Sunderland to shake the Women’s Super League. Hail our conquering heroines

Photo courtesy of the Sunderland Women's Football Club*
Photo courtesy of the Sunderland Women’s Football Club*

What a pleasure, after a season of such disappointment for Sunderland AFC, to be able to congratulate a team in our red and white stripes. Sunderland Women’s Football Club again won the Premier title and this time the FA could find no spurious reason to justify shutting the door of the Super League to them. We asked Paul Dobson – Sobs of A Love Supreme fame and also one of this site’s great friends – to write about the exploits of a side he occasionally watches in action. It appears at Salut! Sunderland as Monsieur Salut’s younger daughter, Nathalie, prepares to line up with her London-based team Old Actonians for a friendly against Toulon in the south of France (minus “Sir” Jonny, as my neighbour calls him, absent – as is neighbour – at the French rugby cup final at the Stade de France) …

Believe it or not, there’s a team called Sunderland, sporting the slogan Invest in Africa on their shirts, who have done rather well this season just gone

Unlike their male counterparts, Sunderland Women’s Football Club has been the team of the season in their division, winning the League title and thus becoming the Premier League National Division Champions for the third consecutive year.

Last season they doubled up by taking the Premier League Cup, and in 2009 narrowly lost the RFA Cup Final to Arsenal.

Add to that winning the Premier League Northern Division title three times and coming second three times, plus winning the Keele International Tournament, and they’ve squeezed in a lot of success in their fourteen year existence. For thirteen of those years, manager Mick Mulhearn (who apparently learned his trade as part of the A Love Supreme 5-a-side team) has been at the helm, and he is the proud possessor of two “manager of the year” awards.

With all of that success, you could be forgiven for wondering why the team is not part of the top division, the Super League. Well, they applied back in 2010, as they had the backing and the facilities, but in what seemed like a particularly obvious political decision, they were knocked back in favour of what looked like several decidedly inferior southern clubs. Finally, this summer, the powers that be have seen the embarrassing error of their ways and the girls have been let in, so the world is very much their oyster – at long last.

On a personal level, I’ve been an occasional watcher for the last five years or so, partly because the team are called Sunderland and play in red and white, but mainly, I have to admit, because my mate’s daughter plays for them. I thoroughly enjoyed the games I’ve seen, and been to an FA Cup Final.

OK, it was “only” at Pride Park, and the teenagers of Sunderland were pitted against the seasoned professionals of Arsenal, with their model looks, their big contracts, and their hundreds of international caps, but it was a proper game of football.

Forget that a pint of Marston’s Fizz cost more than my match ticket, it was a great occasion made all the greater when the cameras zoomed in on player Natalie Gutteridge and her dad Dave– a Villa fan wearing a Sunderland shirt for the day.

It’s a shame they missed him losing his temper when an Arsenal defender clattered Nat, as that would have made great post-watershed TV. He even counts Newcastle supporters amongst those he’s converted to shouting for Sunderland Women – even against Newcastle.

Image courtesy of Sunderland Women's Football Club*
Image courtesy of Sunderland Women’s Football Club*

There are those who will decry women’s football as less skilful, slower, and less passionate. To those people I say “give it a try.” There are obviously things a young lady can’t do that a seasoned male professional can, but if you’ve ever been to a SWAFC v NUWAFC (that’s the ladies’ derby) you’ll know that passion and commitment is there in abundance.

The tackles fly in, the players give each other the eye, call each other names, and bodies have been known to fly as the girls, particularly those in the proper stripes, show that they really care. There’s no small amount of skill either, with ball control of the highest order, and some great surges from deep midfield to keep you entertained. If you think girls can’t head the ball, consider that Natalie scored more than 10 goals with her head a couple of seasons back.

Of course, with success comes ambition, and without elevation to that Super League, some players could not fulfil it with SWAFC. Remember Steph Houghton’s goals in the Olympics for England? Ex Sunderland, now with six goals in 34 games for England – not bad for a defender. Jordan Nobbs, daughter of former Hartlepool player Keith, who recently scored for Arsenal in the FA Cup Final (alongside Houghton)? Ex Sunderland, now with four England caps and a goal.

