Ladies last: the unjust double demotion of Sunderland AFC’s Lasses

Photo – old strip as you can tell – courtesy of Sunderland AFC Ladies

Imagine Watford or West Ham in the Premier League, and QPR and Nottingham Forest in the Championship, being told they were no longer wanted in their respective divisions despite having achieved safety in relative comfort.

Couldn’t happen, you’re thinking. Now consider the fate of the Sunderland Ladies football team. In wretched circumstances, victims of penny-pinching cuts wielded at Ellis Short’s bidding by our equally unmissed CEO, Martin Bain, they finished seventh top in the Women’s Super League , the highest English division in the female game.

And their reward for such sterling efforts: booted out by the FA. And not even allowed to compete in the WSL second tier, or Championship.

It is, on the face of it, a scandalous injustice. A commendable season of competing at the top level against richly endowed clubs has been rewarded by outright rejection.

Where lies the blame? The FA insists only fully professional clubs qualify for inclusion. In its cosy-cutting frenzy, Sunderland AFC decided to relinquish this status. That effectively condemned the women’s an immediate double relegation however well they fared in the season just finished.

So Sunderland were unable to buy a place at the top. What about our new ownership, so keen on rebuilding bridges between club and public? Was it not possible for a helping hand to be given to a consistently high-performing part of the club’s fabric? And did officials of the Ladies’ side themselves do enough to attract commercial sponsorship?

I can do no better than refer readers who care – and I appreciate that not every SAFC supporter cares too much about the women’s team, though in my view they should – to a striking letter published by the Sunderland Echo back in October. It was from our old friend Ian Todd, co-founder of the SAFC Supporters’ Association London & SE branch and a solid fan of the Lads, the Lasses and Durham County Cricket Club.

Most of what he said then holds good:

With the men’s team still struggling to cope with the transition to Championship football, it has been a delight to see the promising start to their season achieved by Sunderland Ladies.

With the men’s team still struggling to cope with the transition to Championship football, it has been a delight to see the promising start to their season achieved by Sunderland Ladies.

It is accepted that the underlying financial situation of the parent club was bound to have an effect but it is to the great credit of the women players that the reduction to part-time status earlier in the year, and the more recent loss of both their home ground and training facilities at the Academy of Light, has neither dampened their enthusiasm nor their playing potential.

These blows to their deserved progress will however be nothing to the recent decision of the Football Association to only allow teams with full-time status to play in the top Women’s League.

So unless there is a change of heart by Sunderland AFC, no matter how successful the ladies side is this season they will be relegated.

Time is short for the club’s application for a playing licence to be submitted.

Are there not a number of local businesses who would be prepared collectively to make a small sponsorship donation to restore the club’s finances to a level at which the players could be employed full-time?

Or here is a more radical suggestion.

If each of the men’s first team players were willing to “adopt” a ladies player and donate one week of their wages to the women’s team it could restore its full-time status overnight.

That radical plan fell on deaf ears, of course.

Here, for the sake of fairness, is what the FA’s Katie Brazier, head of leagues and competitions, had to say.

It does not approach a full and acceptable justification but helps us understand what has happened. The questions, as you can tell, are from the FA’s own staff:

Katie, tell us a bit about the process?

The decision to restructure the women’s football pyramid was announced back in September 2017 in line with the FA’s The Gameplan for Growth strategy, which aims to transform the women’s game both on and off the pitch. Today’s announcements are a result of nearly two years of planning and work.

As a result of the restructure, clubs competing in Tier 1 and Tier 2 of the women’s pyramid of football will now be subject to increased requirements both on and off the field. As part of these new criteria, Tier 1 clubs will have to provide a full-time professional environment for their players.

Existing FA Women’s Super League 1 and 2 clubs (FA WSL) were given the opportunity to apply for a licence to participate in the new competitions ahead of an open application phase for clubs outside of The FA WSL. Following a detailed assessment by a panel of experts, the FA Women’s Football Board decided to offer all FA WSL clubs who applied for a licence as part of the initial process, a licence in the Tier which they applied for. For some clubs this offer was conditional on them ensuring that certain requirements were met before the award was confirmed. This process left two licences available in Tier 1 and five licences in Tier 2.

