The final round of fixtures in the women’s football season- outside of the top flight- comes with the promise of an awful lot of drama - and for once there’s a whole range of different ways to follow our team in action!
If you’re a Sunderland season ticket holder and fancy getting together with fellow supporters to pick over the implications of the Lads’ trip to Morecambe whilst cheering on the Lasses, get yourself down to the Hetton Centre where we face Bristol City this afternoon - it’s a 2:00pm kick off.
You can also bring your kids on the bus to the game for free (The number 55 goes from Sunderland Interchange, Stand K, to Houghton Road-Caroline Street, Hetton) and there’s a also a new ‘Park-and-Walk’ scheme running, to make finding a safe place to leave your car much easier.
If you can’t make it, you’ll be able to watch a live stream provided by Sunderland AFC via the club’s official YouTube channel for the very first time this season.
We’ve had the pleasure of watching the Lasses live on the FA Player several times this year, but the club’s decision to host a dedicated stream is an important step forward, as it had previously been suggested to fan groups that they would have to choose between streaming of men’s U23 and women’s games.
Bristol City have demonstrated that it is possible to offer professional coverage via their in-house YouTube channel, and the live stream of Sunderland’s match at their place in October attracted over 3,200 viewers.
For the Lasses, this game will be a celebration of their huge achievement of cementing their traditional position inside the top 24 women’s football teams in the country, as well as a big test against one of the best sides in the division.
Bristol will have Abi Harrison up front, and the Scottish international striker, who is always a joy to watch, is undoubtedly a WSL-quality player, as well as the division’s top scorer with 17 goals in 21 games.
Getting Sunderland Women back to where we belong
We should never forget that our WSL status was initially denied us, and then taken away from us by a combination of neglectful owners and a FA focused on ensuring the missing elements of the ‘Big Six’ had a clear passage into the WSL in 2018.
Before that, we had won Tier Two three times in a row between 2011 and 2013 without gaining promotion. As the WSL came in, our reward for consistently being the best side outwith the top flight was... a place in Tier Two for 2014 (which we won, and they had no option but to subsequently promote us).
Our demotion four years ago was the nadir. It demoralised supporters and meant that a generation of young girls who had been able to watch the English game’s biggest stars up close in Hetton on a regular basis, and those who had seen us playing live on TV on BT Sport, were deprived of this pleasure for reasons that went far beyond the team’s achievements on the pitch.
We’ve been playing catch-up ever since, with the determination of Keira Ramshaw and Mel Reay, the wonderful work of the Regional Talent Club and the Foundation Scholars Programme. The loyalty of the fans has also been incredible, and is at the forefront of why we can now celebrate the club’s status as an established and competitive Tier Two side once again.
The experiment with streaming isn’t the only new addition to the coverage of the Lasses this weekend.
After last weekend’s River Wear derby, which was carried by Durham Hospital Radio, both of the area’s Championship sides will receive live radio coverage from the good folks at BBC Radio Newcastle for the first time, with club legend Gary Bennett joining Colin White from the Hetton Centre, and another commentary team travelling to London to provide coverage of Durham WFC away at Charlton Athletic.
Some of the region’s traditionally smaller clubs will also be gaining recognition for their newly invigorated efforts to promote the women’s game, with the BBC attending St James’ Park to cover the heavily publicised Northumberland derby down in National League North Division 1, as Newcastle United and Alnwick Town play each other.
The newly flush Lady Magpies, whose squad includes several players who’ve previously represented Sunderland AFC or were developed by our RTC academy programme, are still hopeful of winning the league, although it will require a minor miracle to occur in the game between struggling, fan-owned FC United of Manchester and top-of-the-table amateurs Liverpool Federation, who only require a point to claim the solitary promotion spot and a place in Tier Three for next season.
Unfortunately, the same priviledge isn’t being afforded by the local broadcaster to Newcastle’s fellow Tier Four sides, including third-placed Durham Cestria, who are away at Stockport County, and Chester-le-Street Town, who welcome fourth-placed Leeds United to the banks of the Wear.
In addition, BBC Tees won’t be covering their local sides, Norton & Stockton Ancients, who are away at Chorley, and who also beat Newcastle a couple of weeks ago, or Middlesbrough’s crucial National League North Premier game away to Burnley.
Nevertheless, the public broadcaster is slowly starting to recognise the substantial value in covering local women’s football, and the commentary will be switching between the Sunderland, Durham, and Newcastle-Alnwick fixtures during this afternoon’s North East Sport show, with more promised for next season.
Taking all of that into account, today is a massive day, with big implications for the future of the women’s game throughout our great footballing region.
With the Lionesses poised to challenge for the Euros in England this summer in front of huge crowds, this is the kind of coverage the domestic women’s game needs to ride the wave of interest, and for both the clubs and the broadcasters, YouTube streaming and radio coverage represents a huge step in the right direction.
You can play your part - tune in your radio, watch the live stream, or even better, get along to Eppleton and give the Lasses the support they so richly deserve. Ha’way The Lasses!