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Fan-led Review: Fans in women’s game have their say

Yesterday supporters from our recently-formed Women’s Game Network gave evidence to the Government’s ongoing Fan-led Review.

The chair, Tracey Crouch MP, and the rest of the panel heard from a number of supporters representatives in the women’s game about the big issues they’re facing.

Supporters spoke at length to the panel throughout the day, and we caught up with a few of the groups to hear about the issues they highlighted.

“Chelsea Women Supporters Group were happy to be invited to present to the Fan-led Review. Our presentation highlighted the need for a structured approach to fan engagement.

“There’s a lack of consistency in communication with fans, with no direct contact point and no set rules or structures around women’s supporter engagement. Women Supporters have a lot to offer to the clubs. Fans are the most consistent feature in any club.”

  • Kerrie Evans, Chelsea Women Supporters Group

“The fan-led review was a great opportunity to voice some of the concerns we, as supporters of women’s football, have about the current status of the game. Due to the rapid professionalisation of the women’s game in the past ten years, there have been big changes in how the game is run.

“One issue we focused on was how such developments have encouraged women’s teams to partner with established men’s clubs, to meet licensing requirements and operate as viable businesses.

“While partnering with men’s teams brings benefits, questions remain about the long-term sustainability of women’s teams with this model. We don’t yet fully understand the impact of developing the women’s football sector in this way.

“We also presented to the panel the women’s game recommendation for FA Cup Prize money. As a network, we want the prize money for this competition to be equalized, gradually if need be, with parity no later than 2024-25.

“Additionally, we would like to see this prize money weighted to earlier rounds so that clubs lower down the women’s football pyramid benefit from what would undoubtedly be a transformative level of funding within the women’s game. We believe that this action would lend women’s football the symbolic and practical support it wholly deserves and has, historically, been denied.”

  • D-M Withers, Bristol City Supporters Club and Trust

“There is a different kind of joy of being a fan of women’s football. Apart from anything else, it’s about supporting your team, not denigrating the opposition and because it has been a struggle to get here, we all feel an affinity with each other.

“Yes, there’s a community of club fans, but there’s also a community of women’s football fans. And let’s also not forget the actual joy of just being there, of the affinity between players and fans. Sometimes in the stress and vitriol of the men’s game, we lose sight of the joy of the game. Of sitting in the sun (or the rain) with your mates, enjoying a competitive football match and not feeling intimidated, stressed or like you have to rush – to beat the traffic, get to the bar or whatever else.”

  • Chris Paouros, FSA board member

“The FA have done a great job at building and establishing the top of the women’s football pyramid. We all know that the WSL while it has it’s issues it is progressing nicely.

“I am concerned that the National League, which accounts for tiers three and four, is quickly being left behind. With the prospect of climbing from that level into the Championship is becoming more and more unrealistic.

“My fear is that this will continue to get even harder – unless you are the likes of Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

“Both have the luxury of relying on money from their men’s side who have access to the riches of the men’s Premier League.

“The true measure of success for the FA isn’t how well the WSL is doing but is how they elevate the higher levels of the women’s football pyramid, making it a legitimate career option for women and girls.”

  • Stuart Barker, Since 71

“In the context of the women’s game needing a more sustainable and independently administered long term development, Sunderland was presented as an example of how external factors over which coaches, players and supporters had no control had affected it over the last 22 years.

“Despite consistent on-field performances it had three times been refused what it considered to be deserved promotion by decisions from the FA on either financial grounds or changes to the pyramid league structure. The fluctuating fortunes of the nominally associated men’s team had also affected the closeness of that partnership, the degree of financial support and access to men’s club facilities.

“Whilst the current situation is perhaps the most promising it has been for some time, how long will it last? In the meantime the pathway for local talent has been sequentially broken, 11 players having left (some to gain International honours) as a result of decisions out of the club’s control. This surely highlights a need to appraise the whole future structure of the game.”

  • Ian Todd, Red and White Army

“I thought it was a great experience being asked to present to the Fan-led Review – it was encouraging to see people on the call who share the same beliefs and want to see change.

“In my session I talked about the history of Watford FC Women and how only in the last few years the women’s team have been given access to the same training facilities as the men. I also highlighted how lost sponsorship and lost fans had impacted Watford FC Women over the years and how as a supporters group we were trying to encourage fans back in.

“I also mentioned how players and supporters were starting to interact with each other after games too as we felt that would help increase the fan base for the future.

  • Mark Rose, Watford FC Women’s Supporters Group

“Fans and supporter committees have to ensure that we remain the driving force behind the narrative.

“Basics must be set in the foundations from equality, diversity and Inclusion to facilities and communication. We must govern and protect the women’s game

It’s down to the fans as much as it is the clubs.

“We have to ensure, highlighted in big bold letters, that the women’s game must be above all valued.”

  • Jo Bailey, co-chair, Pride of Irons

“We were delighted to be able to put the following points to the Fan-led Review:

  1. Don’t allow the women’s game to make the same mistakes as the men’s game.
  2. Don’t allow huge financial gaps between leagues
  3. Do move money all the way down the pyramid.
  4. Do put measures in place to look after the players physically and mentally at all levels of the game.
  5. Do put in measures to improve facilities for all, staff, players and supporters at all levels of the game.
  6. Do try to get crowds back to where they were 100 years ago before women’s football was banned in this country.
  7. Do put in measures to run the game and the clubs sustainably.”
  • Eric Coleborn, chair, Portsmouth FC Women

How does the fan-led review work?

The FSA’s member supporter organisations has lead dozens of evidence-gathering sessions throughout May and June, at which the advisory panel will listen to their experiences and proposals for improving football governance. An interim report will be made available in July 2021, with the final report published in October 2021. It will cover clubs who compete in the English pyramid system.

The advisory panel will offer specialist advice to the chair of the fan-led review (Tracey Crouch MP) but it will not write the report. In past reviews the involvement of the football authorities gave them a veto on proposals – this review is not structured in that manner. The chair alone will write the report.

  • The panel features the FSA’s chief executive Kevin Miles – see all members here.
  • You can see the panel’s full Terms of Reference here.

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