Sunderland Ladies’ double demotion: the questions Baroness Sue Campbell won’t answer

Photo courtesy Sunderland AFC Ladies

Forgive Salut! Sunderland for being appalled at the double demotion of SAFC Ladies, guilty of no wrongdoing, and thus taking another dig at the FA, SAFC and maybe the SAFC Ladies management itself. Since no one has properly explained, no one knows who is most to blame …

As everyone who cares will know, Sunderland AFC Ladies have been handed what amounts to a double demotion, excluded from the Women’s Super League and its second tier despite finishing seventh top at the highest level of the English game.

I regard this as a scandalous affront to natural justice. The FA thinks it is somehow helping “women’s football to grow and prosper in the future”, though it will not explain – specifically – how such grotesquely unjust an exclusion of a successful team fits into this noble ideal.

Baroness Sue Campbell is the FA’s head of the women’s game. She keeps a straight face when claiming the process of deciding who may be included in the WSL, and who must be excluded, is fair and rewards “clubs willing to up their game and commit to the plans”.

That seems to mean money, clubs having resources or having to raise vast amounts to organise themselves on a full-time professional basis. Or does it? Here, Lady Campbell seems to contradict herself, saying: “It isn’t just about money or reputation. It is about a real understanding of what we want for the women’s game.”

I cannot press her ladyship on these matters. The FA decently invited me to do so – “please do send through a few questions you’d like answered,” said a press officer, “and I’d endeavour to get you a written response, where possible” – but then slammed the door shut. Because we’re a tinpot fan site, or because it is difficult to offer a viable defence? We shall never know.

These were my questions:

* does performance count for nothing in women’s football? Despite monumental odds given the off-the-field turmoil at SAFC, Sunderland Ladies finished seventh top at the highest level of the game. Do you accept my analogy that a double demotion of the kind inflicted is the female equivalent of Watford and West Ham (given their respective positions in the Premier League) being relegated to League One, QPR and Nottingham Forest to League Two?

* did Sunderland AFC’s decision not to keep SAFC Ladies on a full-time professional basis leave absolutely no flexibility or scope for maintaining its WSL status? In other words, were the relegations automatic because of that decision or did other factors arise?

* what is your message to the players and supporters who may well feel they have committed no wrong and yet have suffered a seemingly cruel and undeserved punishment?

* in what way will a promise to “rebuild” women’s football in the North East truly help Sunderland Ladies, the region’s most notable success story in the female game?

* please feel free to explain more fully about what you mean by a greater commitment to regional development of the game

I also promised that apart from my introduction, the questions and answers would be reproduced without further comment by me.

And I gave a link to a thorough and measured article by Ian Todd, who knows far more about the situation:

This, in the end,
was the FA’s response:

I’m afraid we are not able to arrange an interview with Baroness Sue Campbell.

We have explained the decision behind the restructure and the necessary criteria that all clubs were required to meet. The restructure is a key part of The FA’s plan to help women’s football to grow and prosper in the future.

Sorry that we are not able to help you further on this occasion.

Whatever we think of the FA’s arrogance, the club Stewart Donald bought from Ellis Short is hugely responsible for what has happened. It chose not to apply for WSL status when the FA required it. It appealed against expulsion from even the Championship (effectively WSL 2) as a very late afterthought. Other clubs, typically in poorer northern areas, also held back, fearing they could not at that time meet the obligatory financial criteria.

So Sunderland are not alone in suffering injustice and the FA is not alone in terms of culpability.

But forgive me for saying that it stinks to high heaven.

* Despite the FA’s rebuff, I did promise my coverage would strive for fairness and balance. Please read an earlier Salut! Sunderland piece – – in which Katie Brazier, head of leagues and competitions, justified the FA’s decisions (in general, not as applied to SAFC Ladies).

** This is how the Sunderland Echo explains the crisis:

*** And finally, here are a couple of the messages I (with the help of the Ecbo’s estimable Phil Smith) located at the Echo site…

Valerie Metcalf: ‘THE FA disgust me! Manchester United form a women’s team for the first time in their history and guess what? Straight into the Championship’

Sue Hollins: ‘My blood is still boiling from the initial decision to kick us out of the top tier. Clearly the ability to identify, nurture and develop the talented individuals who have gone on to play for England and/or current top tier clubs isn’t enough to warrant you staying in that league’

Monsieur Salut, drawn by Mac and coloured by Jake

3 thoughts on “Sunderland Ladies’ double demotion: the questions Baroness Sue Campbell won’t answer”

  1. When Baroness Campbell explained the issue and was questioned about the poor geographical spread of clubs, she alluded partnerships with the elite sports programmes of the North East. I presume she mean the now cancelled Team Northumbria elite sports programme. Yet another example of the FA letting down not just Sunderland but the North East in general.

    It seems that they don’t want another Steph Houghton, Jill Scott, Carly Telford, Jordan Nobbs, Beth Mead, Demi Stokes or Lucy Bronze. Despite being part-time, the coach was called into the England set-up and Lucy Staniforth, the club captain almost made it 8 current internationals who started out with SAFC Ladies.

    Surely the model should have been expand the league with new wealth by all means, but allow natural selection to take place, and if a part-time outfit can’t cut it, then they’ll be relegated. The FA are putting an artificial glass ceiling in place that favours the wealthier South where better sponsorship will be available and perhaps excluding an entire generation of girls from a professional career.

    Let’s hope Durham can fly the flag till the Ladies return.

  2. The FA had a wonderful opportunity to run women’s football properly. Instead they’ve gone down the same route as men’s game where money talks and imported overseas players take the place of home grown talent.

    With money involved who cares that without Sunderland ladies many WSL teams would be devalued, England would be a lesser force. Who remembers that Sunderland ladies were the first team to come anywhere near beating the all conquering Arsenal team in the cup final?

    I’ve no idea who Ms Campbell is but it seems she is not suited to be head of the women’s FA. Please replace.

  3. The club aren’t blameless ,but the players are . Utterly scandalous treatment of a team that has always overachieved and who’s ex players form the backbone of the England team . By improving North East football the FA obviously mean promoting some sort of NUFC ladies team .Watch this space and I hope our legal team also are .

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