Charlton Athletic women
The Charlton women’s team play in the second tier of the English system

While crisis surrounds the Charlton Athletic men’s team, Charlton Athletic Women have called upon fans to get behind a fundraising campaign to support them ahead of the 2020/21 season. HUGO GREENHALGH reports.

With an anticipated shortfall of around £50,000 caused by the knock-on effects of Covid-19, the club have been exploring ways in which they can attract financial help for another season in the FA Women’s Championship – the division below the Women’s Super League.

The suspension of football came at an unfortunate time for Charlton Women. While they were bottom of the league, they had several games in hand which they hoped would take them out of the drop zone – although they will now remain in the Championship as there is no promotion from the division below. There were also a couple of lucrative home fixtures coming up, against Crystal Palace and London Bees, which could have drawn big crowds.

The women’s team is a separate entity to the men’s side, with financial independence and different ownership. Home games are played at the Oakwood, VCD Athletic’s ground in Crayford. They also occasionally play at the Valley, where a game earlier in the season against Aston Villa drew a crowd just short of 1,000. They are backed by lifelong Charlton fan Stephen King, the chief executive of health and safety consultancy PSHC, who is the club’s chairman and majority shareholder.

Steve Adamson, the club’s general manager, explains: “We have an owner who puts in funds and everything else is self-funded. Most of our income comes from different things that we do – whether it’s matchday tickets, sponsorship, hospitality. What we spend, we have to bring in and raise ourselves.”

Given that, at best, match days will be running at a significantly reduced capacity and key sponsors have also had to cut their advertising budgets as a result of Covid-19, Charlton are facing a financial hit. “We had to take the early decision to furlough players and staff,” Adamson continues.

“We’ve had no real new income since February/March. It’s only in the next few weeks that we are going to get income as sponsors pay their payment and everything else. It’s financially very tough for us, but we got through it.

Charlton Athletic women
Defender Grace Coombs is another to stay with the club for the new season. She has been with Charlton since she was eight

“We know that we’re going to have, basically, an up to £50,000 deficit compared to previous seasons. We won’t be the only club in that position, but because we’re self-funded we can’t just rely on a bigger cash loan or money from the men’s club.”

With this in mind, the club launched a fundraising appeal this summer to bring in extra money. This ranges from fans pledging a direct debit to the club, with a recommended donation of £10 per month, to a more affordable range of player sponsorship options.

“We are looking for player sponsorship, so we brought in new levels of player sponsorship so you can essentially sponsor a player from £50 plus VAT, where previously it was £250,” Adamson says.

“We realise that people don’t have as much disposable cash so we’ve done staggered and tiered sponsorship levels, so hopefully we can get more people on board.”

A lot of the money will go towards new criteria that the FA has brought in for the forthcoming season, including a £15,000 medical pot which all clubs are now required to have. This is used to cover the players for injuries, scans and other medical assistance. The FA is paying for the clubs to be tested for Covid-19 twice a week but there will also be the ongoing costs of PPE, which Adamson estimates the club have already spent between £500 and £1,000 on.

As for the footballing side of things, the players have been gradually eased back into training in accordance with FA and government guidelines. Funds for player salaries were raised separately to the appeal, and this has meant they’ve been able to start signing new contracts, including one for last season’s player of the season Lilli Maple. Pre-season friendlies will also begin in due course.

Without the serious backing of the men’s club, the year has been a difficult one so far for Charlton Women. However, Adamson hopes that the cause can be a galvinising force for the fanbase to get behind. “It’s been positive so far,” he says. “We could still do with some more support but we’ve had a lot of nice messages and people who previously wouldn’t support saying they will.”

With Liverpool relegated from the Women’s Super League into their division, there is bound to be more media attention on the league this season. As popularity in the women’s game continues to grow, Charlton have reason to be optimistic that they can prosper once their funding is safely secured.

To help support the Charlton Athletic Women’s team, visit the club website.

This is one of a series of stories we are running on how people in SE London have responded to the coronavirus pandemic. Let us know if you have a story to tell.

HUGO GREENHALGH is a freelance journalist who also presents the Dulwich Hamlet podcast, Forward The Hamlet.

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