To say Birmingham City Women are experiencing a turbulent time off the pitch would be something of an understatement.
Birmingham City as a whole is in a financial mess. Chairman Xuandong Ren claimed on BBC Radio WM recently that the club is facing losses of £6.7 million this season, though the club’s directors claimed in a later press release that Ren failed to show the full picture. These losses are on top of the £18 million Ren claimed the club had lost during the 2019-20 season.
We all fall down
This uncertainty has seeped into the women’s squad, with the club going through major changes over the last two seasons. Former manager Marc Skinner, star striker Ellen White and promising player Aoife Mannion all left the club in 2019, but the first lockdown in March 2020 spelled disaster for the Blues.
Just prior to the lockdown, manager Marta Tejedor was dismissed with the club second from bottom in the Women’s Super League, while long-time captain Kerys Harrop, midfielder Chloe Arthur and England star Lucy Staniforth all left the club during the transfer window in an attempt to raise capital. This left new manager Carla Ward with the unenviable task of mounting a bid to return to the WSL elite without most of their best players and with a squad of just 17 players.
However, against all odds, Ward has managed to pull it off. Birmingham are currently sat in ninth in the table, five points and 39 goals clear of relegation and have looked comfortable for much of the season. Ward has managed to attract some top young talent to Blues, including Chelsea’s Jamie-Lee Napier and Emily Murphy, while star striker Claudia Walker has cropped up with huge goals for Blues.
While there has been a marked improvement off the pitch, the situation at boardroom level has only gotten messier in recent weeks.
There was confusion around the league when Blues’ recent Second City Derby against local rivals Aston Villa was called off just five minutes before kick-off. The team sheets had been issued, the home players were readying up in their full kit ready to start the game, yet the game was struck down due to a frozen pitch. Most people put it down to poor judgement from the referee or perhaps the groundsman, yet it transpired that the club knew this was going to happen days in advance.
The local area had been hit with snow and freezing temperatures for a week prior to the game. In an effort to get the game played, the FA offered the club use of a heated pitch at St George’s Park for a small fee. The players and staff were eager to take up the offer, yet Xuandong Ren refused to pay the money according to the Telegraph.
This would have been understandable if it was a large fee, but it was just £500. For comparison, this came days after the men’s team signed three players on Deadline Day which included a £2 million deal to bring in striker Sam Cosgrove from Scottish side Aberdeen.
This lax attitude towards the women’s side is nothing new to the Blues. Former co-owner, Karen Brady, reneged on funding in 2005, forcing the club to sell their star players and drove them down the league table. The club only survived that crisis when a player’s parent donated £10,000 to keep them afloat.
It is unsurprising to see why the current crisis in the blue half of England’s Second City is so worrisome for their women’s team. However, a fresh issue has emerged over their home of Damson Park in Solihull.
Typically, when a club leaves their stadium it is down to financial reasons or maintenance issues. Very rarely is it because the league tells them to move and it is even rarer is there apparently nothing wrong with the stadium.
The Blues have called Damson Park their home for the past five years and have never had any major issues there. While there have been many postponements this season, it is an issue shared by all clubs in the league with most teams playing on substandard pitches. However, the FA are stepping in to sort out Birmingham’s pitch issues specifically, forcing them to play their home game against Manchester City at St George’s Park with their “remaining home games under an ongoing review”.
The Women’s Super League explained the decision in a statement, claiming that Damson Park does not meet the requirements for an acceptable venue in the league rules. This is a baffling decision given that Blues have played there for so long and the owners of the stadium, Solihull Moors, playing on the pitch two days ago.
Worryingly for Birmingham, there is no clear-cut solution for them should they fail to find a new home and the WSL force them out of Damson Park. Solihull Moors is one of the only workable non-league stadiums in the area as most nearby clubs use artificial surfaces. The obvious solution would be to move into St Andrew’s, home of the men’s team. However, the pitch there already hosts nearly 50 games per season as Coventry City also call the stadium home so it may be unable to handle a third team.
- Last chance saloon
Birmingham City Women are once again on a knife-edge. While Carla Ward does a fine job stabilising the team on the pitch, the upper echelons of the club are in shambles. It is saddening to see the contrast between what is on the pitch and the boardroom. They were FA Cup finalists just four years ago and have looked steady on the pitch, yet they are being held back by poor ownership and financial difficulties.