On December 23rd, news spread via BBC Sport’s Emma Sanders that FA Women’s Championship side, Coventry United, were to be placed in liquidation and contracts of those involved were to be terminated.
Later that day, players then began confirming this on social media. Goalkeeper, Olivia Clark, was one of the first and she tweeted, “I have no words. To come into work and to find out that you no longer have the job that you’ve always dreamed of is heartbreaking.”
This then prompted a brief statement from the club:
Do I believe that the club planned to release this statement? No way! This seemed like a quick reaction due to rising public pressure.
Coventry United earned their promotion to the FA Women’s Championship after winning the FA Women’s National League South in 2018/19. They were promoted alongside the Northern division winners, Blackburn Rovers. Under the stewardship of former player, Jay Bradford, the club finished 9th and 10th in 2019/20 and 2020/21 respectively.
Earlier this year, Darren Langdon, Paul Marsh and Steve Quinlan, who own and run Mirius, a leading global manufacturer of cleaning and hygiene products, initially chose to support the club via a shirt sponsorship arrangement, but once involved in the club they decided to increase their commitment by taking an ownership stake.
The group of local businessmen announced that the team would turn professional this season and the club wasted no time in building a squad which many, including myself, considered promotion contenders. This included Sheffield United pair Katie Wilkinson and Naomi Hartley, Birmingham City’s Women’s Championship winner with Manchester United Mollie Green and highly rated forward Rio Hardy from Apollon Limassol.
There was obvious anger from fans, players and coaches from all over the women’s football pyramid. Manchester City defender, Alex Greenwood voiced her disappointment, tweeting, “The sacrifices these girls make to become professional footballers to be told halfway through a season you no longer have a job, or a club, is simply not good enough!!!”
Forgetting about the inexcusable timing of the announcement just before Christmas, how can this happen so early on in the club’s journey into turning professional? I would love to know what sort of due diligence went on from the Football Association (FA) and the investors themselves.
We were privy to a few conversations about a crowdfunding campaign being set up for those involved and massive credit must go to Michael Mogan for getting one set up. Initially, the target was £10,000 and it was totting up nicely but an anonymous donation of £5,000 helped them hit that target within a week of going live. At the time of writing just over £14,100 has been pledged and there are still eighteen days left to donate. If you’d like to then you can find out how here.
Just scrolling through some of the names who have donated you can see Aston Villa’s Remi Allen, Liverpool’s Rachel Furness and former Millwall and Yeovil Town manager, Lee Birch just to name a few. The women’s football network is something special and this support has been hugely appreciated by everyone involved. Club captain, Katie Wilkinson tweeted, “Wasn’t long ago I was donating on a similar page for Millwall. Never did I think we’d be here again where my team would be the ones needing all the help they could get. Still in absolute disbelief. Thanks so much to everyone donating, we love you.”
Initially, the FA could be slightly forgiven for not putting out a public statement when this dropped on the cusp of Christmas Eve but since then there has been plenty of time to put out a statement to let all those involved know the current situation. We are only six days away from the Women’s Championship returning after the winter break and, at the time of writing, fans are still none the wiser as to what is happening with their fixture with Bristol City.
Wilkinson has reassured fans that the players are slightly less in the dark and that she has been the point of contact between Kelly Simmons at the FA and Christine Bouchier from the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) who have been offering support. With both giving up their personal time over Christmas to support the players.
It transpires that the PFA are unable to offer overall support to the whole playing squad, only its members. While disappointing, it’s also understandable.
Tom Garry of the Telegraph has shared that off the back of the crowdfunding campaign there has been interest from Lewis Taylor, the chief executive of Midlands-based energy company Energy Angels, about becoming their sole owner. He is said to be ready to clear the debts and invest in the region of £200,000-£250,0000 initially to ensure the club can complete the season and plan for the future. For the full story, including quotes from Taylor, click here.
By the time that you read this things may have changed again as the liquidators, BK Plus, are poised to formally close down the club at midnight tomorrow (January 4th) but as there is a will to save the club I hope and pray that there might be a positive outcome to this situation. There is too much talent involved in United’s coaching, playing and backroom staff, it would be heartbreaking if women’s football loses them.
If this does happen it’d be interesting to see how many of the current playing staff are retained as many are already in talks with other clubs.
If you can spare anything then I do encourage everyone to get involved with the crowdfunding campaign as this will make a big impact on those involved, many of whom gave up full-time jobs to take the leap and turn professional, only to be been well and truly shafted by the club’s owners.