Sunderland Ladies could still be playing top flight football next season after working on a “collaborative” future for the club.
The would mean Sunderland AFC working alongside a business partner, or partners, which would spread the cost of running a major senior women’s team in the top tier of the English pyramid, which for the Black Cats now runs somewhere in the region of more than £500,000 a year.
And that cost is set to increase as a result of FA plans for next season, when it will only allow fully professional teams to compete in the top division. Other criteria has also been put in place as clubs are being made to apply for FA licences.
This season, Sunderland Ladies lost the use of the Academy of Light for training and have moved from their Eppleton CW ground in Hetton to play home games at South Shields’ Mariners Park.
The Lady Black Cats now train at Northumbria University’s Coach Lane campus in Benton. And that hints at the possibility of the university getting heavily involved, much like Durham University with Durham Women, where several players study for degrees and play for both Durham Women and the university itself.
Ambitious South Shields may also be involved in talks as they look to develop on several fronts.
Sunderland announced yesterday that they are not applying for a licence now – the deadline for WSL clubs to apply is today – but are working on a tier one (top division) application to be submitted in March next year, when non-WSL clubs or ‘new’ clubs can apply for a place in WSL1 or WSL2.
A club spokesperson said: “Sunderland AFC are committed to supporting women’s football and a joint approach, with combined resources, makes for a better and more sustainable model.
“We have been working with our partners to ensure that we continue to provide the opportunity for elite female footballers in the North East to compete at the top level.”
Durham are applying for a new licence, though it is not yet known whether that will be a top or second division place.
Newcastle United are believed to be looking at making an application which could shoot the Newcastle Women’s team - currently in the fourth tier of the pyramid - right up the leagues.
It is a deeply unpopular move from the FA, meaning several clubs are likely to suffer ‘relegation’ purely on financial grounds. Other clubs could instantly win a place in the top division - regardless of current playing ability - if they can meet the FA requirements.
The FA’s plan is not without precedent. The Women’s Super League was organised on similar lines in 2011, when top-flight Sunderland failed in their bid and were demoted into the Women’s Premier League.
Sunderland were accepted in WSL2 when that division was set up in 2014. Durham Women - a brand new senior team - also won a place in that division after successfully applying for a licence.