Play Hard

Newcastle United Women’s next football fixture is at St James’ Park – here’s why it’s such a big deal

NUFC Women will face Alnwick Town Ladies at the famous stadium for the first time in their history.

Written by Becky Hardy
Published 28.04.2022

WHO ARE NEWCASTLE UNITED WOMEN?

When Newcastle United Women step out on turf that’s seen by many in the city to be hallowed ground this Sunday (1st May), they’ll be making history.

It will be the first time since the team was formed back in 1989 that the Lady Magpies will play a football match at the home of their male counterparts: St James’ Park. But that’s not the only reason the match carries some pressure.

Newcastle United Women – led by manager Becky Langley – are still in the FA Women’s National League Division One North title race, with only two matches left to play in the regular season. And, as only the team that finishes top gets promoted into the Northern Premier Division, there really is no room for error.

Not that errors are something we’ve seen much of from the Lady Magpies this season. From finishing eighth in the league last year, their improvement has been remarkable and has seen the team enjoy a prolific season: scoring 73 goals across 20 league matches – winning 15, drawing one and only suffering one defeat all year ­– as well as reaching the fourth round of the Vitality Women’s FA Cup and the final of the County Cup.

Langley’s side go into the game at St James’ Park second in the table, but with a game in hand over leaders Liverpool Feds. The title remains very much within their grasp – but a win this weekend is vital.

Tickets for the match at St James’ Park on Sunday are only £3 for adults and are free for juniors.

WHY IS NUFC WOMEN’S MATCH AT ST JAMES’ PARK SIGNIFICANT?

Under Newcastle United’s previous owner, many of us in the city didn’t even know we had a women’s team affiliated with the men’s. We didn’t know where they played their ‘home’ games, what league they were in, how prolific they are and how much potential there is for Newcastle women’s football to grow exponentially.

But the new owners seem determined to change all that.

And it’s about time, in our humble opinion. In recent years, we’ve already seen one heck of a shift in the popularity of women’s football – with more WSL games now on TV than ever before (across Sky Sports, BBC and The FA Player), Manchester United Women setting the precedent for crowd numbers at a domestic fixture after they played in front of 20,000 supporters at Old Trafford in March, and England Women becoming one of the most dominant teams in world football, ranking within FIFA’s top 10 teams in the world and proving they’re more than capable of packing out Wembley with more than 45,000 supporters.

Women’s football is becoming more and more visible, recognised and respected in the UK. No longer are young girls playing for boys’ teams because there aren’t any local girls’ teams for them to join. No longer is there such little funding for the women’s’ and girls’ teams that do exist that they’re required to play in the same strips as their male counterparts because they can’t afford their own. And what this shift is saying is that women and girls have got every bit of the same right to football as men and boys do – and every bit of the same right to be supported when they play, too.

Which is why Newcastle United Women’s fixture at St James’ Park is so important. Because having our local women’s team play in the same stadium as the men – and hopefully garner the same level of support as the men, too – is showing women and girls within the North East that there are real opportunities within the region. That there’s somewhere to go with football here, a route that could lead to WSL status and even selection for the national team. It’s showing them that their only limits are their own imaginations – and that they’ll have the support of the rest of us here in the North East, every step of the way.

WHAT DOES THE FIXTURE SAY ABOUT NUFC’S NEW OWNERS?

The stark change in tact with regards to how Newcastle United Women are included, celebrated and supported by the club’s new owners proves just how much things have changed since Mike Ashley was in charge.

Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi have never shied away from their desire to improve our women’s team, as well as our men’s, and have often attended the women’s fixtures and training sessions to demonstrate how much of a hands-on presence they intend to be in the progression of the squad going forwards. We’ll be very surprised if we don’t see them in the stands at St James’ Park on Sunday.

And what they’re demonstrating, right from the off, is that we have a club to be proud of here in Newcastle – and that’s a club in all senses of the word. A men’s team, a women’s team, an academy and development teams, an affiliated charity and a community outreach project. Football from the grassroots of the North East all the way to the top.

By improving all aspects of Newcastle United Football Club – from raising employees’ wages to refurbishing training facilities and generating more support for the women’s and youth teams – our new owners are proving that they’re here to use football as a way of boosting the entire city through inclusion, equality and ambition. And we, for one, are here for it.

FOLLOWING MANCHESTER CITY’S EXAMPLE?

In the men’s game, current Premier League title holders Manchester City have established themselves as one of the most dominant forces in world football following the club’s takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group back in 2008.

But as well as enjoying a wealth of success in the men’s game, the funds that were made available to Manchester City – complete with sensible and ambitious investment – also allowed the club to establish a top side in women’s football, too.

When they achieved WSL status in 2013, Manchester City Women seized the opportunity to play at the highest level with both hands by bringing in a number of England internationals, such as goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, 74-times capped midfielder Jill Scott (who hails from Sunderland), and former England captain, Steph Houghton, (another North East local). Imagine if Newcastle only had a supported women’s team back then – the talent that could’ve been attracted to the North East, instead of the North West!

Winning their first major trophy in their first season in the top tier, City Women saw more of their starting 11 get called up to national duty, with many featuring in England’s impressive 2015 World Cup campaign, which saw them finish third overall. The team also began challenging for more and more silverware and broke the league attendance record a number of times.

They’ve become one of the most superior sides in English women’s football, with a league title, two Women’s FA Cup victories and two further WSL cups already under their belt – and no signs of slowing down, either.

Although their Women’s team had an affiliation with Manchester City Football Club from the late ‘80s, it wasn’t until 2012 that their position as an official part of the club became formalised under a new agreement. Now, the women’s team shares not only corporate links, marketing and resources with the men’s team, but also their training facilities.

And this seems a model Newcastle United are keen to emulate, albeit in their own way. NUFC co-owner Mehrdad Ghodoussi has been open in his admiration of the way Manchester City has been run since its 2008 takeover, particularly with regards to the community outreach work undertaken by the club, as well as its creation of a significant number of job opportunities for the local community and its tackling of social issues within the region.

Commenting in an interview with The Athletic, Ghodoussi said: ‘PIF (Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia) own 80% of this asset (Newcastle United), they have huge ambitions, not only for the club but in terms of working with the community, investing in the city.

‘The similarities would be with Manchester City. What Sheikh Mansour has done there has been fantastic. We want to take the best of other clubs and apply it to Newcastle.’

We’re willing to bet this includes the success of their women’s team – so, watch this space!

WHAT COULD THE FUTURE HOLD FOR NEWCASTLE UNITED WOMEN?

Success, and lots of it. With the wholehearted support of our owners, hopefully that of Newcastle fans will soon follow. And, with the finances to back up the ambition of reaching the very top of the women’s game, there’s really no reason to doubt that Newcastle United Women are taking the first step on the road to world domination this Sunday at St James’ Park.

So, we’ll see you at the game?

 

 

Newcastle United Women play Alnwick Town Ladies at St James’ Park on Sunday 1st May, kick-off at 2pm 

Cash turnstiles will be in operation in the East Stand on Sunday, with entry just £3 for adults and free for juniors. Further turnstiles will be open in the Gallowgate End and Leazes End subject to demand.

St James’ Park, Barrack Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4ST

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