with Northumbria University is stronger than that with Sunderland AFC.
This move from Martin Bain was deeply frustrating as it gave the team a clear sign that they were a burden on the club, and under Ellis Short’s regime they were deemed expendable while costs were cut. If truth be told, reform was likely necessary because over the last few years the Ladies side have been operating at a loss (to the tune of £424,000 in 2017), but that doesn’t mean it is acceptable to neglect them. SAFC Ladies are not expendable.
The most disappointing and annoying part of all this is that the FA rewarded clubs spaces in the top two divisions with little to no history - all because the clubs they are attached to (West Ham and Manchester United are notable examples) have funded them appropriately, had the courage to support their women’s teams, show some pride, and claim ownership of players who wear the same colours as the men’s side.
The FA claim that they want a women’s team in the north east, with Baroness Sue Campbell (Head of Women’s Football) telling Sky Sports:
They haven’t had the support they’ve needed from the men’s club for some time.
We’re not going to abandon the North East. We’re going to a put a talent academy for 16 to 20-year-olds at Northumbria University and we’re going to build again from the bottom up.
If we can make sure that talent pathway is still there in the North East, and then hopefully work with a major club in the North East to rebuild a women’s senior team.
That last quote should set off alarm bells all around Sunderland - Campbell doesn’t say that Sunderland have to be the one to with a women’s team in the north east.
That spot could realistically be taken up by any club with even a crumb of ambition. All it takes is for an owner show some passion, and a bit of desire to do the right thing. Not just for the current team, but for the thousands of young girls in the north east who want a team to support, who want to play football to the highest level possible, and - most importantly - who want to succeed.
Enter Stewart Donald.
The positive impact Sunderland’s new ownership has had and will continue to have on this club cannot be understated. There is so much to be done and so far Stewart and his team have hit all the right notes in terms of getting us back on track. There’s a long list of issues to address, but somewhere near the top of that list has to be securing the future of our women’s team.
The best way, the only way, to do that is to fully incorporate them back in to the football club and eventually (hopefully soon) make the team full-time again. The personnel is there for them to make short work of the third tier, which is where it looks like they’ll be playing next season (the parallel to the men’s side is uncanny).
We can all do our bit of course - get out there and support the lasses. You can’t argue the quality isn’t there when we’ve just spent the last few years watching absolute garbage take the utter p*** out of us as the men’s team sleepwalked into back to back relegations.
Meanwhile, the women’s side has been promoted to the top flight, remained competitive against England’s top professional sides despite receiving no backing from their own club, reached the semi-final of the FA Cup and produced SEVEN members of the current England squad.
The quality is there, all our team needs is somebody to take care of it properly. We all need to pull together to fix every aspect our great club. Everyone from the boardroom to the ballboys and of course the fans.
But fixing our club means fixing ALL of our club and the Sunderland Ladies are a massive part of that.
They’ve taken their share of the misery we’ve all felt during this depressing slide, but they deserve so much better. Let’s not make the same mistakes again.