Barnsley Join Campaign Against FAWNL Ruling

It has been a few days since it was announced that FA Women’s National Leagues are to end with immediate effect with all results voided. Meaning no promotion or relegation of clubs between tiers three to seven.

Understandably this has led to upset, initially from clubs who look destined to win their respective league and earn promotion but others have joined. This isn’t just limited to the women’s game, South Shields, Maldon and Tiptree and Worthing have already threatened the governing body with legal action as it has been confirmed that despite the announcement the decision is still to be ratified by the FA Council.

Barnsley have joined those clubs to campaign against the ruling and for more engagement with clubs to consider other outcomes.

I wanted to find out from someone directly involved how this decision affected their club and I was fortunate to have some time to speak with Paul Thompson, the Chairman of Barnsley.

Since the season was paused, how have the players been keeping themselves in shape physically and their mental well-being?
Our manager and coaching staff designed programs for our players to carry out at home. Our players are among the most hard-working and dedicated in football and they all keep extremely fit.

You currently occupy the top spot, equal on points with Leeds United. With your games in hand would you have anticipated completing the season top of the league?
We are challenging for promotion, in what is probably the most competitive league in women’s football. There are no poor teams in our division and every team delivers a stern challenge in every match. We are still in a position where Brighouse Town, Leeds United or Barnsley could get the one promotion spot this Season. This season is not over yet as far as we are concerned.

Are you able to describe what finishing top would mean for the club?
This is our club’s best-ever season, and to get promoted would be the icing on the cake for all our players, our manager, our coaching staff and our supporters.

Can you describe the feeling from within the club to the news of the FAWNL voiding the season?
Our manager is distraught and was virtually in tears when the decision was announced. Our manager, players and coaching staff have put so much into this season, to then be told by the FA that the season has been expunged, didn’t exist, and will be eradicated from the record books.

We are fighting this decision for or players, our manager, our coaching staff and our supporters – and for those of other clubs – both women’s and men’s clubs.

Would you say that you are more disappointed with the decision to void the campaign or just the process behind the decision?
Both equally.

As a club, what do you feel would be the best outcome for this campaign based on the current situation of there being no football likely before August? 
The first thing the FA should now do is to ensure they wait to see how the Premier League and Football League eventually proceed, and they should then apply a similar approach across the whole football pyramid, for both women’s and men’s teams and leagues. There is no reasonable or valid reason why they don’t do this.

There can be and is no certainty that the 2020/2021 season can start on time, or when it can start. The only certainty can and should be that we all complete the 2019/20 Season, as soon as it is safe to do so.

As a club, you’ve released a statement accusing the sports governing body of gender discrimination. Is this the first time that you’ve been made to feel like this?
We believe the FA needs to show a lot more respect, concern and love for the women’s game. This is going to be an ongoing challenge for everyone involved in women’s football, for many years to come.

Photos: Dean Bradford

As someone who also coaches in the grassroots game, I have a lot sympathy with clubs and the league. I am yet to see what I would consider to be a fair and practical outcome that suits all teams involved.

In the National League South, Crawley Wasps sit top. If the league were to opt to settle it with the points per game method then Crawley Wasps would finish top with 2.643 PPG, while Watford would finish on 2.545 PPG. Watford would argue that if they were to play their three games in hand and win, then they would have top spot and be more deserving of the lucrative promotion into the Championship. Surely going down that route would invite another campaign from different clubs affected negatively.

With the final decision yet to be ratified then there is still a chance that the decision could be reversed and the season could still be completed. When and how that would look nobody knows as many clubs in the Women’s National League were still trying to catch up after a series of postponements over the winter.

I still struggle to see how this campaign can be finished without having massive repercussions on the 2020/21 season but all these clubs are asking is to not be ‘written off’ and to be given the same sort of consideration as the top tiers of men’s and women’s football. I don’t think anyone can argue that isn’t a reasonable request.