Women’s football requires further improvement to bridge gap

Derby County Women Manager Sam Griffiths.
Derby County Women Manager Sam Griffiths conducts a post-match interview at Mickleover FC. Picture by Ciaran Morrison.

Derby County Women’s manager Sam Griffiths believes the gap between the divisions in women’s football is the ‘biggest it has been for a few years’ as she calls for professional development to continue in the lower leagues.

Griffiths oversaw a mixed 2023/24 season with Derby as they lifted the National League Plate, their first ever major trophy, but underachieved in their league campaign, finishing in 7th place.

The Ewes play at step three of the women’s football pyramid with a mixture of full-time and part-time teams.

Derby Women are currently part-time but train at the men’s training base, Moor Farm, and have access to all the facilities at Oakwood.

For the third tier of women’s football to grow, Griffiths believes more clubs need to start becoming more professional.

“It is a scary place at the minute step three in terms of the difference,” Griffiths claimed.

“I’ve heard teams like Liverpool Feds don’t pay a penny and they’re competing against full time teams in the league so it’s very easy to say it goes down to investment which it probably is but where that money comes from, I don’t know.

“I think clubs always need more money, but it can’t be all about that, we’ve had good backing from the men this year in terms of facilities and we’ve got to keep working to professionalise where we can, make things feel as professional as possible and if money comes along the way then it’s a bonus.”

Amy Sims and a Newcastle United player battle for possession.
Amy Sims and a Newcastle United player battle for possession during a match at Mickleover FC. Picture by Ciaran Morrison.

Griffiths says the club want to ‘breed a culture where it’s not about money’ and the players ‘play for the love of football’ but states the competition needs to keep increasing.

“I think the FA have to look at how they support the foundations, I think tier three is almost becoming the new Championship in terms of standard,” Griffiths said.

“You can’t get away from the fact teams are still competing so if you look at Halifax who have got absolutely no money, they beat Nottingham Forest and drew with Newcastle and they are higher than us in the league.

“Those clubs have earned the right to play at tier three, so the women’s game is very different to the men’s game.”

Griffiths was also like to grow the crowds at matches alongside the professionalism of the game.

“I think we have to get into schools more and we need to work harder to promote it,” Griffiths added.

“I think we’ve proved we can get people into your Pride Parks, but the challenge now is how do you get them into your Mickleover’s.”

Club Captain and longest serving player of the Ewes squad, Hannah Ward, agrees the development of the women’s game largely comes down to club finances.

“I think we’ve seen this season that money talks a lot especially in our league,” said Ward.

“Look at Newcastle who are full time and how they’ve progressed and kicked on this season and then the top four who have done really well so the league has split into two.

“But also, facilities we are very lucky with what we have at Mickleover, but you travel to some grounds and it’s not always that good and some grassroots pitches aren’t always the best.”

Ward also looks at the wider picture and insists clubs need to show more support to female players.

“Other clubs haven’t had support from the men’s clubs in terms of rehab and when people haven’t got private insurance and they’ve got to stop working it impacts there day to day life,” added Ward.

“A lot of us work full time or are in full time education so these are the types of things we have to think about.

“You need more support than the men do, if you want to have a family that’s a big decision you have to make but obviously you have to stop playing for a long time.

“The progression over the last few years has been massive, we can’t hide away from that but there is still a way to go.”