After the shocking news that a top level women’s football team has now disappeared, let’s have a look at the chain of events that led to the disaster.

First, it has to be said that the club existed only for three years.

It was formed in 2014, when the Lincoln Ladies franchise was transferred to Notts County Ladies, a move similar to the one that happened when Wimbledon moved to Milton Keynes.

Lincoln Ladies disappeared at the end of 2013 and the Notts County Ladies team that was playing in the lower division of the women’s football pyramid was absorbed. The Lincoln Ladies fans instantly lost their team as the FA allowed the then-owner, Ray Trew, to move the franchise away from their club.

It has to be understood that there are multiple responsibilities in the Notts County Ladies  disaster: Ray Trew who drove the club to the ground, the FA for allowing it to happen and Alan Hardy, the new owner who decided to pull the plug.

Ray Trew, the previous owner who bought Lincoln and initiated the move from Lincoln to Notts County, probably dreamt about big successes for his team and bought a lot of players, to end up with no trophies. It is quite extraordinary that he was allowed to accumulate such debts to the HMRC and other creditors and then get away with it by selling the club.

That the FA also allowed him to build the debt to such an extent is also puzzling, because you would think that there would be a financial control department at the FA WSL that would monitor what was happening to clubs every season. Even if clubs were given licences for three and then five years, it is a real concern that no alarm bells rang and it ended up in such a disaster.

There is a certain irony in the FA statement about their refusal to transfer the franchise to another team to save the players and the coaching staff.

“To maintain the integrity of the league and in fairness to all other FA WSL and FA Women’s Premier League clubs, there is a rigorous application process to meet licence criteria.”

According to the club statement there was a need to spend nearly £1,000,000 to keep the club afloat:

“I wish to be totally transparent with supporters about the sums of money involved here. When I took over the club, HMRC and other creditors had in excess of £350,000 of unpaid liabilities.

“Additionally, I was extremely concerned that to operate Notts County Ladies for the current season was going to cost us approximately £500,000 – a figure principally made up of player and coaching salaries. Our total projected incoming revenue from attendances and sponsorship was £28,000.”

The new owner took over the men’s club and settled their debt first before trying to the settle the women’s club debt. It was subjected to a winding-up order that was adjourned and then came the hammer blow, two days before the Spring Series was about to start.

It leaves the players in a terrible situation, having now to look for a new clubs when the transfer window already closed weeks ago and other clubs had therefore filled up their squads and spent their budgets.
The owner tweeted about the debt level for the men’s team and what it would cost to add the women’s team:
Very often women’s teams are cut when money becomes short as seen recently when Sunderland reverted to part-time football i.e. semi-professional football, because of the men’s extraordinary debt level accrued through the years.
Charlton and Fulham also come to mind when thinking of clubs who lost support from the men’s team and were forced to survive in difficult circumstances.
The Notts County business plan has also to be queried as well.
There is no doubt that having a self sustainable women’s football team is nearly impossible to realise at the moment, that’s why the soccer league in the USA have struggled through the years. The NWSL reaching its fifth year over there is giving hope that a sustainable League is possible.
We are talking here, according to the club statement, about operational costs of around £500,000 and a projected turnover of £28,000. There is no doubt that such a model is not sustainable if you do not have a strong men’s team backing you up.
This is no problem for the top 3 FA WSL teams – Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal – they are more likely to have a budget that is the double that of Notts County and have no problem funding the deficit every season.
The half-million pounds figure seem reasonable and other FA WSL teams are probably operating around the same kind of budget. There is a lack of transparency around this that does not allow us to really know the exact figures.
Entertaining a full time squad and staff is therefore expensive and the revenue stream is not there to make it profitable or break even at the moment.
You have to question why clubs would use such a business model, if they don’t have a backer ready to invest a huge amount of money in order to have a competitive team. This clearly reminds me of La Fontaine’s fable, ” The Frog and the Ox”.
The FA and clubs should really work together so that different business models can co-exist in the FA WSL. Even if it means smaller sides won’t be able to compete over a full season with the big money teams, it is important to see teams able to operate within their means rather than go big and end up like Notts County.
At the end of the day, the players and coaching staff are now out of jobs, some of them might even be homeless as they were living in club accommodation and it is not an acceptable situation.
Hopefully the FA will learn the lessons from this and won’t give licenses to team/owners without a serious and sustainable business plan.