Sisters are having to do it for themselves
Just as one season reaches its climax, another arguably more significant one has just kicked off. The inaugural Women's Super League campaign got underway on Wednesday, with high hopes that it will help propel what is already the most popular team sport for women in the UK further into the spotlight. The aims are manifold: to increase participation at grassroots level; to elevate the game's status; to make staying in England more attractive to our top internationals, and to attract top internationals from elsewhere; to help make the national side more competitive with the powerhouses of women's football worldwide (namely the US and Germany).
With the FA pumping in £3m over two years and a television deal with ESPN, the WSL resembles a miniature version of the male Premier League, and critics could, I imagine, argue that the new emphasis on an elite and relatively exclusive top division will only serve to exacerbate the disparity between the haves and the have-nots of the ladies' game. But, mindful of the financial problems rife in men's football, the FA have seized the opportunity to put measures in place to curb the possibility of damaging excesses. For instance, only four players at any one club can earn above £20,000 a year, as a way of encouraging clubs to live within their means rather than perilously beyond them, propped up unsustainably by fickle foreign oligarchs. Let's hope it proves a success.
What, I hear you ask, is the relevance of all this to us Newcastle fans? Sadly, very little. While Lincoln, whose men's side are currently toiling away in the lower echelons of League Two, are able to boast a ladies' side in the eight-team WSL, our women are rock bottom of the FA Women's Premier League (Northern), two divisions below. NUWFC have recorded just two wins from 15 league games (at Derby and Leeds) and have been thrashed by four or more goals by Coventry, Villa and Rochdale, as well as leaders Man City twice. Top scorer Bethanie Gardener, an England international at junior level, has bagged seven goals, but no other player has contributed more than two. Clearly for our ladies, participation in the WSL is a distant pipedream.
In the context of the men's game, the FA's pledge of £3m looks paltry but actually represents a signficant commitment - so it really wouldn't take much investment on the part of the club to help the ladies' team with which we're affiliated to develop. Improvements could be made in nearly every respect, not least recruitment and training of players, and the promotion of games for spectators.
Take the website, for instance, which reveals that several of the players are sponsored by their parents, and is itself riddled with errors and spam links. (NUST has announced its intention to help local grassroots clubs improve their web presence - NUWFC should certainly be added to the list.) By contrast, Arsenal Ladies have links from the club's main homepage - something emblematic of the fact that the Gunners have long had the right approach, treating their ladies' team seriously and supportively rather than as a token gesture.
And if we needed any incentive to get behind our ladies' side, how's about the fact that that rabble from down the road have just claimed the Women's National Premier League title? Let's take 'em down...