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When a club moves, is it “franchise football” or just a move?

By Tony Attwood

They do things differently in Women’s Football.  Or do they?

Arsenal have just been knocked out of the Champions League, but have reached the FA Cup Final.  Rather oddly Arsenal (the team that wins most everything in Women’s Football in England) lie sixth in the league – but then they have achieved that without playing a game.

Here’s the table for the Women’s Super League – which is a summer league, and so is just getting started.

Pos Team Pl Pts
1 Chelsea Ladies 2 4
2 Bristol Academy 1 3
3 Liverpool Ladies 1 3
4 Birmingham Ladies 2 2
5 Lincoln Ladies 2 1
6 Arsenal Ladies 0 0
7 Everton Ladies 1 0
8 Doncaster Rovers Belles 1 0

Arsenal have played a game – getting a draw away from home against Lincoln in the group stages of the Continental Cup.  There are three group matches before the winners go through to a knock out stage.

Meanwhile Kim Little of Arsenal has been voted PFA Women’s Player of the Year.  Six women were nominated, three of them Arsenal players.

But now we come to the oddity.  Lincoln Ladies are going to move – to Nottingham to play at Notts County’s ground..

The FA has granted Notts County a licence to play in the Women’s Super League in the 2014 summer season.  Nottingham Forest also applied for the place, but had their application rejected.  Of course there might be many reasons for this, but I do remember the rather silly way (in my view) that Nottingham Forest reacted to their rejection last time around (when the Super League was formed.)

At that time they stated that the FA had missed an opportunity to use the power of the Nottingham Forest brand name to promote women’s football.  It was a rather silly piece, as I recall.  Nottingham Forest were not helped this year by having been relegated from the National Division of the Premier League  to the 3rd tier of women’s football – the Northern Division.  They will probably finish the league in second spot out of nine.

So the notion of promoting a club from the 3rd tier (National League Northern) to the first division (the Super League) is fairly unlikely.

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The merger of Lincoln Ladies and Notts County came about because Ray Trew, who bought League One Notts County for £1 in 2010, is also chairman of Lincoln Ladies.  He is in short merging his assets.

Moving a club to a different city is unusual – MK Dons is the only example I can think of, although I know that with a fair level of georgraphic misunderstanding, Tottenham supporters like to think that Plumstead was somehow in Kent in 1913 when Arsenal moved.  It wasn’t, it was in London when Arsenal moved 12 miles north just as Millwall was, when they moved in the other direction three years earlier.  (Tottenham of course was not in London, in 1913 when Arsenal moved.  It was actually in Middlesex).

To carry on the historic issue, Nottingham Forest Ladies are angry at what they see is a risk to their club just as Tottenham were in 1913 – although their crowds rose significantly once Arsenal moved to north London.

By 2014 the Super League will include 18 teams, split into two divisions and 33 clubs applied for the new places.

Lisa Dawkins of Nottingham Forest, speaking in the same manner in which Forest received the news that they would not be in the Super League when it was formed, said, “This is not only Ray Trew renaming Lincoln and taking them to Nottingham, that’s bad enough in its own right but it will completely destroy 20 years of hard work by an established women’s football club. It’s completely killed any pathway for us to develop and we have a brick wall in front of us now.

So Notts County will join Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton and Bristol in the top tier of the Women’s Super League from 2014.

A spokesman for AFC Wimbledon, formed after the establishment of MK Dons, added: “We’re opposed to football franchising full stop. This sounds like a classic case of it.”

Which is a bit silly because there is nothing in the rules of football in England which says that clubs can’t change grounds – as long as they don’t affect the chance of another team to get crowds.  Crowds at women’s football games are low, so that doesn’t really have an impact, but I can well understand Orient arguing against West Ham going to the Olympic Stadium, just as Tottenham tried to do.

In my view, clubs need to be able to move, because many clubs were set up in places that no one would dream of putting a club in the 21st century.   When Ian, Drew and I do our 180 mile round trip to see Arsenal play at home we don’t complain.  We get in the car or on the train.  That’s how it goes.

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