The FA's inconsistency is hard to fathom as Sunderland Ladies are denied the title they deserved

COMMENT: Phil Smith examines the FA’s latest announcement on the 2019/20 season and what it means for Sunderland Ladies

Friday, 5th June 2020, 3:04 pm

Two months on from the FA's decision to declare Sunderland Ladies' outstanding campaign null and void, we have some element of clarity on what comes next.

Though the FA had initially stated that there would be no promotion from tier three, there was hope that the door remained open so long as the Championship campaign remained unresolved.

It had been a surprise to see Sunderland accept that initial decision so willingly, but it also seemed like a potentially sound strategy should the application process be opened up further down the line.

Sign up to our Sunderland AFC newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sunderland Ladies

It will be interesting to see if the stance remains the same now that the way forward is a little clearer.

The FA have confirmed that there will be no relegation from the second tier, and that season will begin with 11 teams.

Sunderland Ladies deserved better.

The players and staff who proved themselves more than capable of stepping up a level this season will now have to wait at least another season for that chance to prove themselves.

This must be a particularly bitter blow to those who have shown such remarkable loyalty to the club and the city in the aftermath of the club's demotion to the third tier.

Given the consistency with which so many have performed, it is not inconceivable that some could be left with a difficult decision to make in the aftermath of these latest developments.

Promotion to the Championship would by no means have been a guarantee.

Read More

Read More
Sunderland fans react to the latest news on the Ladies’ season

Even if the team had been given the chance to complete the campaign and claim the title, they would still have had to win a licence to make the step up the second tier.

While the quality of the team and the talent in the region would certainly not have been in question, it would have been up to Sunderland as a club to prove that they could meet a number of other requirements.

If the application process had been opened up following the curtailment of the season, then competition would no doubt have been fierce and again, it would have been up to Sunderland to prove as a club that their ambition matched that of others who would no doubt have stepped forward.

While this will always remain an unknown, what is difficult to reconcile is that Sunderland have not been officially recognised as the best side in the National League North.

This was controversial to begin with, but is even more so now that the FA board have decided to take a different approach for the top-two tiers.

Both the WSL and the Championship have been setted on a points-per-game formula, while promotion and relegation have been left in place.

Chelsea have been declared the WSL title despite that division being too close to call, while Aston Villa have been declared very worthy winners of the Championship.

The latter is a particularly interesting call given Sunderland's season so far.

Aston Villa have been the dominant side in the league this year and take the title with a record of: Played 14 Won 13 Drawn 1 GD + 28

Sunderland's league record at the time of postponement was: Played 14 Won 13 Drawn 1 Lost 0 GD + 43

How can one team be deemed a worthy winner, and not the other?

At the time of the decision to declare tiers three through to seven null and void, it was widely reported that one of the reasons for doing so was that the disparity of fixtures played by sides within the divisions.

There is some evidence to support this, such as at the bottom of Sunderland's league.

Sheffield Ladies FC are three points adrift of Hull City Ladies but have four games in hand. In the National League South, Crawley Wasps have a nine-point advantage on Watford, but have played three games more.

Through the divisions, though, it is hard to argue that there are many leagues in which a PPG formula would not have delivered a solution at least as fair as those delivered in the top-two tiers.

Sunderland are far from the only team to be denied a title they have surely earned, with Wolves and Ipswich two others who consider themselves deeply unfortunate.

The decision to declare the season null and void is a cruel blow for players throughout the pyramid, who have seen important milestones essentially erased from the record books.

The memories will of course endure, and for this remarkably resilient Sunderland group, there are many.

A derby win at the Stadium of Light, a run to the National League Cup final and countless others.

They will no doubt be back after the hugely successful integration of a number of exciting young players this season.

It is imperative that the club supports them, ensuring that they can finish the journey they started with such style this season.

Today's decision from the FA means that they have yet again been let down.