Sunderland and the WSL – professionalism in English women’s football


One step forward, two steps back: debt-ridden Sunderland axe pro women’s setup


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Women’s Football Archive ponders the implications of Wearside giants Sunderland slashing their women’s team’s budget, at a time of make-or-break for the FA’s fledgling WSL project.

EXPONENTIALLY fewer female players, compared to the men, means everyone knows who the best ones are. So it’s easy for a club to hoover them all up then thrash everybody else.


Arsenal did it for years, and Manchester City are doing it now.


This goes on further afield too. When our best come up against the Lyons and Wolfsburgs we’re invariably sent packing. You can set your watch by it.


Give Women’s Football Archive a team with twice Man City’s budget and we’d round up a mish-mash of Yanks, Franks and Germans – then give “Citeh” their dinner.


Or we’d just play them at their own game: wait for the England players’ contracts to lapse, then woo them all away with bigger deals.


Money matters


Listen, the FA’s WSL model relies on raising standards across the board. That means getting full-time training for – with all due respect – sub-top level players.


The FA model also relies on getting someone else to pay for it. And they are not sniffy about who coughs up.


On the eve of WSL I, Birmingham City owner Carson Yeung flung the club’s Ladies a bin liner full of cash. Cash of – ahem – very dubious provenance.


Such largesse saw star-studded Brum scoop the FA Women’s Cup and a couple of runners-up spots. But with Yeung caged and the cupboard bare, the big names soon slunk away to greener pastures.


At the other end of the spectrum is a stand up guy like Ray Trew at Lincoln/Notts County. To any rational onlooker, his longstanding support of women’s football makes NO sense.


Okay, let’s not dust off the halo just yet – you don’t attain Ray’s station in life by being a choirboy.


But judged squarely on his actions down the years, women’s soccer fans of every stripe have much to thank the former Notts County supremo for.


Women’s Football Archive has been privately assured that Trew is the real deal. A principled football man who absorbed the women’s club’s losses in his business empire, all to send a positive life lesson to his daughters.


Like Mo Fayed at Fulham 15 years earlier, he kept writing the cheques while the FA failed to deliver on their promises of jam tomorrow.


Over at Doncaster Belles, backers BPP – a US-style private university – are perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea.


But let’s talk about what they are: a licence to print money.


They bankroll the Belles’ full-time operation with chump change found down the back of their sofa.


Great for the Belles and great for the game. Ironically, though, BPP’s involvement only came about during the FA’s bungling of the Belles’ 2013 demotion and the subsequent outcry.




Younger readers may not realise that Sunderland are a grand old football club with a proud heritage. The team of luminaries including Raich Carter, Len Shackleton and Charles Buchan.


Buchan was a sort of male precursor of Sue Lopez: a great, thinking player turned coach, turned writer. An advocate of the game. What the North Americans call a “builder”.


Quite how the modern Sunderland have contrived to put themselves £140m in debt – while the BPL slosh buckets of Sky TV’s billions over themselves – is anybody’s guess.


It must be a legacy of crackpot decisions like axing Mick McCarthy, a rough-hewn gaffer who habitually leaves clubs in better nick than he finds them. Or ditching Martin O’Neill for wacky Paolo Di Canio.


Incredibly, the relegation-haunted Mackems are STILL paying off massive transfer fees in respect of countless duds, who had to be shipped out for peanuts.


That makes choking off funding to their own women’s section all the more ludicrous.


Booting out the full-timers condemns Sunderland to life in the WSL 1 slow lane and almost certain relegation.


Even if they did beat the drop, the WSL’s capricious licencing criteria will likely doom them to an artificial, Donny Belles-style demotion.


“A previously successful model” and the War on Fans


The club’s mealy-mouthed statement, which branded savage cuts a reversion to “a previously successful part-time model” cruelly blindsided Sunderland’s female pro’s.


The rest of us were left perplexed. Just how stupid do they think we are?


The last time Sunderland’s men came close to winning anything of note, in 1992, they were paying honest plodders like Anton Rogan and John Byrne a few hundred quid a week.


Will they revert to this “previously successful model” too? Or will they keep flushing millions down the toilet, wasted on hapless Davie Moyes’ rock-bottom outfit?


The “previously successful model” soundbite – a piece of Orwellian doublespeak – came from CEO Martin Bain, a former Glasgow Rangers official with links to Israel and South Africa.


Bain steered Rangers onto the rocks, while up to his armpits in the toxic Employee Benefit Trust (EBT) tax-cheat which proved the Ibrox club’s undoing.


His tenure saw Rangers sold for a quid then crash into liquidation. Indeed, with the club in its death throes Bain went to court to “ring fence” his dues, elbowing aside hundreds of small creditors and debenture holders.


Quite reasonably, many will construe his attack on Sunderland’s women as simply a new front in his wider war on the Wearside club’s fans.


Women’s Football Archive Verdict:


Now look here, whatever anyone says about Glasgow Rangers, they were a football club with a long unbroken history. And for that to end the way it did was nothing short of shameful.


It behoves all of us in the women’s football community to ensure that Sunderland’s women do not go the same way.


Ever since the days of Liz Deighan, Pauline Chilton and Christine Hutchinson, the north-east has been a hotbed of the English women’s game.


Then Mick Mulhern’s red and white talent factory churned out a seemingly endless conveyor belt of Lionesses, including Jill Scott, Steph Houghton, Carly Telford and Lucy Bronze.


But with the exodus of full-timers already underway, it seems the best the club can hope for is a period of consolidation at WSL 2 level. And the prompt appearance of a more reliable income stream.


Make no mistake, if self-sabotaging Sunderland are turfed out of the FA WSL altogether then oblivion awaits.


Previous knifes in the back from their dopey, irresponsible ‘parent club’ have already wasted eight of the Lady Black Cats’ nine lives.


Their demise would spell disaster for the WSL’s stated aim of widening England’s talent base – with the nearest top-flight club in Manchester.


AT the moment, any spindly-legged 13-year-old who does more than three keepy-uppies at her ‘Regional Talent Centre’ is whisked into the England setup. That puts her on the radar of all the top clubs.


There are NO hidden gems any more and it’s all in danger of becoming a stage-managed procession. A bit too predictable.


In the old Championship Manager 2 video games you could resort to the ol’ cheat codes. Stick Gabriel Batistuta and Romário up front, with Andreas Möller ‘in the hole’ loading the bullets, and you wouldn’t go far wrong.


Which was fun… for a while, until it got boring. Yet the FA expect folk to open their wallets and fund perennial WSL also-rans in an equally lopsided arrangement.


Let’s get real. Not even BPL clubs – notorious financial basket cases – or guys with the intelligence and maturity of Ray Trew will keep picking up the tab in those circumstances.


Maybe THAT’S the underlying issue here?

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