Sunderland Ladies have become casualties of the club’s parlous financial state.
The Black Cats last night announced that the women’s operation would this year revert to a “successful part-time model”.
After three years of operating a structure consisting of both full and part-time players, SAFC Ladies is to revert to its previously successful part-time modelSAFC LADIES STATEMENT
Sunderland have spent the last two seasons in WSL1 with a squad which is a mix between professional and part-time players.
The side enjoyed a stunning debut in the elite league. With Beth Mead banging in the goals, Carlton Fairweather’s team challenged for the title before fading in the run-in to end 2015 in fourth place.
However, the 2016 season proved a struggle, finishing seventh, though there were mitigating factors, including a long injury list.
The squad needed MORE professionals, not fewer, or as looks like being the case now, none, though the club still has a number of players under contract, including star striker Mead, keeper Rachael Laws and forward Steph Roche.
It is a tough situation for Sunderland – the clubs who finished above them in 2015, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, have all improved immeasurably and, to be blunt, short of a mammoth cash investment, they could not be caught.
But it is sad to see the Wearsiders effectively chuck in the towel – sad because they are one of only five Premier League clubs to have a top-flight women’s team.
Granted, given there are so few fixtures in WSL1 and crowds of less than 1,000, the Ladies team does not pay its way, but, at a time when the female game is growing, the club’s decision to put their WSL1 position in jeopardy does not reflect well on Sunderland AFC.
The club statement made no reference to what will happen to those professionals still under contract, but there are likely to be no shortage of interest in Mead.
As with Jermain Defoe in the Premier League squad, it is hard to see the Lady Black Cats surviving without the goals of their crucial figure.
The club statement said: “After three years of operating a structure consisting of both full and part-time players, SAFC Ladies is to revert to its previously successful part-time model.
“Over recent months, and after significant reviewing and analysis, it has become apparent that having a mix of full-time and part-time players was not working as effectively as the club, and indeed the players, had envisaged.
“With a number of the current squad committed to careers or study, full-time football careers were not an option for them and SAFC Ladies is keen to retain the services of these long-standing players.
“A part-time model for players therefore ensures that students and those with careers such as teaching, can continue to be committed members of the first-team squad, without having to make a choice between their career and football.”
It is true the club have several key players who have full-time jobs outside football and play for the side, like skipper Steph Bannon, defender Abby Holmes and midfielder Keira Ramshaw.
But it would appear the financial state of the club had a bigger bearing – for Sunderland Ladies to compete with the major forces would have required significant investment.
With Sunderland reportedly £140million in debt, it seems rather than serious investment it’s more a case of serious cuts, starting with the women’s section, just four months before the new season.
The two clubs who have come up into WSL1, Bristol and Yeovil, are both reported to be planning to be full-time, making it even harder for the Lady Cats to stay up.