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Sunderland AFC Ladies miss out on promotion as WSL and Championship standings are decided

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Women’s football is showing dangerous signs of becoming too focused on developing its “top sides” and ignoring the talent and capabilities of the lower leagues, according to Rebecca Johnson.

Sunderland Ladies v Birmingham City Women - SSE Women’s FA Cup 5th Round
Melanie Reay guided undefeated Sunderland to top-spot in the WNL Premier North
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Today has seen the finalisation of the Women’s Super League and Championship for this season.

The FA revealed that these league standings had been decided on a points-per-game system. This means that Chelsea are WSL winners and Aston Villa have won the Championship.

However, this decision has also seen promotion and relegation come into play. Villa are to be promoted to the WSL and Liverpool are dropping down to the Championship.

Additionally, the system has seen English UEFA Women’s Champions League spots decided, with Chelsea and Manchester City snatching these for next season.

But today’s announcement is, quite frankly, a slap in the face for all the hard work Sunderland Ladies have done this year.

Arsenal v Sunderland AFC Ladies - Women’s Super League 1
Keira Ramshaw scored 24 goals for Sunderland in season 2019-20
Photo by Kieran Galvin/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sunderland were demoted from the WSL a couple of seasons ago after being unable to attain a licence for the top league and the Championship; something that was completely out of their hands. It was a particularly frustrating decision given how much talent Sunderland have produced in recent years, with the likes of Jill Scott and Steph Houghton amongst many others going on to represent England.

Teams with bigger branding and money behind them, like West Ham and Manchester United, the latter of whom only formed their women’s side in 2018, were automatically bumped up to the Championship.

The Lasses have done nothing but graft to get back to their rightful place in the top spots, and this season has been a sterling example of their hard work and talent. Sunderland were sat at the top of the National League Northern Premier League Division with 40 points and a goal difference of 43. Their nearest rivals were Derby in second, who had 29 points and a goal difference of 29.

Sunderland were miles ahead in the league and would have clearly won it. Yet the FA immediately decided to void the seasons of the tier three leagues and below, but were able to ensure that the top two women’s leagues had their seasons finished on a points-per-game basis.

The announcement today has just shown the disregard by the FA for all of the teams in the third tier downwards. Women’s football is showing dangerous signs of becoming too focused on developing its “top sides” and ignoring the talent and capabilities of the lower leagues.

England v USA: Semi Final - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France
Four of England’s starting eleven - Jill Scott, Beth Mead, Lucy Bronze and captain Steph Houghton - in their Bronze Medal match at the 2019 World Cup started their careers with Sunderland.
Photo by Marcio Machado/Getty Images

It’s a complete kick in the teeth for clubs like Sunderland who were clear league leaders and would have more than likely been promoted. Whilst Aston Villa can rightfully celebrate their promotion to the WSL, teams in the third tier and below are now being sent right back to the start.

Considering all of the hard work that Melanie Reay and her team have put in this season, they don’t deserve to have their season voided, yet see promotion and relegation still happen in the WSL and Championship.

Whilst fans can appreciate the difficulty of the terrible circumstances the world faces at the moment, there is no consistency or fairness to these decisions. Surely, if the FA managed to find a way to finish the top two women’s leagues, they could have done the same for lower tiers.

Women’s sport is a growing market and now more than ever is time for women’s teams to stick together. The decision today just shows where the FA’s priorities are in terms of the development of women’s football. This is a difficult time for a lot of smaller clubs, in both the men’s and women’s game, but today’s decision just shows the disregard for the lower leagues that the FA has.

Sunderland should have been promoted this season and it’s incredibly unfair that they and other teams further down the pyramid in a similar position had their seasons voided.

Sunderland Ladies v Birmingham City Women - SSE Women’s FA Cup 5th Round
Neve Herron of Sunderland Ladies in action in this season’s FA Cup
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images