Special WSL report: Birmingham Women hit out at club for ‘preventing us doing our jobs’
Birmingham City Women’s players have sent a formal letter to the club’s board with a list of complaints about their working conditions, including concerns about medical support, budget and access to fitness facilities.
The letter, seen by The Daily Telegraph, was signed by the entire first-team squad and lists concerns which the players say “prevent us from performing our jobs to the best of our ability”.
The team, who are ninth in the Women’s Super League, added that they were “incredibly proud to wear the Blues badge” and called for unity, but they listed numerous grievances.
Those included concerns around travel provisions, access to changing facilities and gyms, and the playing budget impacting on the size of their match-day squad. Further issues were raised, including allegations that some of the key coaching staff are not full-time employees, which could be a contradiction of the WSL licence rules.
Sources have insisted the squad had “numerous requests” to meet the board rejected before the players’ letter was sent, but a club spokesperson said: “The letter was received, in the last week, and responded to. A request to meet with the board was made in the letter and the request was the first formal request to be received.
“It’s no secret we have one of the lowest budgets in the league, Covid has only compounded this. This certainly makes it difficult to compete, but we’re doing our best on and off the pitch in what is a very difficult time for professional football.”
The players are also dissatisfied with having to travel to and from away games on the day of the match without regularly being provided with overnight hotels. The team did stay at a hotel before Sunday’s 12.30pm kick-off against Chelsea, but it is understood that was the first time one had been provided for an away WSL match this season.
The club added in response: “We are lucky to be based in the middle of the country where we can easily make journeys to our games without the need to stay overnight, whilst still being able to prepare our team in the best way possible to compete.”
The squad are also unhappy with the size of their injury treatment facilities. Sources sent The Telegraph images allegedly showing the team’s physio and rehabilitation room, in a temporary, portable building at the club’s Wast Hills training ground. Up to five players at a time are said to have been treated there.
Only three players are understood to be under contract for next season, making the players fear that the club are not committed to funding a full-time team for next season, which Birmingham deny.
The size of Birmingham’s squad has caused problems in this campaign. When manager Carla Ward took over in August, only eight senior players were registered at the club, making them many pundits’ clear pre-season favourites to go down. Despite that, in the early parts of the season, Ward’s team excelled and defied all the odds to win three of their opening seven games, putting them in the top half of the table in December, but often they were not able to name more than two substitutes, owing to injuries as well as a small squad.
They were stretched so thin that, amid an unprecedented injury crisis, they were unable to field a team at all for January’s meeting with Tottenham, who were later awarded the victory by an independent tribunal.
In February, The Telegraph revealed that Birmingham’s players were angry and frustrated after the club’s board declined to pay a nominal fee of under £500 to move their local derby against Aston Villa to St George’s Park to ensure it was played. That match was called off because of a frozen pitch, with the announcement made five minutes before the 6pm kick-off. The club were offered the chance to move the game to a pitch at St George’s Park with undersoil heating days in advance.
The club did not comment when contacted about that in February, but on Sunday a spokesperson said that the “reported ‘small fee’ to move the game was grossly mis-reported”. However, sources stood by the figure.
The club’s statement added: “As per FA regulations, home teams are required to have a doctor onsite. Teams can choose to travel with a doctor when they go away, if they wish. Very few teams in the WSL travel with a doctor.
“There are no plans to not be competing in the WSL next season and the team are fully focused on doing what is required to keep Birmingham City in the WSL.
“Both the men’s and women’s first teams are yet to secure survival in their respective leagues. This makes it hard to start contract negotiations for next season. It has been a challenging time for everyone, including us. We are working towards and hoping to secure survival for both teams, so we can continue to plan for the future of the club.”
Three points above the relegation zone with four games left, Birmingham remain on course to achieve what looked like an improbable survival, but the board and the playing squad are now seemingly on the cusp of a major disagreement.
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