The open application phase (which invited bids from clubs who had a women’s or girls’ team playing affiliated football) began in November 2017 with a workshop for interested clubs. The formal process then started in January 2018 and applications were due in by 9 March. Any existing FA WSL clubs which hadn’t applied as part of the initial application phase were welcome to submit an application as part of the open application process. 15 clubs applied across Tier 1 and Tier 2 during this phase.

The applications were assessed by a panel of experts across a range of fields including finance, marketing and commercial, facilities, player development, coaching and performance. Each club was then invited to an individual interview.

Finally, the FA Women’s Football Board met on Wednesday 23 May to assess all the application information and make its decision.

Outside of the processes described above, one spot was available for the winner of Sunday’s The FA WPL Championship Play-Off, subject to the Champion Club meeting the licence criteria. This was secured by Charlton Athletic Women.

In addition to the licences awarded in December 2017 and the winner of the Play-Off final the following licences have been awarded following the open application phase:

Tier 1: The FA Women’s Super League– West Ham United Ladies
Tier 2: The FA Women’s Championship – Leicester City Women, Lewes FC Women, Manchester United Women & Sheffield United Ladies.

All clubs awarded a licence to participate in the new competitions for 2018-19 onwards are required to sign a licence with The FA and any awards made by the Women’s Football Board are conditional on all clubs signing and returning a licence in the form requested by The FA.

How hard were the decisions you had to make?

We have been through an extremely thorough and detailed process. We know that there are a number of knock-on effects resulting from the outcome of the application process and I can assure you that all decisions have been made with the respect and due diligence that they deserve. For those clubs which were unsuccessful, we understand there will be disappointment and we’ll be working with each of them to provide support and guidance. With promotion and relegation now established across all levels of the pyramid there are opportunities for clubs to progress in the future and I’m sure many will continue the great work they are doing to achieve this.

What will happen to the three FA WSL 1 and 2 clubs which weren’t successful?

We understand that this will be disappointing for the three clubs who were occupying spots in The FA WSL. We will speak to the clubs to ensure they are placed at the right level within the women’s football pyramid for the 2018-19 season.

The full interview is a little longer and can be seen here. The parts that concern Sunderland are shown above.

Make of it what you will. I cannot shake off the feeling that Sunderland Ladies have been treated shabbily and unforgivably.

‘Sunderland’s headlong fall and the unconditional love that makes us keep faith.’ Click on the cartoon to read Monsieur Salut’s tale of woe

4 thoughts on “Ladies last: the unjust double demotion of Sunderland AFC’s Lasses”

  1. It’s an absolute disgrace how can our Ladies come 7 th in the league and not progress for next season. We have produced 7 England ladies and we are not good enough – Rubbish.
    My grandaughter,s ambition is to play for Sunderland.She has been playing for two years and is now 9 and an excellent player. What do I tell her !!!!!!
    This needs to be addressed and totally agree with the person who said 1 weeks wages of that ridiculous Rodwell person would pay for our Ladies – we should hold our heads in shame.

  2. What makes this unjust situation even more galling, is that the wages of the useless Rodwell who can’t even be bothered ,would fund the entire women’s team who still play for the love of the game . I’m sometimes a little sceptical when examples of the gender pay gap are discussed at length, most of the time ( BBC aside ) it’s rarely like for like and is of course illegal . This is obscene and I’ve no idea about the legality of it , but morally it stinks . How about the men’s team , as part of their regular pre season warm ups play a match at the SOL with proceeds going towards the upkeep of the ladies team ? Sounds fare to me .


    SAFC Ladies has a proud history,an established WSL club..producing 7 current England players.FA Cup finalists,League Cup Winners,3 x WPL Champions.Yet the FA have removed their status and they face extinction.We have worked so hard to promote the Women’s game and they have taken away the pathway of young “stars” in the region.



    Maurice Alderson
    Former Chairman of Sunderland Ladies….I handed over control to Mr Short et al on the elevation to WSL, with assurance given that the future of the Ladies was secure.

  4. With the way SAFC were treated by the FA over the San Allardyce affair, the length of time it took to approve the new owner and now this it is quite easy to formulate a conspiracy theory.

Comments are closed.

Next Post