#SJA2023: Kelly Simmons hails club-owned future for WSL after restructure

By Ayisha Gulati

The FA’s Kelly Simmons says there is still a long way to go for women’s football, but she claims the recent setting up of a new club-owned company is a step in the right direction.

The former Director of Women’s Professional Game is leaving the FA next year, after 30 years of growing women’s and girls’ football and won the J L Manning Award for services to sport off the field at the SJA British Sports Awards 2023.

Simmons is excited by the recent announcement that a new company will be taking control of the top two divisions of English women’s football from the 2024-25 season with clubs as shareholders.

She said: “It’s fantastic to see the new company get over the line for the Women’s Super League and Championship.

“It’s the right thing for the game – to have a laser focus, a dedicated executive and a clear voice for the women’s professional game.”

Dawn Airey, chair of the Women’s Super League and Championship board, has ambitions for the WSL to become the first billion-pound women’s league and Simmons says the new company is the next stage of development to grow revenue.

In four years, revenue in women’s professional football has grown from zero to £18 million but Simmons believes that talent development is essential for continued growth.

She said: “If you look at the World Youth Championships and Euro Youth Championships as an indicator of development of talent, it’s no surprise that Spain won the World Cup.

“They could go on to dominate for years unless other countries continue to really invest in their coaching and their talent development system.”

Simmons speaks to Awards co-host Karthi Gnanasegaram

Simmons added that a priority for women’s football is to improve diversity at the top of the game to ensure the England team reflects the communities they serve.

She said: “Without doubt, diversity is a priority. It’s been flagged in Karen Carney’s excellent report, which gives some clear indicators about what needs to be done – more talent centres across the country, more accessibility to the talent pathway and more opportunities.

“Talent ID programmes such as ‘Discover my Talent’ have meant that already the England youth teams look much more diverse but we still need more investment in the talent structures.”

On Team GB missing out on Olympic qualification, Simmons says it was always going to be hard for England, with a limited number of spots available and some great European teams.

She added that the players were emotionally and physically drained coming out of the World Cup, which wasn’t helped by some needing to be back early for Champions League duty.

One of her roles moving forward will be supporting FIFA on balancing the domestic and international calendar for women’s football.

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