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Sheffield United Women v Sunderland Ladies - FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup

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Lasses Roundtable: Should Sunderland Ladies go pro next season?

Sunderland’s strategy for women’s football is being finalised and the big question for many supporters is whether, when, and how to move to a full-time professional model. What do you think the club should do and why?

Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Ant Waterson thinks...

With the news that Sunderland AFC are to form an Under 23 side, the immediate question is will the first team turn professional? My answer is yes, but not yet!

For the lasses to turn full time, a clear and carefully thought out plan must happen. We have been told there is a plan in place and I’m happy to wait for that. The club cannot afford to turn quality players such as Grace McCatty, Megan Beer, Abbey Joice away just because they have full-time, well-paid jobs. We would be back to square one really.

I’ve followed this side a long time now and I think for newer fans, the thought of full-time professionals coming to Sunderland must be intriguing but that’s no guarantee.

If you look at what has happened at the club previously, Ellis Short got tired of putting money into the Ladies and the team was demoted two divisions. I’m not for one-second thinking KLD would do that but the thought is always in the back of my mind and the Lasses do not deserve that all over again.

My idea would be to give the players the choice. The likes of Neve Herron and Jessica Brown who are at college at the moment would be ready-made professionals. Both are going places and hopefully for Sunderland so for them to turn pro would be a no-brainer.

But let's say our players who have full-time jobs don’t want to turn pro, why shouldn’t they not have the option to play for Sunderland?

The under 23 model gives us time to formulate a long-term plan for the first team. The likes of Grace Ede can learn their trade on the pitch and will be ready to play first team when the moment arrives. It also gives us time to formulate the plan to go professional and keep our best players. It needs time.

Manchester City Women v Sunderland Ladies - WSL
Former Lasses star Steph Houghton in action during the WSL fixture between Manchester City Women and Sunderland Ladies at The Academy Stadium in Manchester in April 2018 - shortly before Ellis Short pulled the plug on the Lasses
Photo by Tom Flathers/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

Rich Speight thinks...

As regular readers will know, I am quite unsentimental and hard-headed about this question. I want every part of Sunderland AFC to be as successful as possible with the club’s squads back playing in the top tier of both men’s and women’s football in England as soon as possible.

I believe that is where we belong, and all the indications are that the future of our and every other big football club in England lies in a “one club, two teams” business model in the medium to long term.

And so yes, I believe a well-thought-out, speedy, but incremental progression towards professionalism has to be the direction that we go. This should be based on a sustained and significant investment from the club’s ownership group and should offer wages that acknowledge the professional status of the players as athletes.

The contracts have to be at least competitive with what these often very successful and driven young women might earn as teachers, nurses, firefighters, business managers, or whatever other occupations they currently combine with playing for our club.

This will allow us to recruit quality players from outside our region and it will be for the current players to make a choice about where they see their futures be that inside or outside the professional game. It could be that there’s an overlap and a transition period, but in the end, we need a fully professional side training five days a week.

You can’t do this on the cheap and expect players to play for the passion and love of the game - that’s the truly unsustainable model for women’s football because it doesn’t allow for an improvement in the quality of the product on offer.

Sunderland Ladies v Liverpool Women- FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

At the end of the current WSL television deal, it is likely that the Premier League will take over the running of elite women’s football. The FA has set the strategy and it involves the creation of two fully professional divisions.

I want the 16-year-old trio of Grace Ede, Daisy Burt, and Katy Watson to see that they can have a professional career ahead of them here when they finish their education and not have to pursue their dreams in London, Manchester, or the USA.

If we look across the Atlantic ocean, we see multi-million-dollar club sponsorship deals and player contracts hitting seven figures in the NWSL. In a decade, the English game will be similarly transformed and I want my club to be there, ready to compete with the best clubs in the country as we have in the past, with our wonderful young players earning the money they deserve.

We know that our club overall has a potential fanbase of many tens of thousands in Sunderland and the surrounding area, but only 500 or so regularly get down to Hetton to watch the Lasses play. If the club at all shows it is taking women’s football seriously as part of its future, then more people will come and more will stay. This is how you build a serious modern football business.

This involves giving everyone every chance to watch the Lasses - not asking fans to chose between streaming the men’s U23s and the women’s senior side because the owners haven’t invested enough in the media side of the club to do what clubs a tenth of our size do every week.

