SUNDERLAND Ladies can finally fulfil their potential ... after being forced to play catch-up.
That’s the message from Maurice Alderson, now a director at the newly-launched club.
SAFC formally took the women’s team under its wing last week.
The ladies club has been set up as a business, with SAFC as its parent company.
And the support from the Premier League club will be vital for future success for the Ladies, according to Alderson, formerly chairman of Sunderland Women.
“The tie-in with Sunderland is something we have always wanted,” he said.
“In fact, it is something that had to happen for the club to prosper.
“The way the women’s game is developing, we clearly needed their backing to be compete at the level we want to – and that is the highest level.”
The financial strength of SAFC and their marketing expertise ensured success for the Ladies in winning a place in the newly-formed second division of the Women’s Super League.
It gives the Ladies a route back to the top – and a chance to make up for lost time.
The Super League began in 2011 and Sunderland had high hopes of being in at the start of a new era for the women’s game, having finished fifth in the top flight. But they were rocked by the decision to leave them out of the eight-team league when lack of finance, and perhaps geography, worked against them.
Manager Mick Mulhern’s team, though, has won the second-tier FA Women’s Premier League title three years in a row since that snub – and another title in the summer league which begins in March – would see them back at the top table.
Alderson accepts, though, that another championship – only one team will be promoted – is a major challenge.
“It was devastating to miss out on the Super League the first time around,” he said.
“But it gave us some focus of what we needed to do. And Sunderland worked extremely hard to make sure we did not miss out this time.
“They are very keen for us to get up to the top division again. That, of course, will be every other team’s ambition though. And several clubs now have significant backing and will have their sights set on going up.”
Doncaster Belles will also be looking to mount a challenge after the body blow one game into the current season of being told they would be relegated into the seond division regardless of how they fared.
“The top teams have obviously moved on,” said Alderson. “But this is our chance to start catching up.
“The players are already on strength and conditioning programmes and I’m sure we will be better next season.”
The move into semi-professional football starts now, with players signing contracts. Their expenses will be covered, with a win bonus system and incentives for success this season.
Mulhern has tied down virtually all his squad from last season and is looking at two more possible signings before he has to name his 20-player squad towards the end of the year.
The team has been guaranteed a long tenure at Eppleton CW in Hetton, and there are likely to be some ground improvements there to meet FA requirements.
And Alderson hopes fans will visit to see the football on offer.
“We got 700 for the visit of Arsenal a few years ago, and 600 for the derby with Newcastle more recently.
“It’s exciting times. I’d love to see more fans have a look and get behind us.
“There will be a higher standard of football and a higher standard of opposition.
“There’s a big change as well with moving to a summer season – so maybe more Sunderland fans will have a look during the summer so they can get their football fix!
SAFC chief executive Margaret Byrne said: “The women’s team has always been an important part of our football family and the creation of the new Super League offered us a great opportunity to bring them fully under our wing.
“By sharing our know-how and resources we have been able secure league status, which was vital to the future of the women’s team.
“We are now looking forward to seeing the team go from strength to strength with promotion to WSL 1 being our primary aim.”
The two clubs have been linked before, though in 2004 SAFC cut back on their support after hitting financial problems resulting from their relegation from the Premier League.
The current arrangement, though, means that the Ladies’ future is not dependent on the men’s status.