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Anger & Torment: It’s been a summer of sadness and frustration for fans of SAFC Ladies

After five players left SAFC Ladies this week, Graeme Field argues Sunderland AFC have missed opportunities to support Mel Reay’s side this summer.

Sunderland Women v Newcastle United Ladies: FA Women’s National League Cup
Sunderland manager Melanie Reay has to rebuild once again this summer
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

There’s been quite a lot happening at Sunderland Ladies over the last few months, and the last week in particular has been manic. Five players have left the club; Charlotte Potts, Mollie Lambert, Katie Barker, Georgia Gibson and Rachel Woolston.

Potts has moved to Hibernian, Lambert to Durham, Barker, Gibson and Woolston to Newcastle. These outgoing players will be a huge miss to a squad that was set to finish the previous season as National League North champions, before the controversial decision to end the season early.

Potts was absolutely superb last season, at the heart of the Sunderland defence. All Ladies supporters will agree that she can play at a higher level than the third tier of women’s football. I’ve had the pleasure of watching her play regularly this season. She’s been nothing short of sensational.

She offers you everything you want from a centre half; she can defend, she’s fantastic in the air and can bring the ball out of defence to start attacks, she offers a goal threat too.

Charlotte will be greatly missed.

Sunderland Ladies v Birmingham City Women - SSE Women’s FA Cup 5th Round
Mollie Lambert was at the centre of Sunderland Ladies’ success in 2019-20
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Mollie Lambert was equally impressive in the centre of midfield. She was one half of a dominant central midfield partnership with the talismanic Keira Ramshaw and went about her work in an understated way. She’s quick, strong, calm on the ball and a great passer. It’s no surprise that she has moved up a league to join Championship Durham Wildcats.

Katie Barker is a talented winger, who is only going to get better. She often came off the bench to expose tired defences with her pace and deadly finishing. Georgia Gibson is another excellent midfielder. I had her pencilled in to be a fantastic replacement for Lambert, until her surprise move to Newcastle.

I wasn’t able to watch Woolston, due to her injuries, but she is highly regarded and will be a really good addition to a strong looking Newcastle squad for the new season.

Missed Opportunities

I have looked on with frustration since the season finished prematurely back in March.

I believe very strongly that the club should have challenged the decision made by the league to finish the season early, and challenged the decision for the league to do so without using the PPG system. The use of PPG would have seen Sunderland crowned as champions. The league could then have assessed the Sunderland bid to be promoted to the Championship, the second tier of women’s football.

The club has missed an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment and belief in a squad of players, who should be playing at a higher level and a chance to show a clear direction to the future ambitions of the club.

Sunderland Football Club have also missed another fantastic opportunity during the lockdown to keep players and supporters of the ladies team engaged, as well as encouraging new supporters to come and watch the club in the new season.

I’m aware that the vast majority of staff at the club have been placed on furlough since the start of the pandemic, but with social media being such a great way to keep fans engaged, the decision to not communicate with Sunderland Ladies fans at all for three months was nothing short of disgraceful.

During this time, some of the Ladies rivals have used social media to show clips of their players highlights of the previous season, they’ve done virtual presentation evenings, charity events and question and answer sessions with the players.

All of this activity fosters a great togetherness between the players and the fans and can keep spirits up during a difficult period for all. The Sunderland media team could have worked on the ladies account in lockdown, which would have been useful for the club as a whole, but instead has spent time tweeting about a connection with a German top flight side.

If you put yourself in the position of the players who have left the club, you want to be joining a club that matches your ambitions. A club that uses its social media platforms to keep players and fans engaged and informed. The club can’t afford to see such talented players leaving the club in the future. It sends out the wrong message to players and fans alike. I found it particularly sad that the only communication from the Sunderland Ladies twitter account was a polite but very short announcement that the five players were leaving. There should have been, in addition to this, at the very least, a piece to cover each of these players individually over the following days.

Sunderland Ladies v Birmingham City Women - SSE Women’s FA Cup 5th Round Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Looking to next season, Sunderland Ladies manager Mel Reay will get the best out of her squad, no doubt about that. The Ladies are likely to add Olivia Watt and Emily Scarr from Middlesbrough Women; both will be really good additions to the squad. Watt will look to replace Potts at the heart of defence and Scarr will be aiming to make an impression in an advanced role for the ladies.

I just hope Stewart Donald can see the opportunity the ladies have to really push on and progress through the leagues and ensure a north east presence in the top flight of English women’s football in the future.

In all likelihood it will take a new owner to provide the funds to help move Sunderland back into the top league of women’s football, and a fantastic manager like Reay will provide the vision and knowledge required to rise to the top.

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