Sunderland Ladies face an uncertain future after they were not awarded a place in the top two tiers of the new-look women’s pyramid.
The FA has today announced the clubs which will participate in The FA Women’s Super League [Tier 1] and The FA Women’s Championship [Tier 2] for the 2018-19 season - and Sunderland Ladies are not among them.
The decision leaves the Lady Black Cats' players and staff in limbo.
Melanie Copeland's side finished seventh in the top tier FA Women's Super League this season, but have now lost their place in the FA WSL following an application process, it has been confirmed.
A club statement read: "Sunderland AFC can confirm Sunderland AFC Ladies have not been successful in their application for a license to play in the FAWSL 1 or the FA Women’s Championship.
"Following today’s announcement by the FA, we will take some time to fully consider the options available to us in relation to SAFC Ladies."
It had already been confirmed that a rule in the initial FA WSL application pack - which suggested that had Sunderland been unsuccessful they could be demoted two divisions - has now been re-worded.
The ruling now states that: "Clubs who have played in FA WSL 1 & 2 during the 2017/18 season and have not been awarded a Tier 1 or Tier 2 licence for 2018/19 will be accommodated and offered a position at the highest level available within the women's football pyramid."
At this point, it remains to be seen which division they will be playing in next season. The club have until June 11 to lodge an appeal.
The situation - coupled with big losses revealed in their latest set of accounts - poses a big decision for new owner Stewart Donald to make.
As revealed by the Echo last week, the Ladies team announced losses of £424,000 in their latest set of accounts for the 2016-17 season.
The Lady Black Cats, who last season competed in the top tier of the FA Women’s Super League, announced losses of £424,000 for the financial year ending July 31, 2017.
During that time the club’s turnover fell by £4,000 to £96,000 – with almost half of that formed of the £43,000 the club received when star striker Beth Mead was snapped up by Arsenal.
Gate receipts were also on the decline, falling from £21,000 in 2015/16 to just £12,000 last year after moving to South Shields’ Mariners Park from their long-term Hetton home.
The club also revealed that they pocketed just £2,000 in sponsorship during 2016 and provided no such figure for 2017.
Despite reverting to a part-time model in January 2017, Sunderland saw their wage bill fall by just £13,000 from £427,000 in 2016 to £414,000 in 2017.
Katie Brazier, the FA’s head of women’s leagues and competitions, said: "We understand that this will be disappointing for the three clubs who were occupying spots in The FA WSL.
"We will speak to the clubs to ensure they are placed at the right level within the women’s football pyramid for the 2018-19 season."
Further details about the make-up of the National League Northern and Southern Premier Division (Tier 3) and The National League Division 1, North, Midlands, South East and South West (Tier 4) are expected next week.
An FA statement added: "The decision in respect of which clubs were successful was made by The FA Women’s Football Board, following a detailed review and assessment of all 15 applications which were received and the outcome of Sunday’s FA Women’s Premier League Championship Play Off Final.
"As part of the application processes, all clubs are required to sign a licence with The FA and the offers from The FA Women’s Football Board remain conditional until it is received. Decisions are subject to appeal, to be made within 14 days of clubs receiving the decision in writing."
They adds ubject to the above, the 11 clubs which will form The FA Women’s Super League for the 2018-19 season are:
• Birmingham City Ladies
• Brighton & Hove Albion Women
• Bristol City Women
• Chelsea FC Women
• Everton Ladies FC
• Liverpool Ladies FC
• Manchester City Women
• Reading FC Women
• Yeovil Town Ladies
• West Ham United Ladies*
Subject to the above, the 12 clubs which will form The FA Women’s Championship for the 2018-2019 season are:
• Aston Villa Ladies FC
• Doncaster Rovers Belles
• Durham Women FC
• London Bees
• Millwall Lionesses
• Sheffield FC Ladies
• Tottenham Hotspur Ladies
• Charlton Athletic Women**
• Leicester City Women*
• Lewes FC Women*
• Manchester United Women*
• Sheffield United Ladies*