One key question that needs to be answered in a sound, rational sense is that of the much sought after intention of creating a professional women`s league in this country.
Steps obviously have already been taken by The FA in the creation of the WSL which, for all intents and purposes, is a breakaway summer league created and sponsored by the FA itself. There are two questions that require answers since the launch of this WSL initiative, they are:
1) Should there be an alternative breakaway summer league operating outside the pyramid of women`s football?
2) Should the FA be sponsoring such a breakaway league to the tune of some £930,000 per season, and for it to be continued for the next 4 seasons up to the year 2018?
Further questions arise from this unique situation:
1) Is the bidding process flawed for entry in to this somewhat elitist set up?
2) Is this scheme doing more harm than good to the rest of the women`s pyramid (now known as the winter pyramid) and is the summer pyramid proving to be detrimental to the rest of the women`s pyramid as a whole?
3) If clubs cannot win entry by promotion on merit to the WSL, can such an irregular set up be considered fair and perhaps legal under the FA rules and regulations currently in operation?
What is required is clear and concise evaluation and an understanding of the FAs future thoughts and intentions for the women`s senior game as, at present, there is a lack of clarity. It appears The FA are trying to create a women`s professional league and they see this league as being best operated in the summer (for perhaps better and more exclusive coverage by the media) between the months of March and September in any given year and furthermore the WSL has, since inception, operated outside of the conventional women`s pyramid.
For season 2014 the WSL will have 2 divisions, WSL1 and WSL2, which has caused great concern from the women`s football fraternity resulting in a SGM being called for on 25th January 2014 for WPL clubs wanting to save their WPL from amalgamation with a lower league and loss of name and title status as the women`s number one winter league. As a result The FA agreed to retain the name WPL and to further look into possible reinstatement of promotion from the WPL to the WSL within the next two years.
After 150 years of football in this country promotion has been denied in favour of invitation only, no wonder so many clubs are up in arms over the way the women`s game is being directed. For whatever reason(s) this has been allowed to happen it is clearly not in the games interest, or the spirit of the competition, where success can be repaid by failure of not being promoted and furthermore those whom finish bottom of WSL2 are ring fenced from relegation of their failure, which provides little incentive to be successful.
This situation would never have seen the light of day in the men`s pyramid – imagine Championship clubs barred from promotion to the Premiership and no relegation from the Premiership! This situation just would never happen without strike and riot, so why has it been allowed to happen in the women`s pyramid of football?
This creation of WSL summer football and the way the structure has been implemented has serious implications for the future of women`s football in this country so a closer look is required into the methodology and reasoning for its implementation.
The FA quite openly state through their Game changer plan they wish to create a professional league to push the game forward, to have an elite set up of which they will select and self-sponsor teams and provide funds for player contracts. Is it fair? Is it right for all women`s football? Is it in the rules? It most certainly is not fair play that`s for sure, and is perceived as a total snub to the rest of the women`s pyramid as seen and protested about by the clubs in the immediate lower steps and divisions.
Have The FA compromised their position of fair play to all through their governance? Is selected sponsorship from the governing body to the chosen few the best way to achieve higher standards? Should clubs be barred from achieving success on merit? Should non achievers, come to that, be sponsored by the governing body? This is the position The FA now find themselves in of their own volition by creating 2 pyramids without considering the viability of professional summer football. How it is going to support itself in future and in conjunction with the Game changer model, of which so much faith is being put in by The FA, without due consideration to the consequences?
Compared to men’s football, a multibillion pound industry that came of age in the 1960’s after 100 years of growth, women`s football only really established itself in the early 1990s with the introduction of the Women`s Premier League which 20 years later has proved to be a major success, so why did the FA want to scrap it? Before season 2014/5, clubs knew where they stood and with ambition knew how far they could go. Everyone understood the pyramid with promotion and relegation at every level, which was until 2011 when everything changed for the worse for over 98% of women’s football.
The FA, for some unknown reason, decided on a new direction. The top down creation of the WSL for elite players has produced a marginally successful semi-professional women`s league however 3 years later cracks are beginning to appear as reality sinks in. There is much concern from rank and file clubs up and down the country on how best can we deal with this situation.
