Sheffield United already have “everything in place” to compete at the elite level of women’s football if they are granted WSL2 status, general manager Lee Walshaw last night confirmed.
The Football Association are scheduled to announce on Sunday which clubs will take part in next season’s competition, which is being revamped during a major overhaul of the English game.
Earlier this year, United submitted their application for one of the five new licences potentially on offer as the governing body looks to expand level two of the women’s pyramid.
Walshaw, who together with head coach Carla Ward was part of the club’s delegation to Wembley, told The Star: “If we are successful, which obviously we hope we are, then we are ready to go. We can begin straight away. Everything is set and in place.”
United will discover if their bid has been accepted following this weekend’s FA Women’s Premier League Championship play-off, which takes place at Bramall Lane. Blackburn Rovers and Charlton Athletic are set to battle it out for both the National WPL title and promotion after winning the north and south divisions.
Although Manchester United’s entry into the race for WSL2 effectively cuts the number of places on offer to four - despite Old Trafford’s decision to disband its women’s team in 2005 - United hope their long-standing commitment to promoting girls’ and ladies’ football will be looked upon favourably by the FA.
Citing the decision to bring their women’s squad officially under the United umbrella, Walshaw continued: “It’s demonstrates, perhaps more so than anything else, that we are part of the football club. It’s not an association, just borrowing the name of anything like that. We are part of Sheffield United.”
“It’s raised our standards and focus, definitely,” he added. “Because everyone is aware now that, everytime we set foot on the pitch, we are representing Sheffield United.
“But a lot of the workforce at Bramall Lane is female and another effect is that it’s made them feel more a part of the whole operation too. It’s not a case of them working for men or for the men’s team all the time. It changes things in so many different ways. I think the same, hopefully, can be said of our female supporters as well.”
If United do get the green light, it will have a major impact upon the careers of Ward’s squad because they would effectively turn semi-professional.
“The amount of training time would go up,” Walshaw said. “The number of sessions and also the coverage in the media at all levels. We think we’re ready.”
United, who finished third in the FA Women’s Premier League Midlands Division last season, will effectively move up two levels if their WSL2 request is granted. Ward’s squad, who beat neighbours Leeds at Bramall Lane seven months ago, stage the majority of their home matches at the Steelphalt Academy. But United’s co-owner Kevin McCabe, who was instrumental in bringing the ladies ‘in-house’, recently outlined his intention to see them move to the Olympic Legacy Park “as soon as possible.”
“The Ladies have made great strides forward and we want to see that continue,” McCabe, speaking uin October, said. “The interest is growing both in terms of fans and the media. The women’s game can not and should not be ignored.”