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Hello! Flora here 🌻

Welcome to another Tuesday edition of 31/7. This week it's all about the future of women's football and the people working hard to make sure that it's GOOD and not BAD.

I'm chuffed that you signed up for this newsletter and would love to hear your thoughts, feelings, schemes for attracting GOODNESS and swerving BADNESS. You can email me at [email protected] or reply to this newsletter.

Have a lovely week and stay warm,
Flora xx
This week, the government gave a big thumbs up to a set of recommendations which will help to grow and improve the women's game and "fulfil its potential to be a world-beating sport”.

Those are the words of former England midfielder Karen Carney, who was invited to lead an independent review into the development of the game last autumn after the government saw everyone having a nice time at the Euros and wondered if they could help to make it last.
It's easy to imagine that the Euros as good as made women's football in this country, given the rapid rise in interest which accompanied the Lionesses' journey from Old Trafford to Wembley. But the sport had been on investors' radars for some time before Leah Williamson lifted the trophy.

In 2021, the BBC and Sky Sports forked out a destiny-shifting pile of wonga for broadcasting rights which caused the annual revenue of Women's Super League clubs to rise by 60% in the 2021/22 season, according to a report by Deloitte.

Trees can die by their own success when roots grow too thick and close and the paths which carry nutrients become restricted. Not all growth is good growth, and if the development of the women's game is not monitored or shaped then all that money and Chloe Kelly's scrappy winner could be wasted.
It's all rosy at the top of the tree, where WSL clubs bring in several million pounds a year, but Championship teams don't get nearly as much money from the FA or broadcast fees. For teams who get relegated, the difference is crippling. After going down at the end of last season, Reading's new financial reality forced them to switch to part time operation.

This asphyxiation is a scaled-down version of what happens in the men's game. It's difficult for any newly-promoted teams to get established in the Premier League because the majority of their opponents have had tons more money for many years. It makes a bore of football which, to my mind, should be all knee slides, stupid own goals, and who spat on who, not receipts and turnovers.

Unfortunately football is full of people who care more about money than enjoying the game. One such snake, Spurs CEO Daniel Levy, suggested that the WSL become a closed division without promotion or relegation. I'm really pleased for him that he's found a way of protecting his own interests but it won't happen because his idea is really boring and loads of people prefer jeopardy.
In 2018, the Premier League were one of the bodies which put themselves forward to run the women's league. The FA didn't want to do it themselves, but they didn't want the Premier League to do it either. Instead, they opted to create an independent body.

In November, a unanimous positive vote from the clubs in the top two tiers moved forward plans for NewCo, headed up by CEO Nikki Doucet, formerly a director at Nike, to take over of the running of WSL and the Championship from the 2024/25 season.

And they'd better do a darn good job of it, or they'll have Karen Carney on their back. In the first of ten recommendations suggested by her review Raising the Bar, which was published in July, it was plainly stated that 'the new entity tasked with running elite women’s football should not settle for anything less than world leading standards'.

Into 'em Karen. You can read the 126-page report in full on the government website, but here are some of the highlights (all of which the government have endorsed):
  1. Broadcasters should carve out a dedicated slot for women's football. The football market is saturated so a regular moment in the week when fans can rely on catching a game will help to grow the audience. The government have supported the suggestion of lifting the 3pm blackout. At the moment you can't stream games on Saturday afternoons to keep attendances at games lower down in the men's pyramid healthy. But an exception could be made for the women's game, the review suggests.
  2. The playing environment in the top two tiers should be properly professional. This means top health provision, top maternity support, elite facilities, funding for unions and support for players as they retire from the game.
  3. A much improved talent pathway. This one is tricky because academies are expensive to run. In the Premier League, they're funded by big money transfers, but those aren't happening in the women's game just yet.
  4. The lack of diversity both off the pitch and on the pitch should be urgently addressed.
In an interview with the BBC, Karen Carney warned that "this review is not to be sat on the shelf and to be ignored".

Implementing these changes is going to cost a lot of money, but Carney is confident that the investment will get returns. When players have the basics that they currently lack as a minimum standard, the quality of the product (ie, the football you can watch) will get better, and then everyone will want to buy it. And aside from balancing the books, it's not fair that working conditions are bad.

"Do I want players to have to go on the NHS?" Carney asked. "No. Do I want players to have to use bin bags for curtains? No. I don't want any of this situation any more."

Carney's review worked closely with the players' trade union, the Professional Footballers' Association, to collect testimonies of player experience in confidence and some of the accounts were not pretty. Along with tales of misogyny and medical neglect, Carney was upset by reports of players having to use bin bags to get some privacy in changing rooms on matchday.

The government has already coughed up in the name of improving access to the game by giving £30m to fund thirty new top-notch 3G pitches across the UK, which will give priority to women and girls and be kitted out with dedicated female changing rooms.

It's not all pitches and goalposts, though. The right facilities are important but much of the needed change you cannot buy, but must devise. The PFA insist that steps taken now will have a lasting legacy and so everyone should be very careful to GET IT RIGHT.

"Clubs, leagues and governing bodies should view this as a huge opportunity to ‘bake in’ to the new structures these improvements to player rights and conditions," the PFA said. "The window for that to happen is small."

I'm chuffed that the women's game is growing so quickly but, in this delicate moment of change, I hope that the people who could fuck it all up don't.

More at The Square Ball

A photograph of Katie Astle playing for Leeds United Women against FC United of Manchester

Soggy bogs and misty eyes

by Flora Snelson

A non-league ground lined with golf brollies for a rainy FA Cup tie reminded me of being at Histon as an 11-year-old. This time, Leeds brought the magic.
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