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Lasses Roundtable: Ladies and Gentlemen... re-introducing Sunderland AFC Women!

Juliet once said “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” So what do our writers think of Sunderland AFC’s rebrand for women’s football at the club?

Photo by Chris Fryatt

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Charlotte Patterson says...

Women or Ladies? It’s not something I’ve necessarily given any thought about before.

I suppose the term or label of “ladies” is an outdated one, usually with connotations of the upper class and high social stature, it was seen as a position as opposed to a way of referring to gender.

The very definition from the Oxford dictionary states that the word Lady means - 1) A designation for a woman, 2) A woman who rules over subjects, or to whom obedience or feudal homage is due; the feminine designation corresponding to lord.

We never refer to men’s football as “gentleman’s football” or teams going by [Place name] gentleman.

Football has always been a working-class sport, played by working-class people, with women’s football being no different. The game is definitely not ladylike, that is for sure! That’s precisely why the FA banned women from playing football for 50 years in the first place.

I don’t see any issues with teams being referred to as ladies or women personally. “Women” sounds more older and professional, whereas “Ladies” sounds a bit younger and less serious; a bit similar to when some men’s football games are referred to as “Men v Boys”.

The name change for Sunderland may well serve as an indication and statement of intent from the club, particularly with the fact the club is developing a new U23 side.

Ultimately though, for myself personally who played football for 18 years, I have never been upset or angered around being named Ladies or Women’s. Similarly, I think it’s a view shared by most of my old teammates would share too.

Liverpool Women v Sunderland Ladies - Barclays FA Women’s Championship
Not Ladylike...
Photo by Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Rich Speight says...

Firstly, as a cis man, what I think about this topic matters least of all. What matters most of all is what the players think, and as I understand it they are fully supportive of a move designed, so I’m told, to signal that Sunderland AFC is fully embracing the 21st century.

The words we use really do matter. They have, convey, and communicate power and reflect power relations in society, and some are more inclusive than others. And for that reason, I think this is a powerful and progressive move that I can totally get behind.

“Lady” or “Ladies” has, for some, connotations of gentility and, to a certain extent, men’s possession of or dominion over women. This usage - ladylike being “appropriate for or typical of a well-bred, decorous woman or girl” is born, as Charlotte described, of class and aristocracy.

The ideal here for me would be that the nomenclature used by the club, and the way it presents itself in public, moves toward the model adopted by some of the world’s most progressive and equalities focused clubs - and the standard used in sports like athletics, cycling, and tennis - of simply designating men’s and women’s sections of their institutions. At Sunderland, this has been personified by the slogan “One Club, Our Club”, so maybe the SAFC website and social media accounts should be adjusted accordingly?

An interesting little online campaign popped up the other month, instigated by the Canadian YWCA, called #AddTheM - which called for the inclusion of the word “Men’s” in the title of sporting competitions in North America. Because the men deserve recognition too!

In response, I knocked up a few examples of how this might work in English football for the Women’s Football Fans Collective. The Men’s FA Cup, the Men’s Premier League, the English Men’s Football League, etc. So my view is that moving to SAFC Women is a great first step - next we need to #AddTheM and use SAFC Men too.

I’d also note that the club has moved between using “women” and “ladies” for its women’s section over the past 33 years, and before that in the Munitionette’s era Ladies was the most commonplace label applied. But when Sue Smith noted down the result of the first-ever Sunderland AFC Ladies game of the modern era, she used the initials Sunderland W.A.F.C.

So I say let the players lead on this matter - it’s their club too.


Graeme Field says...

I’m happy that we’ll now be known as Sunderland Women. I didn’t have a major issue with Sunderland Ladies, but this feels more contemporary. I hope this change of name will also be the setting of wheels in motion for further developments in the continued improvement of the women’s setup at the club this summer and beyond.

The squad and coaching staff have done really well this season to stay up and have a talented young team. General Manager Alex Clark is sharing the strategy for the women’s team in the coming days and I hope this is the start of positive changes for next season.

Let’s hope there’s a progressive vision for the women’s team, having already announced an improvement to the pathway into the first-team squad with the creation of an under 23 squad from next season.

We at Roker Report have differing views on what we believe is the best strategy to progress the women’s team back to the WSL, in the coming seasons.

Having bounced a few ideas around in our group chat, I believe a mix of full-time and part-time contracts would enable us to further strengthen the squad without it being prohibitive due to cost.

Let’s hope what to me is a relatively small name change, is the start of further positive changes in the short to medium term for the Lasses.


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