You’ll find the crowd at Hetton to have a higher percentage of female fans, as you’d expect, but a surprising number of “traditional” football fans (flat cap, traditionally tied Sunderland scarf, lots of opinions), and the compulsory proud parents.

The players still shout things like “man on” and everything else that the boys shout, with a bit of choice language thrown in for good measure, but you’ll enjoy the game. In recent seasons, part of that enjoyment has been due to Sunderland’s winning most games, but also because there’s been some decent football played. Next season, part of that enjoyment will be because at last the girls will be deservedly pitting themselves against the rest of the best teams in the land.

So, with the Super League to look forward to, the likes of Beth Mead, Steph Bannon, Rachel Furness, Sophie Williams, Keira Ramshaw (and they’re just the one I remember) and of course Nat, once recovered from injury (Dave will not be pleased if I leave her out) will be spending the summer planning ways to up their game and prove that they are worth their place there. With a successful reserve team, a number of young players gaining international recognition – Emma Kelly, Grace Donnelly and Brogan McHugh have been selected to attend an England U17s training camp – and senior players also gaining recognition, with Abbey Joice and forwards Keira Ramshaw and Beth Mead having recently been selected to attend an England U19 training camp, things are looking good.

The girls play in red and white, they’re proud to do so, and they deserve as much support as they can get, so why not try spending a Sunday afternoon at Hetton? You’ll enjoy it.

That's Sobs (left), with Sixer. the grim faces suggest they're watching the Lads
That’s Sobs (left), with Sixer, the grim faces rightly suggesting they were watching the Lads
* Sobs, on loan from A Love Supreme. A bit like Shaun Elliott spending his summer holidays with Seattle Sounders, if you like

1973 May 5See all Salut! Sunderland’s articles recalling May 5 1973 and the run that took SAFC to FA Cup glory:

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7 thoughts on “Sunderland to shake the Women’s Super League. Hail our conquering heroines”

  1. I forgot to mention that the team that finished fourth to Sunderland this year has been promoted to WSL 1.

    Money bags Manchester City!!!!

    Bleedin’ Disgraceful!!!!

  2. What happened to Doncaster was shameful. Next season there will be two WSL Divisions and Doncaster have been “demoted” to the second tier regardless of where they finish in the league. The FA have decided this on criteria other than performance on the pitch i.e. money as usual.

    Sunderland won’t be up against the better teams because they are in the second tier too.

    This begs the question—- will either team be allowed in the top division if they become champions of the second division?

    I have an awful feeling they won’t and in Sunderlands case this could be down to poor facilities and the lack of support and finance from SAFC.

  3. Still think it’s criminal that the lasses were ignored for the super-league when it was formed, however that is water under the bridge.

    Now in 2013, the FA have once again shown their favouritism of money over ability by replacing the Doncaster Belles (arguably the most famous name in women’s footy) with Man city ladies, a side who finished 4th, 21 point behind Sunderland in this years premier league.

    The promotion of women’s football should be done on the strength of on the field achievements and not who can best line the pockets of the FA.

    • Read something recently where some lads took a flag to a Doncaster game calling the FA greedy because of this decision and, due to news of its existence getting to officials, it was confiscated – in the car park outside the ground!!

  4. Goldy – you’re right, I missed Jill out, partly because I never saw her play. Good player.
    I also didn’t mention that
    Steph Houghton also watches Sunderland Women when she can

  5. You failed to mention Jill Scott, another Mackem lass who plays for England more than Steph. And Everton.

  6. About time the Super League showed some sense and eventually admitted SWFC,the ladies have been one of the country’s best for years and now have the chance to prove it on a weekly basis .Good to see women’s football taking off as hopefully along with the men’s game it will encourage our youngsters to put down the play station ( I think !) and get moving.

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