Women’s football should be “wary of walking into a set-up it did not ask for” in the wake of big-money proposals outlined in Project Big Picture.
Lewes FC general manager Maggie Murphy also warned against a widening gulf between the top two tiers of the female game and the lower leagues for fear of repeating the same mistakes made in men’s football.
In what would be a seismic shake-up of English football, Manchester United and Liverpool have unveiled plans for the men’s game to pump £51 million into the women’s game each year starting from the 2022-23 season.
Those monies would be shared equally between the top two elite leagues, the Women’s Super League and Championship, the women’s FA Cup and the female grassroots game, with each sector receiving £17m, providing the game with a sustainable future income.
But there is trepidation over whether it would lead to a power imbalance akin to the one between the Premier League and the English Football League.
“The annual cash injection is sorely needed and would unlock the huge potential across women’s football,” Murphy told Telegraph Sport.
“But a global pandemic is a dangerous time to have a conversation about the long-term future of the league when we are starved of funds and seeking simply to survive. Women’s football should be wary of walking into a set-up we did not want or ask for.”
The prospect of injecting £17m into the Women’s FA Cup – where the lack of prize money has become an increasingly awkward talking point in light of the growing profile of the women’s game, would appear attractive.
As a community-owned club in the championship that, in 2017, became the first football club in the world to pay both its male and female players equally, Lewes have been vocal in calling for equal prize money in both the men’s and women’s cup competitions.
The total prize pot in this year’s Women’s FA Cup is £309,355, around one per cent of the men’s £30.25m. “If £17m is to be channelled into the FA Cup, that would – at levels this year – equal that of the men’s FA Cup prize money which would be an incredible leap forward for football and help sustain and grow women’s football across the game,” continued Murphy.
The Project Big Picture plans, as first revealed by the Telegraph, also propose a new women’s league which would be independent of both the Premier League and The Football Association.
While the Premier League has previously discussed taking over the running of the WSL, which saw a landmark £10m sponsorship investment from Barclays last year, the FA has previously said it will take its time to consider “a number of options on the table” regarding its future.
“There is definitely interest in creating a nice, glossy product, one that is potentially fenced off from promotion and relegation and one which looks more like an American project, which doesn’t have promotion and relegation and looks more like a franchised affair,” added Murphy.
“But if that’s where we’re going, then clubs like Lewes, with years and years of history, won’t be invited to play at the ball game.
“Any conversation about a future independent league must take place within a well-defined, participatory and transparent process with those who know and care about women’s football. It should be explicitly stated from the beginning that a franchise model without promotion or relegation is off the table.
“That is antithetical to football in this country and would be devastating for the many towns and cities who have been supporting and investing in women’s football for decades, not just for months.”