With the news of West Ham taking over the ladies team after accusations of sex discrimination, Emily Magee discusses whether the achievements of women’s teams rely on their male counterparts, looking across the pond for inspiration.
This week West Ham were forced into taking over the running of the ladies club after chairman Stephen Hunt accused the Hammers of sex discrimination.
Hunt lodged a formal complaint with the FA after months of arguments over funding and facilities with the Hammers.
Now this made me think, can women’s football clubs only formulate success if they have links with their male counterparts? I’m not talking about merely existing as a professional club, but in fact thriving and driving the women’s game forward.
Many call for more money to be ploughed into the women’s game and how progression will only happen with backing behind them. So, why are so many claiming that Manchester City have bought their success this season?
The difference is that players aren’t necessarily attracted to clubs like Manchester City for the money – of course that’s a factor in a sport where finance is lacking – but it’s the unparalleled quality of City’s facilities, back-room staff and ambition that draws many to the club.
It also sends a positive message to young female footballers in terms of equality, in that everyone has the right to the same treatment regardless of their gender and shouldn’t feel a smaller part of the club because of that.
If you look at women’s football in America, the most influential NWSL sides are in partnership with their Major League Soccer counterparts, including Houston Dash, Portland Thorns and most recently the Orlando Pride.
The Houston Dash was the brainchild of Dynamo president Chris Canetti, who decided to form a NWSL franchise after conversations with Portland Timbers president Mike Golub – who also runs the Thorns.
The Dash play at the Dynamo’s BBVA Compass Stadium, a 22,000 capacity venue. Unlike the Thorns, the Dash is limited to 7,000 for NWSL fixtures.
Portland Thorns are thriving in the league – home games at Providence Park draw in an average of 16,945 per season, accounting more than the bottom five clubs combined.
Owner Merritt Paulson created a compatible franchise, with the Thorns relishing in the opportunity to join in the PTFC brand.
Paulson said: “We view all our teams as living under the same football umbrella. We have a blueprint for how we want all our teams to play, and a technical system that we apply across the board.”
On the flip side, there are a few teams who aren’t in unison with a men’s side in America. You look at teams such as Washington Spirit and Western New York Flash – who competed for the NWSL Championship last week – and neither of these clubs are affiliated with a Major League Soccer side, yet they’re the two best teams to come out of the US league this year.
But, is success in women’s football differentiated as the number of trophies won or the longevity of the club? The continual rise in attendances, marketing and sponsorship are all paramount in order to make a club sustainable for a long period time – which is especially poignant in a time when the game still continues to grow.
I believe all clubs should invest in women’s football in this way and it is easy to see why NWSL supporters and players alike welcome more MLS-owned teams in to the league. It creates solid infrastructure, good resources, impressive stadiums and well-organised marketing which are all key in creating a sustainable league.
It begs the question as to why Premier League clubs aren’t buying into the same idea. Clubs like Manchester United don’t have a women’s football team represented in the Women’s Super League and many have called for the club to be more inclusive. And, you wonder why when the women’s game continues to grow with the increased backing and marketing from TV coverage.
Follow Emily on Twitter at @Egmagee