It took nearly 100 years of evolution for the men`s game of football to be accepted by the general public in a male dominated sport and through that time stadia was built throughout the country to create the infrastructure for the game to flourish and become a success as we now know of it today, so without being unfair to the women`s game, how are we able to create a women`s professional league when income cannot be generated to pay for it? The Women`s Premier League has been in operation for just over 20 years, it took the men`s game over 100 years for professional football to evolve and be able to pay for itself, so does professional women`s football actually stand a chance of succeeding? Let`s look at the facts:
1) Do women`s clubs own their own grounds?
2) Do women`s clubs create sustainable income?
3) Do they have any transferable assets that they actually consider to be of value, like contracted players for instance?
4) Do they, or indeed are they, self-sufficient to attain the status of actually being a professional club in their own right?
5) Can the creation of a supposedly professional Women`s Super League be seen as a fair play league when teams are selected, but not through merit of endeavour, and supported and financed by the governing body, The FA?
The answer to all these questions is simply NO, and therein lies the problem. Simply put the women`s game is wholly reliant on the men`s game for facilities and infrastructure to be a viable proposition in the first place. Success comes many years later, not overnight. Men`s clubs would not entertain a women`s section unless it was financially viable and in their interests to do so – this fact has become clearly apparent with the latest addition of Manchester City Ladies, their introduction seemingly purely to help circumvent the fair play rules of the main body of the club, their highly paid first team. Are the ladies team a viable asset at Manchester City? Possibly only until it`s not tax deductible or the novelty wears off, as we have seen in recent years at Fulham and Charlton Athletic Ladies.
Can women`s football survive without men`s football? Without doubt NO, but they CAN survive with them together, and they can reap great benefits in partnership together, as they serve their communities. Can the WSL survive without funding from the FA? Absolutely NOT, professional women`s football in this country cannot possibly stand on its own merits at this point in time. We need to get realistic and down to earth and work together to coexist to achieve ambition. In life there are no short cuts or free meals, this is the stark reality of the situation, and until the powers that be understand that it will be difficult to move on and do what is best for the ladies game without exception.
The summer league idea for all of women`s football is wholly reliant on suitable pitches being available for the idea to become sustainable, at the moment the infrastructure is simply not there. If we were to start the construction this summer of 3G and 4G all-weather artificial pitches then at least within the development 10 year plan this could be a reality.
There is obviously no guarantee that women`s professional football will ever happen; first and foremost it has to be given time to evolve without interference – evolution not revolution. The women`s game has to find its own feet and sponsors, it has to nurture itself, create its own identity and club following and reap the benefits of creating its own income. We can give them a hand up but we must never be seen to be giving them a hand out, partnerships will happen as communities come together.
There is absolutely no doubt if summer women`s football is to become a reality as The FA would like to see happen then the infrastructure has to be put in place first. For the change to happen this development plan will deliver your vision and provide income to become self-sufficient for decades to come.
Plans can and should be made for independent bodies to be set up to implement this initiative with funding supplied from the men`s professional game, details of which are in the following section.
Should this development model be acceptable, it is strongly suggested that County FA pitches should be those which are firstly converted to all-weather artificial surfaces as they can provide evidence of their viability through demonstrations whilst being a focal point for clubs wishing to enquire about or submit their prospective applications.
Jacquie Agnew is from Sussex in England and has been involved in Women’s Football since 2002. Jacquie was appointed to the Board of Directors at Lewes FC in October 2013, and is the Head of Football Operations for the Ladies section at the club. She has 12 years’ experience in Football Management as well as over 20 years’ experience in the corporate world. During her time as Ladies Manager she has won 7 trophies which she believes is down to hard work, mostly good decisions and bringing in committed people who want to do well for the club. She believes in Community ownership because it brings long term sustainability and a feeling of belonging for its fans. Being accessible to players, staff and directors is something that she values very highly as too is the sustainability and viability of the Women’s game in England from grass roots level to the elite.