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Sunderland Ladies v Birmingham City Women: Barclays FA Women’s Championship

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Exclusive: “We haven’t ridden the wave from the Euros” - Clark on need to improve SAFC Women!

The head of the women’s domain at Sunderland AFC, Alex Clark, gives us a unique insight into the behind the scenes operation at the Academy and tells us why he “can’t defend the indefensible”.

Photo by Ashley Allen - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

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Sunderland AFC Women’s General Manager Alex Clark told Roker Report that he’s aware that the club have to do more to increase attendances for Lasses games in the wake of the Lionesses' victory in Euro 2022 this summer.

In an exclusive interview with me for the latest episode of the Roker Report - The Lasses podcast ahead of the squad’s training session at the Academy of Light on Thursday evening, Clark was clear about what needs to improve.

I think we haven’t probably ridden that wave such as others have. I think we’ve got to do more off the field, as I alluded to with those roles being advertised [for Commercial and Fan Engagement Officers]. I think we’ve got a passionate fanbase, and I think they are really key to spreading the word. And for us, we seem to have a lot of people that go who then come back, our retention is pretty good...

We’ve got to make sure that our product is really good in terms of quality football, a quality experience. We’re now engaging the mascots, the flag bearers again, but mainly we have to have that focus on getting new people to the game because I think, you hear it time and time again with the women's game, “once you go you come back”, so that's got to be one of our real focuses.

In candid comments, the man who runs the off-field operation under Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman and COO Steve Davison, reflected upon the disappointment of the doubleheader at the Stadium of Light in August where a crowd of over 30,000 for the men’s lunchtime game against Norwich was reduced to around 1,000 for the women’s game against Birmingham City at 4pm:

We can’t defend the indefensible. For us it was a disappointment, we were looking to get 5,000 plus and break the Championship attendance record. I think there were a number of factors, the amount of stuff we had to do behind the scenes to get the double header.

We had to liaise with the opposition, the EFL, the Women’s Championship, the FA, broadcasters - loads of logistical issues, and we seemed to be getting somewhere then there seemed to just be another consideration because it hadn’t been done before.

Sunderland Ladies v Birmingham City Women: Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by Ashley Allen - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

The full interview, which is out now on the Roker Report - The Lasses podcast feed, includes an injury update from the squad and the club’s investment in the football, media and commercial sides of the operation.

Clark, who was recruited to the club in 2021 from the Durham FA, also told us about what the club does to ensure player welfare in the wake of the recent reports into allegations of sexual and emotional abuse in France and the USA, and wider concerns about the support offered to female footballers by clubs and authorities.

He also give his view on Mel Reay’s side’s difficult start to the Barclay’s Women’s Championship season and told us about how he and the players will take part in Karen Carney’s new review of the future of Women’s Football.

Listen now on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible, Google Podcasts or YouTube

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