Tony Gillan: Sunderland Ladies' status now depends upon money '“ not footballing matters!

Not to be outdone by their male counterparts, Sunderland AFC Ladies find themselves catapulted down two leagues '“ in an even shorter space of time.

Monday, 4th June 2018, 2:00 pm
Updated Monday, 4th June 2018, 2:22 pm
Sunderland Ladies have missed out on the FA Womens Super League structure.

A crucial difference is that the female players are blameless.

Using methods that have been in abeyance for some years with the men, most notably a concept known as ‘trying your best’, they finished a respectable seventh from 10. Not bad when looking at the budgets of the top teams.

Little support was offered by the recently departed regime at the Stadium of Light and they weren’t even allowed to play in the city. Money played an obvious part. Fair enough. But in keeping with the era, nothing was explained or elaborated upon.

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Fingers were barely lifted to prevent Sunderland’s expulsion from the Women’s Super League. Not even, as far as we know, a strongly worded letter.

But more blame lies with the FA and there are wider implications than just the fate of Sunderland Ladies. When league position is based upon anything other than footballing merit, a dangerous precedent is set.

Imagine if the rules were changed so that only the biggest clubs were allowed in the men’s Premier League so that, say, Bournemouth were booted out to make way for Sheffield Wednesday on the basis of stadium size, fan base and history; and the obvious superiority of Bournemouth’s team over Wednesday’s was rendered irrelevant.

And will Sunderland Ladies be allowed promotion back? In the women’s game, your league status now depends upon ability to pay – and not football results. If the greatest team on earth happens to be part-time: they’re out.

Sunderland have been replaced by inferior teams. The league has therefore been weakened. Also the fact that seven on the current England women’s team were produced by Sunderland matters nought. Money, money, money.

The FA’s head of women’s football, Baroness Sue Campbell, offered some ill-advised waffle on all this. She particularly enjoys saying “step changes.”

Sue, who was baronetted in 2008 for services to paperwork, said: “If we want England [the women’s national side] to be successful, we’ve got to have the best league in the world.”

Sound familiar?

In 1993 Graham Kelly, then the FA’s head of hot air, wrote that the recently incepted Premier League would prove essential “in aiding the national team.”

As you may have noticed, this prediction was far more bold than accurate.

New SAFC owner Stewart Donald is attempting to rectify matters. This is to his credit, but I’m afraid I don’t rate his chances.

Especially if he loses his head and starts using things like reason.

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After an uninspiring opening at Wembley on Saturday, the England-Nigeria game somehow managed to become even duller as it wore on.

World Cup fever has not quite gripped us and it will be a shock if our lads do much in Russia.

Still, we live in hope. England have a cushy draw and they should reach the quarter-finals; then lose to either Germany or Brazil.

I want England to win, but won’t feign passion. I could only see the funny side of their efforts at Euro 2016.

One reason for wishing them well is that failure could result in years of piffling that “we should have taken Joe Hart for his experience.”

Hart’s most recent experience of a major tournament was slapping the ball into his own net against Iceland. It wasn’t a rare mistake either.

England have selected three better keepers. There is no mystery here. Indeed, there is another better goalie, Tom Heaton, who can’t get off the bench at Burnley.

Still, Hart can only dream of being as overrated as Jack Wilshire, the other “controversial” omission.