It feels like forever since Sunderland AFC Ladies were last in action. It was Sunday 13th December 2020 when the lasses beat Derby County Ladies 5-4 in an entertaining game, in poor conditions for football, at the Academy of Light. Back then, I didn’t envisage the break would have lasted so long; now the very completion of the season must now surely be in doubt.
After a difficult start to the season, the team was start to gel and had moved up to fifth in the table, only four points behind second placed Fylde. Top of the league Huddersfield Town a further six points ahead of the second placed side. Last season was a fantastic success for the Ladies results wise, although sadly curtailed and declared null and void early due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will be interesting to see whether the FA decide to end the Women’s National League season in the same way this year too.
It must be hugely frustrating for the players to watch as the top two tiers of the women’s game continue with their season, and yet the lasses are not even able to train together as a squad. With this in mind, I had expected to see some of the Sunderland squad go out on loan to Championship sides. The quality of the players is not in doubt, but I can only assume the geography of the sides in that division works against the possibility of any temporary moves. Durham Women are the obvious exception, but will only have limited squad places available.
Regardless of the decision about how to finish the FAWNL season, there have been really good developments at the club regarding coverage of the lasses. Up until the season was paused in mid-December, the ladies team began to receive regular player and manager after match interviews and match highlights. When the Ladies do resume playing, it would be fantastic if the club could live stream their matches. I would definitely be willing to pay to watch the games and I know there is an appetite from fellow fans to do so too.
Although there is a lot going on at the club with regards to the takeover, it’s really important that if it does go through, that there is a clear strategy put in place and shared with the fans regarding the future direction of Mel Reay’s side and the ownership’s ambition for their development. We are a club that relentlessly develops fantastic young players who, since a combination of Ellis Short and the FA pulled the rug from under the Lasses in 2018, are then inevitably lost to sides in the Women’s Super League and Championship.
We surely can be a club that not only develops superb young players, as has been our tradition, but also retains them despite interest from elsewhere. We could then aspire to move up from the third tier of women’s football into the Championship and then the WSL. The women’s game is growing in popularity each year and it would be wonderful if the club could recognise the future opportunities before other clubs in the North East attain WSL status.