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: https://safc.blog/2018/07/the-scandal-of-seventh-top-sunderland-ladies-exclusion-from-the-womens-super-league/.
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 – https://safc.blog/2018/05/ladies-last-the-unjust-double-demotion-of-sunderland-afc-ladies/ – 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: https://www.sunderlandecho.com/sport/football/sunderland-afc/sunderland-ladies-demotion-how-it-happened-what-it-means-and-what-next-1-9266492
*** 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… https://www.sunderlandecho.com/sport/football/local-football/my-blood-is-boiling-fans-react-after-sunderland-ladies-demoted-two-divisions-1-9266752
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’