A fortnight ago the English Football Association announced the eight clubs that were successful with their applications to be part of the new FA Women’s Super League, launching in March 2011.
Arsenal Ladies FC, Birmingham City Ladies FC, Bristol Academy Women's FC, Chelsea Ladies F, Doncaster Rovers Belles, Everton Ladies, OOH Lincoln Ladies FC and Liverpool Ladies were the eight clubs given licences for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
Congratulations must go to the eight teams who have got into the new league, as it will not just enhance their status as a football club, but provide them a bigger platform to grow commercially and financially. 16 teams from around the country bid to be part of the league with the FA asking clubs to apply by completing a Club Development Plan, which had to comply with four specific pieces of criteria and guidelines.
These were: Financial and business management, commercial and marketing, facilities, players and support staff.
The review process for the bids submitted was robust and thorough and all of the received bids were reviewed in great detail by an adjudication panel which included independent experts in the related business and football fields.
Looking at the eight clubs in question, using their geographical location around England, the chosen clubs are nicely spread around the country. This is an important point for the FA who will need to ensure that the league is able to build on the new popularity of the sport, getting more girls into the sport.
Bristol Academy's selection in the league is a positive with football thriving in the city with the men's teams Bristol Rovers and City having success over the last couple of years. Academy are aligned with Bristol Rovers and have got support from the Bristol Academy of Sport, which is the reason why they changed their name to Academy instead of Bristol Rovers Women's Football Club.
Alarmingly, there are a couple of clubs that should have perhaps warranted an entry. Sunderland Ladies perhaps were deserving of a place in the division, after all they are top of the Women's Premier League at the moment having played a staggering six games more than Arsenal. They also got to the Womens FA Cup final last year.
Their stumbling block probably came due to the fact that although they share the badge and name of the men's team, they are financially independent and do not rely on the men's team for any additional funding. All teams in the league have to match
the £70,000 a year that the FA is prepared to give each team for the first two years of the league's operation.
"We can't afford to pay our players expenses, let alone £30,000 a year," said the Sunderland chairman, Maurice Alderson. "We run our whole club on less than half of that. I love the concept of the league and I'd love be part of it, but it's going to be very difficult."
Although the FA is right to have rules and criteria for league application, perhaps the league's adjudication panel could have looked at the recent success of the team with limited resources and given them a chance.
The fact that there is no place for a club in the north west, an area of the country that literally breathes football is quite staggering. The recent success of Sunderland Ladies could sadly count for nothing as with the money coming in next year they will fall further away from the top teams and could decline as a club.
Another club that missed out was Leeds Carnegie, with OOH Lincoln Ladies probably taking their place after Carnegie. Due to missing out on the new league's money and commercial opportunities there should be great doubt cast over the club's future.
It's a shame as Carnegie have backing from Leeds Metropolitan University and would have gathered great attention that way. But the University however could not commit to the budget needed to compete in the league and the team looks as if it will fold at the end of the regular season. OOH Lincoln Ladies play in the Northern Premier Division and although they have a good supporters base which is great for any club their selection to neutrals came as a surprise.
The FA believes the Super League will be the key platform to drive the women’s game forward in England. The Super League concept was developed to enable players in this country to earn a good living from the game whilst allowing Super League clubs to develop new revenue streams and support for women’s football. ESPN have been lined up as the television broadcaster for the league with a five-year deal starting in 2011.
With participation levels of women’s football at an all time high—currently 1.1 million girls play football in England—the Super League will play a pivotal role in ensuring the player pathway leads to a competitive, elite structure at the very top of the women’s game.
Kelly Simmons, Head of National Game, said of the announcement: “We are delighted with the quality of the bids we received. We are looking forward to working with the eight clubs in the run up to next year’s launch to put in place an exciting, high quality and sustainable new league, taking our women’s game to new heights.”
Minister for Sport, Gerry Sutcliffe, commented: “It’s fantastic that the Women’s Super League is a step closer to getting off the ground. Women’s football is one of the fastest growing sports in the country but there is still room for further growth. The Super League will shine the spotlight even brighter on the women’s game, encourage more young women to take up the sport and help develop stars that will represent the ever-improving women’s national team.”
The FA will meet with all Super League clubs this month to discuss next steps in the preparation process for the 2011 Super League launch. I hope that the league offers those eight clubs great support and ensures that the league expands to 10 or 12 teams for 2013 when there will probably be additions to the league. Hopefully then Sunderland Ladies will gain their entry, it would be a crying shame if they didn't