‘A chance to change’ – Chris Hames on the growth of the FAWNL

Mitre Delta match ball.
Mitre Delta match ball sits in goal. (Photo by Simon Dael/BPI/Shutterstock)

The FA Women’s National League (FAWNL) may be threatened with null and void, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be wasted.

The women’s football pyramid is currently in its most critical juncture. Yet, with the very real prospect of another null and void season, the opportunity for revolution is there to be taken.

Reports emerged on Tuesday that a recent FA survey showed that a majority of clubs across Tiers 3-6 of the pyramid have suggested that they would favour another null and void outcome should the season be unable to continue again. It has therefore become a very real prospect that Tiers 3-6 of the pyramid face the most ‘Roy Hodgson’ of possibilities: a third consecutive season with no movement between leagues, of the same journeys to the same stadiums to play out the same league season – again.

No better time than now

Change needs to happen, whether Lady Corona had paid us a visit or not.

Change has, understandably, been avoided throughout the introduction and unprecedented growth of the Women’s Super League in recent years. The FAWNL, previously the FA Premier, has brilliantly carried on and provided its usual safe and strong base to the ever growing crown a-top the tree. Yet, something new is now needed.

The game is growing, and no longer is there just a need for a place to play the game in these middle reaches. There is a real need to grow with it. If this pandemic has taken a lot away from us on the pitch, it has at least given us the chance to revolutionise off it.

There is a strange fascination with 12 team leagues in this side of the game. From the FAWSL, down to Tier 6 Regionals it is all the same (bar the odd 11 in the FA Women’s Championship). 12 team leagues allow some benefits, most notably that the entire league season can very comfortably be fit into the nine month schedule laid out in a normal football season – but, for me, that is where it ends. These small leagues feel, small. Just 11 opportunities to bring in gate receipts; 22 opportunities to bring in sponsorship and support; and, just the one or two mid-week fixtures under the lights.

Incentives to invest

As the game looks to grow, so must its thinking around the widest part of its pyramid. The best way to close the gap on the super rich is to make the masses bigger. Give more opportunity to those across the landscape, more reason for clubs to invest, and more incentive to do so

Should, hypothetically, the FAWNL grow to 16 teams in its six leagues, a further 24 teams would be joining Tiers 3 and 4; more than 400 extra players would be training and playing in better and more regulated environments; more fan bases would merge into the FAWNL family, ready and willing to invest.

It would work to the belief that no team should be relegated on the six games they have been able to play between lockdown, isolations and cancellations. Additionally, it opens opportunities for heavily invested clubs threatened to stay held back again. No one receives punishment, and some even win.

New rivalries, new opportunities, new challenges would await all teams across all leagues going into a new season. Naturally, the most expensively bought cream will rise to the top. But, further chance to whip up into those positions would present itself to a larger portion of the pyramid.

Changes may not be liked, but they are needed. If ever there has been an open window for the game to be taken where it has never been before, the impending second consecutive cancellation of the league, is surely it.

Chris Hames is the first team manager at Bradford City AFC Women, who currently sit in the FAWNL Division One North.