Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Capturing Cardiff - Cardiff City Ladies FC

Last year, after much deliberation and planning, the Football Association formally announced their plans to restructure the top level of women’s football.

From 2010 onwards the existing top flight, the FA Women’s Premier League National Division – itself only established in the 1992/93 season – will be replaced by a summer ‘Super League’.

The new league will be an eight team top division, with clubs currently being invited to apply for membership.

Those clubs granted a license will then play in the league over a three-year cycle, with there being no promotion or relegation.

Amongst the motives that led the FA to give the women’s game this radical shake-up is the desire to strengthen the England national team, and also to prevent top domestic players from moving to America to play in professionally in the fledgling WPS.

But what does it all mean for the majority of clubs currently playing at Premier League level?

Leading women’s teams such as Arsenal and Leeds Carnegie are expected to bid for a place in the new league, and even the likes of Manchester United, who disbanded there women’s team in 2005, are being touted as potential wildcards for a place in it.

On the other hand, a number of clubs are not even considering applying to become part to the new league.

One such club is Cardiff City Ladies, the only Welsh team currently playing in the Women’s Premier League structure.

The decision not to apply was taken due to reasons outlined to me at a first team training session on the tennis courts outside the Welsh Institute of Sport, Sophia Gardens.

The main issue is money.

Attracting the money and sponsorship required to stake a claim for membership of the new league would not be easy for the club.

Like many of the top women’s football teams, Cardiff City Ladies once had ties with the local men’s team – albeit only for a relatively short period, between 2001 and 2003 – however after an acrimonious disagreement over the way the club should be ran, these links were cut.

With legal proceedings hanging in the air over the women’s club right to use the word 'City' in their name, the club returned to independent status with very little money to spend on the team.

Although more than five years have passed, things haven’t changed to the extent that the club would be able to spend the kind of money the FA are asking for.

Karen Jones, Cardiff City Ladies club secretary, told me that in order to apply for a license: “You have to present a considerable amount of capital.

“We understand this would be in the region of £160,000. You would also need a sponsor or partner.

“So we are just not in the position to bid.”

Another issue would be that on joining the Super League, players would have to become semi-professional, in theory to devote part of their time into working on football schemes within Cardiff.

This would mean they would be required to set up a business model in order to centrally employ up to forty of the players, coaches and other staff.

Michele Adams, Cardiff City Ladies team manager, said: “The twenty players who would be involved (with a Super League club) will be employed within the community.

“We haven’t got the business acumen to employ forty people, and so we would need professional help on that.

“Without support, we wouldn’t have the time to start what in all effects would be a new business.”

Michele Adams, Cardiff City Ladies coach, explains why the club are currently not in a position to apply for membership of the FA Women’s Super League, and how this situation could change in the future.

Potentially, another problem the club could face surrounds there place in European competition.

Unlike the men’s team, Cardiff City Ladies have the ability to qualify for Europe through the Welsh Cup, and thus are able to reach the preliminary stages of the UEFA Women’s Cup (women’s football’s equivalent to the Champions League).

They were involved in the competition earlier this season, and have been in each of the five years before that.

Should they gain membership to an 'English' league of the kind the FA are planning, there is the worry that this could put their future European aspirations in jeopardy.

At time of writing, Cardiff City Ladies sit second in the FA Women’s Premier League Southern Division.

They were relegated from the National Division last season, having spent two years in the top flight.

Any hopes of ‘bouncing back’ at the first attempt have already been dashed, as the restructuring plans means there will be no promotion this season.

So Cardiff City Ladies are left challenging for the league, before waiting to see which division they will be competing in come 2009/10.

“We just want to see how high we can finish at the end of the season,” said Karen Jones, “So, when the restructuring is done, hopefully we will be in the highest flight underneath the top eight.”

Click the play button above to hear Cardiff City Ladies club secretary Karen Jones speaking about the FA Women’s Super League, why the club has decided not to apply for a place in it, and what the future holds for them.

To view a photo gallery of pictures from my visit to the team’s first team training session at the Welsh Institute of Sport, Sophia Gardens, click here.

Friday, 2 January 2009

The Journalistic January Transfer Window.

In the month of January, if you pick up any national newspaper and turn to the back page, chances are you’ll be confronted by a story documenting football transfer dealings.

FIFA’s January transfer window, introduced during the 2002/03 season, has seen the turn of the year become one of the busiest, newsiest and exciting times for sports journalists.

But it’s not just footballers who are moving around in January.

Journalists themselves often tend to move from paper to paper as we approach a new calendar year. 2009 is no different.

The topic of journalists switching to different newspapers has been hammered home to me this Friday afternoon.

Earlier I was listening to Alan Oliver, the Newcastle Evening Chronicle’s long-serving Chief Sports Writer, chatting on talkSPORT radio’s Goldstein & Cundy show (themselves no strangers to gracing newspaper pages) about Shay Given’s increasing unhappiness at Newcastle United.

Alan started by saying that today, after 29 years of covering the Magpies for them, he was working his last day at the Chronicle, and would be retiring from the rigours of daily journalism not long after putting down the phone.

However, this does not signal the end of his distinguished career, as Oliver announced how he will be continuing his journalistic work as the North-East football correspondent with the Sunday People.

For those of you who aren’t quite the sports journalism anorak that I am, you might remember Alan Oliver from an excellent video report he produced with Kevin Day for BBC TV’s Match of the Day 2 a few years back, charting his match report for the final edition of the Chronicle’s Saturday evening Pink paper.

Man on the move – Alan Oliver is leaving the Newcastle Evening Chronicle after 29 years.

He is often heard giving his take on the “Geordie Nation” on rolling sports news channels and it will be interesting to see how his reporting adapts to a new, national platform.

Touching on a topic discussed in previous blogs, Oliver for three decades will have been viewed by many Magpies fans as “their football writer” and has had a long and storied career in the North-East.

Indeed his former colleague Neil Farrington, sports columnist for the Chronicle’s sister paper, the Sunday Sun, has dubbed him “Mr Newcastle” in a tribute piece.

Through the window – Paul Hayward, Martin Samuel and Patrick Barclay are all switching newspapers, much like how the footballers they report on are currently changing clubs.

Alan is not the only sports journalist on the move.

Indeed a number of the biggest names on (what used to be) Fleet Street are moving to different papers.

Sports journalism’s answer to the fabled “managerial merry-go-round” actually began in August, when it was announced that the Daily Mail’s Paul Hayward would be returning to The Guardian on their move to Kings Cross at the beginning of 2009.

Hayward, having been Chief Sports Writer at the Independent, Telegraph and the Mail, will now become Senior Sports Writer across the Guardian, Observer and their online presence.

Succeeding him at the Mail is Martin Samuel, a heavyweight columnist who was named Sports Journalist of the Year at the 2008 British Press Awards.

The former Daily Express, News of the World and Times Chief Football Correspondent is another writer who has detailed his departure, mentioning it in his final column in The Times’ Monday football supplement ‘The Game’.

A number of journalists will be filling his shoes at the Times, the biggest hitter being the highly-respected Patrick Barclay, the cerebral Sunday Telegraph football columnist of 12 years until last month.

Barclay takes up the newly-created role of Chief Football Commentator, whilst the Times have promoted from within to give Oliver Kay a new reporting brief as Football Correspondent, inheriting Samuel’s Monday Game discussions amongst other duties.

So it’s all change as many of the marquee sports columnists have traded places with their contemporaries.

It’s a transfer window all of its own.