Watford Ladies will officially no longer be a FA WSL side, after deciding to try only for a third tier place in the WPL next season.
As per the announcement from the club, it is quite clear the men’s team don’t want to subsidise the Women’s team and participate in the arms race as wanted by the FA.
As the official deadline for submitting bids for Tier 1 and Tier 2 next season is coming up, Watford Ladies might not be the only team to decline staying in the WSL 2. There might even be some WSL 1 teams who decline bidding for the rebranded and repackaged Tier 1 and 2.
The willingness and unexpected hurry from the FA to dictate clubs to move to full-time professional outfits next season, based on a single business model and no other alternative to become a sustainable team on the financial side, is a huge gamble.
There is a feeling that the lessons from the past have not been learnt. Women’s football teams relying on the Men’s team’s money to survive is an open door to disaster. As soon as the money is cut, that team will be in trouble.
We saw it happen to Charlton who were very successful but were cut when the Men’s side was relegated from the Premier League. We saw with Fulham, who were the first professional team in England for a couple of seasons, before Mohammed Al Fayed cut the funding as the FA did not fulfil its promise of creating a professional league.
And the most recent case of course, when Notts County Ladies folded on the eve on the Spring Series as the owner Alan Hardy did not want to back up a huge loss-making business. Anyone with a business sense would think that this model of relying on the Men’s club money is a high-risk one and cannot fit all the clubs.
When the FA ask for budgets to be at least £400,000 next season and increase the following campaigns, they know that independent clubs have no chance to find that kind of funding and break-even. They therefore ask Women’s teams to make huge losses covered by the Men’s teams.
Two clubs currently in WSL 1 are therefore unlikely to make it to Tier 1 and should be demoted to Tier 2, although Katie Brazier – the FA Head of Women’s Leagues and Competitions – does not call it a relegation. In reality WSL 1 & 2 will cease to exist at the end of the 2017/18 season and will be replaced by brand new leagues with new names. So technically those clubs are not demoted, there are just not invited to play in the top tier.
The FA plans to restructure the women's football pyramid at the elite level: https://t.co/q5tV5kIYUI
— The FA (@FA) September 27, 2017
Sunderland Women, who reverted to the semi-professional model in the light of the Men’s team’s huge debt, and Yeovil Town, who are a small and well-managed club but need £350,000 to be able to bid for a Tier 1 place next season, are two likely victims of the change.
Other WSL 1 teams might not have the financial backing from their Men’s team to go full-time either and will soon hear from then as well, once the bidding has closed.
There is a genuine worry among the women’s football fans in England that the FA is killing the game with multiple reforms and that revolution that leaves the poor clubs out of Elite football and invites the rich to come and get a share of the cake.
We actually don’t know how things will work out, although having a full-time professional league certainly benefits the England teams. There is no doubt about it, in my opinion. But how much damage will the clubs and players have to suffer to reach that result?