Leeds Ladies are back to being Leeds United Ladies, and are back where they belong, part of the Leeds United family. As Angus Kinnear, Leeds United’s Managing Director, told the club’s official website, www.leedsunited.com:
“We are pleased to welcome Leeds United Ladies back into our family, the women’s game is growing in popularity and rightly so, there are some very talented female players in this region and across the country.
“It is important that the club is represented in the leagues and we hope this move will encourage more young girls to get involved in football.”
Lee Townend, Chairman of Leeds United Ladies had this to say as well:
“A unified Leeds Ladies team means that not only does the city have a women’s team who will represent them and wear the badge with pride but a team which girls and the young female football players of Leeds can look up to and emulate.
“I am looking forward to working closely with Angus and the team of directors over the coming seasons to realise the vision of Leeds United Ladies FC. We thank our committee along with Andrea and the team at LUFC for working hard to make this happen.”
The Leeds Ladies have existed both with and without assistance from Leeds United over the years, with the club starting in 1989 with the club’s sponsorship. The team rose up in the divisions, and had a number of high finishes Women’s Premier League in the early 2000s, with a fourth place finish in 2002 and 2004, a 7th place finish in 2003 and a 5th place finish in 2005.
In 2005 Ken Bates, who was the owner of Leeds at the time, cut the funding for the women’s team because Leeds fans can’t have nice things. The Leeds Ladies team had to fund itself with outside sponsorships, including from Leeds Metropolitan University. The club prospered on the pitch, reaching two straight Women’s FA Cup finals in 2007 and 2008, and went to four Women’s Premier League Cup finals, winning in 2010 and finishing as runners up in 2007, 2012, and 2013. However, the club had to change their name to Leeds Carnegie Ladies FC to align with Leeds Met University rules in 2008. After yet another narrowly missed financial meltdown, the team came back into the Leeds United fold in 2010 to prevent going out of business, and went back to using the name Leeds United Ladies.
However, in 2014 owner Massimo Cellino decided that Leeds United would no longer have a women’s football club. Again, the club had to change its name, this time from Leeds United Ladies to simply Leeds Ladies and continued to have success without any financial assistance from the men’s club, raising funds from the surrounding community. But again, as with many community football clubs, the finances seemed to implode this past April, and the women’s team faced an uncertain future.
This is wonderful news for fans of Leeds United and women’s football. Having the commitment of the men’s club is vital for the support of women’s football. Massimo Cellino ditched the women’s club after it had found glory, and that really set women’s football backwards in Leeds and in Yorkshire in general. Radrizzani promised to invest in the future of the club, and this is part of those efforts. And don’t think this is just about appearances or trying to gin up fan support for the new ownership. Investing in women’s football will pay off in the future.
First of all, more and more girls and women all over the globe are playing football. And while not all of them have designs on playing on a professional level, enough might decide to continue down that path who would otherwise choose a different sporting path to follow, increasing the talent pool available. Increasing the talent pool should help in finding the next Kelly Smith. If England is going to challenge the US, Sweden, Brazil, and France for World Cup glory, more girls are going to have to play football. And the more professional teams that provide playing opportunities for young women will create more excitement. The FA has vowed to double the number of women involved in football by 2020, and appear to be increasing investment at all levels of the game.
Second of all, the more women that participate as kids, the more likely they are to grow up as fans of football, leading to an increase in fanbase of the club. In America, the NFL is rapidly increasing its revenues by directly appealing to female fans. In Australia, the AFL’s success with female fans have driven increases in attendance. While a number of professional women’s football teams in America have issues with attendance, the Portland Thorns average over 15,000 fans, a figure that would beat most League One and League Two English teams, and a number of teams in the Championship as well (for coverage of the Portland Thorns, please visit the SBNation site for the Portland Timbers, Stumptown Footy. They do an excellent job at covering the Thorns). The opportunity for growth in revenue in appealing to female fans, and respecting the women’s game is part of this appeal.
With only 20 teams in the top two divisions of the Women’s Super League, there is plenty of opportunity for growth in the game in England and those girls who grow up in towns and cities where there are no WSL teams might instead root for Sunderland Ladies or Manchester City WFC and, by extension, the men’s team as well. If young girls in Leeds can see their women’s team heroes wearing the same badge and kits as the men’s team, they will want to follow and root for the men’s club. It’s hard enough to get children excited about the local club already, with the Premier League and European football on almost daily during the season, and providing an avenue for girls to go see women playing football for their local club is extremely important.
Put simply, it’s investing in the future of football and investing in the future of the community. The head of women’s football for FIFA called women’s football “The biggest growth opportunity in sport”. There is obviously a market and a need for a women’s club in Leeds and for it to be the best, Leeds Ladies needs to be part of the greater Leeds United brand and part of the club. Expanding the outreach of the club into the women’s game can only benefit everyone involved at Leeds United and West Yorkshire in general.