A leading expert has criticised the model of women’s teams being largely owned or reliant on men’s clubs, claiming they give a false sense of “being progressive and all about women”.
Professor Jean Williams, 59, is a world leading scholar of women’s football and its history. She feels the support offered by clubs to their women’s teams can be superficial.
She said: “You’ve got a lot of this sports-washing going on where there is a cosmetic veneer of being progressive and all about women. But actually fundamentally the way that the systems are organised, it’s not.
“A lot of it came about because of football in the community. When those kinds of schemes were launched, it allowed premiership clubs and championship clubs to draw in funding through women’s football that they couldn’t have otherwise obtained.
“So it became this kind of revenue stream of its own, but it’s very much allied with corporate social responsibility, rather than about sporting performance.”
The structure of the relationship between women’s and men’s teams can sometimes be unclear, and often varies in practice.
While some, particularly in the WSL, are a fully fledged part of the organisation whose name they bear – for others this link is merely the right to use name and kit.
This means they are solely reliant on their own fundraising to be able to play games and fulfil the role of a functioning football club.
Tensions can occur when the women’s side is treated as low priority. There was controversy earlier this month for instance after Colney Heath Ladies FC had a game called off due to a bouncy castle being booked by the club on the same pitch they were supposed to play on.
Barnsley Women’s Football Club are an independent side who have no association with Barnsley FC mens, and currently play in the fourth tier.
CEO Steve Maddock believes the lack of facilities for women’s clubs have led to a reliance on men’s clubs to be able to play.
He said: “We wish all teams that are associated with men’s teams well, but for years women footballers have had to accept the crumbs that have been offered to them by men’s clubs.
“Facilities are scarce, predominantly due to women’s football being banned for 50 years prior to 1972. This is the main factor as to why there are few independent women’s professional teams.”
There are arguments that being associated with a men’s team can bring in fans who already support the team, helping to boost attendances. The Women’s 2023 FA Cup Final is set to break records with Wembley likely to be sold out for the occasion.
But Professor Williams feels there are alternative models we can look to.
She said: “There are different models like Angel City in Los Angeles, which is female-owned, female-led, they’ve got their own investment, they’re not reliant upon any men’s club. They’ve got their own branding.
“I would question the current model that we’ve got.”