Sun 24th January 2021 – 1pm KO in the FA Women’s Championship at The Dripping Pan
In the past week the issue of the promised funds for Steps 1 and 2 has been a major talking point, whilst the clubs at Steps 3 and below who are faced with the fact that clubs have played their last game of the season without sight nor sound of the £14 million from the DCMS.
Yet in all of these discussions about money, or the lack of it, there have been few mentions of the £3m that the DCMS also promised to the Women’s game back in November. Since then, all clubs in the Super League and Championship have continued to play, bar a small window in December, in empty stadiums. Clubs have had to continue to pay players, most of whom are on contract, incur additional travel expenses (Sheffield United arrived in East Sussex for today’s game in two coaches) and ensure that COVID-19 protocols and testing is in place without any income from gate receipts, secondary spend or the said-mentioned Government grants.
For the vast majority of the 23 clubs who play at Steps 1 and 2, they have a “relationship” with their professional Men’s side – some are tighter and closer than others, but for the few that either play as an independent side, or in the case of Lewes, have a Men’s side that are not able to play, the costs incurred column far outweighs the income one at the moment.
The FA deemed that both of the divisions were ‘elite’ and this would continue to play but their optimism hasn’t been matched by any urgency from the DCMS to provide the funding they promised as part of the “Winter Survival Package for Football”. The Rooks have the benefit of a recent six-figure sponsorship deal with Lyle & Scott in the bank but that should not be considered as a replacement for the grant money but has provided with an inject of funds for squad strengthening, seen this week with the signing of former Brighton & Hove Albion striker Ini Umotong and Lucy Ashworth-Clifford.
Whilst the drive down to East Sussex looked like a winter wonderland, with the South of England seeing snow for the first time in the winter, Lewes was bathed in brilliant sunshine. The Dripping Pan, on one hand looking beautiful with the sun lighting up the Sussex Downs but on the other feeling depressed by the lack of any fans in the ground for the early kick off against 4th place Sheffield United.
With football below the Championship suspended, there is a genuine fear that once again the season won’t be completed meaning no vertical movement upwards and thus a lack of competitiveness at the lower end of the Championship table. At the top of the table it is a slightly different affair with Leicester City and Durham level on points, fighting it out for the single promotion spot but there is a danger that the season for the remaining clubs may just drift. The longer the delay in getting the promised funds the more the pressure is put on clubs who have very little possibility to reduce their operating costs accordingly.
Clubs have no option but to simply get on with it and hope that the footballing authorities realise the impact the situation is having and work towards a solution, urgently. Alas, with that still hanging in the air, it is hard to focus 100% on the action on the field.
This was a great opportunity for the Rooks to stay within touching distance of the top four – a win and they would be on the heels of the visitors with games in hand but they were rarely in this contest against a well-marshalled Sheffield United side who scored in each half and never looked as if they would relinquish the lead.
Perhaps by the time that the Rooks return to action at The Dripping Pan in three weeks time the financial situation will have been resolved and the Women’s game can concentrate on what transpires on the pitch rather than off it.