Where do West Ham Women go from here? Filed: Monday, 8th July 2019 Author: Paul Walker
Wembley finalists, respectable mid-table WSL finish and starring roles in a BBC ’reality’ show, West Ham Women did the club proud last season.
But now, on the back of a World Cup Finals that has changed for ever the perception of women’s football, what does the future hold for Jack Sullivan’s team?
A year ago, West Ham ‘bought their way’- or want of any other description - into the newly-full time Women’s Super League, gave the job as managing director to major shareholder David Sullivan’s son Jack and told him to get on with it. Part, many felt, of his learning curve for the day he takes over from his dad!
All a bit low key for the boy Jack, some felt, maybe a ‘vanity’ project. A word I will come back to a bit later. I don’t go along with that, he threw himself into the task, plenty of hard work along the way, and made a real success of the job and the team.
There was even a BBC documentary on Jack and the team, a bit over the top maybe but it gave the club some decent publicity.
You would hope that everyone will bust a gut to build on this, there is so obviously a big future now for women’s football as it comes out of the shadows on the back of England’s display in the World Cup finals. Over 11 million watched their semi-final defeat by the USA on TV; a tough, rough, sometimes cold-eyed professional performance by a team who went on to retain their crown.
The American women now gross more revenue than their male counterparts in the States, a sign of what is possible.
The FA are throwing themselves into major plans to take full advantage of the World Cup exposure and success, so this is surely the time for West Ham to make the most of a situation. But there has been a little concern about the future.
Jack Sullivan did a positive interview for the club’s website last week, talking of "planning for the upcoming campaign months ago, to be fully prepared, including having identified a whole host of new players to try to help us move forward".
That article appeared in the week that two experienced players left the club; Jane Ross to Manchester United and Ria Percival to Spurs, both club’s newly promoted and with plenty of cash to throw about.
Now my knowledge of women’s football and our team does not run too deep, other than to want them to win every game like I would anyone in a West Ham shirt.
But it seems that at least half a dozen of last season’s squad have left, so it’s down to Jack to maintain the quality and squad depth. I don’t doubt for one second that Sullivan and son are on the case. New signings were promised
Then I happened upon a twitter exchange involving HeadHammerShark, occasional contributor to KUMB, and someone - like many of you - I have followed on social media for some time. His stuff is thoroughly researched, detailed and hard hitting. If there is such a thing as aggressive writing, this is it. Targets can be pinned to a wall by the strength of the arguments.
HHS was showing concern about the squad's strength. A women’s season ticket holder with a young daughter, he obviously knew what he was talking about.
Then the question of cost came up, and a contributor to the thread who is known for his access at a high level and his general support for the board, came up with a comment: "The women’s team loses £500,000 a season and needs more season ticket holders and more sponsorship".
It may not have meant to, but it seemed to suggest that costs were an issue. HHS had his say, I am sure you can find it easily.
At first I took the point about the loss, but then started to feel that of course it needed more tickets sold and more sponsorship, but what it really needed was patronage. Few can see a profit in women’s football for some while, but this surely is not the point.
This is a golden opportunity to invest in the future, something of a loss leader now, but women’s football has so much going for it. There’s a whole new young audience, like HHS and his daughter, who are the club’s fans of the future.
And what really is £500,000? One month of Andy Carroll’s wages - or put it another way. We have just let a promising youngster, Josh Pask, leave the club. A player many felt was a prospect, but it hasn’t worked out. He was earning, I believe, around £8,000 a week. That, as a yearly salary, is about what is needed to run the women’s team.
One Academy kid's pay packet.
It’s nothing when you see the vast amount of money flooding into the club. Frankly, if West Ham put aside £500,000 a year for a decade it’s still only half what they paid for Jordan Hugill. It is worth it for the future? For the community development of the club, for the next generation of fans for the club?
The one thing we dare not allow happen is for the team to be relegated. They must stay in the vanguard of the progress being made at this level. Manchester United were not interested a few years back, they couldn’t see the benefits. Spurs have just about made it into the WSL.
It’s going to be a tough season, harder than last, so I do hope the club are not counting the pennies here. This needs investment to justify all the hard work the boy Jack and the women's squad have done already.
The FA have finally got their act together on women’s football. Last season the average WSL attendance was around 950. They want that up to 2,000 a least as soon as possible. Some teams will start playing matches at the club’s main stadium, Manchester City v Manchester United seems the first to be tried.
I sense we will have a problem at Rush Green if we start pulling 2,000 fans, I'm not sure the training ground could cope with that. And any thought of playing regularly at the London Stadium seems unlikely, as it’s not in the contract and will cost £500,000 to use the ground for the pre-season friendly against Athletic Bilbao.
That’s what happens when you don’t own your ground. But I don’t want to see West Ham’s focus on the future deflected now.
It seems TV rights will be sold separately rather than as part of a general ‘bundle’ of sport as they are now. My only concerns about women’s football previously has been the entertainment value and the technical ability and quality on show. I felt the same when the BBC started screening the likes of Solihull Moor on prime time evenings in the FA Cup.
But I am not so concerned now about women’s football. Not any more after watching the World Cup finals. And now is not the time for West Ham to be worried about a measly £500,000.
It's certainly not a Sullivan vanity issue. That word again, it has annoyed me a while now whenever you see it attached to the London Mayor and the baseball series we have just witnessed. A roaring success.
It’s another loss leader. The main complaint about the London Stadium is the failure to utilise the place to make money. Don‘t blame West Ham, we have said, we only rent it for 26 or so days a year. They needed to look at ways of filling the place, 120,000 baseball fans in two days last weekend did just that.
But I keep seeing it described as a vanity project for the mayor. If you say something often enough, people believe it. That’s called propaganda, I think.
Now I have been fortunate to be in New York and then Boston these past few weeks, wall-to-wall Yankees and Red Sox. And the chance to see how the US media have covered the London Series.
No mention of West Ham sadly, and they still call it the Olympic Stadium. You see immediately how important it was to Major League Baseball, so much so that the world champions from Boston gave up two home games to accommodate the fixtures in the league schedule.
There was also an interesting interview with an MLB executive in the New York media, emphasising the importance of it all. They plan to follow in the footsteps of the hugely successful NFL games in London at Spurs’ new stadium.
Interestingly, the MLB guy talked about how they had been negotiating with London authorities since 2013. Now I recall that Boris Johnson was still mayor then, in fact until he won his Uxbridge parliamentary seat in 2016, and only then did Sadiq Khan took his place in the Mayor’s office.
Negotiations were well under way, Khan even appeared in a Mets shirt (I never understood that) for a promotional event. So that’s hardly a Khan vanity project, surely?
The event may not have made much money last weekend, and cost a fair bit to prepare the stadium. But they will be back next year when the vast majority of the materials used will have been stored away for when Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals play a two-headed series, so the costs will be spread over two years.
But a vanity project for the mayor? I don’t think so. Maybe we can drop the slur now. The stadium has to be utilised, it was losing money hand over fist before Khan‘s involvement, and West Ham have continually pointed out it is not their fault but that of the stadium owners. The Yanks will be back for a few more years yet.