Fylde Women became the first major sporting club casualty of the COVID-19 outbreak on Tuesday.
AFC Fylde have announced their Women’s team has been disbanded in its current format.
Fylde were sat in 9th in the Women’s National League Northern Premier Division before the season was expunged.Embed from Getty Images
Manager Conrad Prendergast and all of his staff will now be without a job, with all players having to find new teams too.
As soon as the FA announced that the current season would be declared void, there were fears that many women’s football clubs would struggle to cope with the extra financial burden.
For Fylde, that fear has now been realised. The next worry will be whether more clubs will follow in having to disband their women’s teams.
It’s a struggle for clubs that do not have the same kind of safety net as those higher up in the women’s football pyramid.
The likes of Manchester City won’t have to worry about finances but for teams in the National League and below, being able to keep their clubs afloat was difficult even before the coronavirus lockdown.
Fylde have also stated that they have discussed with Prendergast the plans they have in place. This could hint that the club have some semblance of belief that the women’s team will return in the future.
“I’m shocked at Fylde being disbanded, they’ve been a steady Tier 3 club for many years,” West Brom manager Louis Sowe said in an exclusive interview with Her Football Hub.
“I’m devastated for Conrad, a manager I know well and have come up against for many years.
“I’m devastated for the staff and players who sacrifice a lot, and now in the current climate have the uncertainty of their football when it’s safe to return.”
The announcement of the club disbanding comes just a month after Fylde chairman stated that “AFC Fylde is wholeheartedly committed to its women’s team and will ensure it remains a part of the club,” in an open letter to fans.
“At this moment in time they will be heartbroken, gutted the club they’ve served for many years is no longer,” Sowe said.
“Everyone is looking for something to look forward to, a glimmer of light or something to aim for after this pandemic.
“That’s now no longer for them which I can imagine at this moment is mentally tough.”
With the club officially disbanding, there would be the question of whether or not they could return at their current level or if they would face several relegations. This is similar to what Yeovil Town experienced last season.
Other clubs in the league may be left wondering if a similar fate will be waiting for them following the restart of football.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we have another Fylde situation,” Sowe told us. “This could be a wake up call to many other teams.
“It could even affect teams in the top two tiers, women’s football doesn’t generate a lot of income, which could prove difficult for many.
“It’s a very uncertain time for many people, not just football.”
There are several reasons why women’s football clubs struggle financially. These issues are becoming increasingly more criticised by players and managers, which will undoubtedly eventually lead to some sort of rise in funding.
Unfortunately for Fylde, that funding will not come in time to save their club.
In 2018, UEFA pledged to add 50% extra funding to women’s football and at first that seems like a huge number. In reality, they are now paying member states just £132,000 a year to fund women’s football.
For context, that’s about a third of what Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea earns per week.
Lewes FC — a club that is determined to close the gap between men’s and women’s football — did a fantastic job at bringing the lack of funding in the Women’s FA Cup to light earlier in the season.Embed from Getty Images
The players wore shirts comparing the prize money in the fourth round of the respective FA Cups. It revealed the men’s competition awards £180,000 to winners and the women’s competition just £2,000.
That amount of money barely covers costs of an away day for clubs, leaving many without anything to show from their cup campaigns.
Fylde played two games in this season’s FA Cup, beating Wolves 1-0 in the third round before being eliminated from the competition by league rivals Sunderland.
For their troubles, they earned a total of £1,750 in prize money. The same campaign in the men’s competition would have earned them £135,000, which would definitely be enough to keep the club afloat.
Women’s football may continue to struggle after the world returns to normal, with the money that many clubs will miss out on being vital to their survival.
“It’s so hard to predict what women’s football will look like when we return,” reflected Sowe. “The news about Fylde came out of the blue and there’s just so much uncertainty in life at the moment.”
“I hope once this is over, women’s football won’t be too affected and can continue to grow.”
Women’s football faces an uphill financial battle in the coming months. Clubs that cannot rely on funding from bigger men’s clubs will find it difficult to come through the troubles caused by the coronavirus, with Fylde being the first of what could become many clubs to suffer.