2022 SheBelieves Cup - New Zealand v United States
19-year-old USA star Trinity Rodman recently signed a $1.1m four year deal with Washington Spirit of the NWSL
Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images

Charlotte Patterson thinks...

It’s a difficult situation for me to consider, as it causes conflict in me for numerous reasons. The positives are naturally that it is a huge statement of intent from the club. We’ve been quite skeptical of the way in which the Ladies' team has been handled and managed by higher-ups.

But the development of a U23 side and the possibility of the first team going full-time illustrates that the club has a vision and pathway going forward for the development of women’s football at the club.

Going full time would allow players to concentrate solely on their football, become a serious option for players abroad or in the country that want to sign for an ambitious club. But the big question and negatives are, would players be financially better off, some players don’t want to give up their day jobs, and is it too soon?

Part of me doesn’t want Sunderland to be left behind, especially as more teams look to go professional. You also see the likes of fellow North East clubs Durham doing very well as a professional club and operating brilliantly, whereas Newcastle Women have seemingly been given a new lease of life under their new ownership.

Sunderland is a historic club that has produced some incredible talent over the years that have gone on to have great careers professionally and representing England on an international level.

I don’t want that to just be a legacy. I want Sunderland to keep producing great talent

However, the other side of me enjoys the Lasses as they are now. It’s almost football at it’s purist. Away from the moral/ethical conflicts, greed, and negativity of modern-day football, where those with the most money do the best and dictate how things operate.

Despite Sunderland not having your “star” players as such, we have some great homegrown youth coming through. Something which brings me and others great pride. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in what others are doing and about winning. But the simple things tend to be the most enjoyable.

Sunderland v Sheffield United: FA Women’s Championship Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Do I want to see Sunderland go full-time? Absolutely. But is it the right time? Probably not.

This is a decision that can’t be taken lightly. There is no benefit in rushing things and patience is a virtue. We saw this season just what happened to Coventry United after going full-time and the repercussions of said decision involved a 10 point deduction, losing key players, and the possibility of being relegated. Of course, this isn’t to say that it will always happen. But it is something we should consider and be cautious about.

We are building something full of meaning at Sunderland. Looking at the plethora of young upcoming players in the region and RTC. And of course, we have loyal and dedicated part-time players who give their all for this team despite their other responsibilities and don’t deserve to be pushed out.

Wages and money also have to be a consideration. Knowing what female footballers are paid is almost a taboo subject. But the impression is that remaining part-time and working another job is much better for some players.

Going full-time would, potentially, mean they’re being paid less. With the constant and ongoing reviews of revenue and finances in women's football, perhaps if there are guarantees of a suitable living wage and benefits to going full-time, which outweigh players' current circumstances, then it might work.

But ultimately I think it should always be a discussion which is had and decided by the current squad and team at Sunderland, as ultimately it is them who it affects the most.

Crystal Palace Women v Sunderland Ladies - Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by Jacques Feeney/Getty Images

Graeme Field thinks...

I welcome the news that Sunderland Ladies will have an under 23’s team in place for next season. The club has a number of excellent young players emerging every season, and with the lasses, first team playing in the second tier of women’s football, the integration from RTC player to first-team squad member must be a large and daunting step up.

The players who have made the transition to first-team squad members this season are likely to benefit from more games in the under 23 set up in the next campaign. It’s also possible the manager would still like to keep the younger players in the squad but may rotate the lasses to find a balance between time spent with the first-team squad and the time spent playing in the under 23 side.

This leads me nicely to the club and the potential to move to a full-time professional model for the Ladies. I’ve been giving this a lot of consideration over the last couple of months, and it’s such an important decision for the club which will shape their future in a rapidly growing sport. The strategy is due to be shared by the club in April and the topic of professionalism is very likely to be included in it.

There has been a differing of opinions in our Roker Report Sunderland Ladies group; I would like the club to go professional next season, however, after hearing other contributions, I think giving some of the squad full-time contracts and then other members of the squad can continue on a part-time basis. This would allow them to continue in their careers and play for Sunderland.

This would be a well-considered hybrid which would work well. I however actually think that the club will not go professional and may talk of moving towards it in 3/5 years' time. My rationale for this is that the current ownership would not back the financial commitment this approach would require.

They talk about the organic growth of their Ladies team, so going professional is still a way off in my opinion.

Sunderland Ladies v London City Lionesses - Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by Nigel Roddis - The FA/The FA via Getty Images


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