Following Sunderland Ladies’ decision to become a part-time club once again, Michelle Owen discusses how the women’s game lacks opportunity for a full-time career.
I was so disappointed to see Sunderland Ladies had decided to revert back to being a part- time club after three years of employing some full time players.
A club statement said: “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 squad committed to careers or study, full-time football careers were not an option for them.”
The statement added: “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.”
To start with, from a personal level I struggle how a club could ever operate with full-time and part-time players. I play at a decent level in the ladies game – Premier League Reserves. To my knowledge everyone either pays subs or is sponsored, including the first team who are pushing for promotion to WSL 2. I would find it very hard to train along side them knowing they were being paid for it, and didn’t have to have a “normal” job. Surely the full-time players at Sunderland had more time to train, improve and develop. I don’t know specifics, but it does seem a strange model, but one they were forced to use due to lack of funding.
The news will surely mean some of the full-time players will leave looking for employment from clubs who can afford them. England captain and Manchester City Women defender Steph Houghton is rumoured to earn £65,000 a year. That seems a lot of money, but when you compare that to a professional footballer at the same club in the men’s game, they earn that in a few days. Manchester City Women are very much a part of the whole club, yet the wages pale in comparison to the men doing exactly the same job.
I was discussing football as a career option with one of the younger players at our club. She moved miles from home, aged 16, to be part of the college set up where the Wales Women youth side train and study. She lives with a local family and is also playing for Wales U17s. I asked her what happens when she’s 18 and is no longer studying and playing every day. There is no simple answer; players have to balance studies or work. This week, a number of girls I play with are on a Wales camp from Tuesday-Sunday – they just have to hope they can get time off work!
Can you imagine the men’s game being played this way in 2017? These are international footballers. It’s mad. The only solution is obviously more money in the women’s game, but its marketability and popularity has to increase. How do you increase that? Make the standard better and better – and how do you do that? Make the players full time! It seems a vicious circle. I just hope some full-time wealthy men’s club will want to integrate, market and invest in their ladies sides even more. The media need to buy in it too.
All of the above said, it’s important to remember just how far the game for us ladies has come on. Kelly Smith has just retired at 38, the first English player to become professional. She was kicked out of boys teams as a youngster. When I was younger, the boy’s team wouldn’t play me just because I was a girl. I remember one game where a load of players were missing, I got to start and scored two goals, but the next game I was not in the team. In the end I found a girl’s team but the standard was terrible. I think it’s fair to say there are many more options for girls serious about football now.
Maybe with a successful campaign for England at the Euros crowd attendance could be boosted and more interest generated. They certainly sparked an interest with the fantastic performances at the World Cup two years ago. I just hope that spark can become a flame so in the end some of most talented athletes can focus on their football full-time.
Follow Michelle on Twitter at @MichelleOwen7