Can women’s football ever be seen as a viable full-time career option?

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

3 Comments on Can women’s football ever be seen as a viable full-time career option?

  1. It’s all about the money coming into the game. The Manchester City women’s captain is going to make significantly less then the captain of the men’s team because the men’s team brings in a lot more money. It is all connected. The more money a team brings in, the more money there is for salaries. The women’s professional game isn’t even on half the level of the men’s game. I want to see the women’s professional soccer succeed, but it isn’t going to happen until their is more profits coming in. Yes, you can argue that a commitment needs to be made by someone to take a leap of faith & pay their women’s pros more money. However, that isn’t an easy step for a club to take. While there is a potential reward for doing so, there is also a high risk in that money can be lost. It is a tough situation. Hopefully, they can find a way to get more revenue into the women’s game to make professional women’s soccer game more viable as a profession

  2. Martin Whiteley // January 19, 2017 at 6:39 pm // Reply

    The problem I see is clubs like Man C, Chelsea & Arsenal think that having a successful women’s team enhances them, so they invest. Most sadly still see their women’s team as an after thought that can be a drain on resources, I think there is too many top flight teams at the moment. I would sooner see six clubs who all have the ambition of being the best, more could then join if they can show they are willing to fully commit to being competitive.

    If you get four matches between say Arsenal and Chelsea in a season a real rivalry could develop and maybe two, three or even four thousand people might end up going in years to come. With the quality of players the top teams are now able to attract the league should gain more publicity. What will the scores be however when they face the bottom sides and will the publicity be of a negative nature?

    I cannot see full-time vs part-time ending well for either the clubs or for the standard of the league going forward, but I guess we will see better when the spring series get’s underway. Lets hope that if any changes need to be made people have the bottle to implement them.

  3. There is still a long way to go, what is really needed is a much wider acceptance of the game from ALL! Football is a business in the eyes of the suits or dinosaurs( as they have been referred to me on researching Women`s football in Wales) you and others like you play because you love the game you “pay to play” Welsh trust are targeting schools but there needs to be a responsibility by the educators that a point will come that some players just won`t make the grade so sound choices and honesty must be delivered. The female game is different to the male game without a doubt I regularly watch both, from my own observations more female coaches are needed along with more female administrators will help. When was the last time you saw a female officiate a game( I mean in the middle not with a flag) at grassroots or league? Investment will only come with success it`s a fact. So the key is “acceptance” it is the one crucial point required. Michelle you work in the media, why don`t Sky show female games. The BBC have been putting the female show on so late that the youngsters just don`t see it unless they use i-player? The club you play for has a remarkable history and is unaffiliated to look at their history will explain this. In Wales there are no professional players, in England there are 215. Number of Women at managerial level or above 2 in Wales and in England 51 these figures are from a survey conducted by UEFA for 2015/16 If you examine the survey further it raises many questions as does your comments which I thank you for bringing out in the open…Diolch yn fawr

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