The winners of her league get 94pc less prize-money than winners of the men’s league. The winners of her league get almost two months’ worth of rent that the FAI were paying for their former chief executive.
This year was the first time prize-money was awarded to the winners of the FAI Women’s Cup. It is 87pc less than the prizemoney awarded to the winners of the men’s FAI Cup. Her club had to set up a gofundme page to play in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. There are no solidarity payments for her club. There’s currently no government funding for the association that runs her league. It’s a struggle for her club to break even at some home games. And they say women’s football here is on the rise?
You can point to how the FIFA Women’s World Cup was on RTÉ last summer and did relatively well in the ratings. You can point to the promotion of the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2021 qualifier at Tallaght Stadium last month as positive signs of the progress of women’s football.
However, lower yourself down the food chain and it’s clear that life in the Women’s National League (WNL) is a struggle for clubs to keep their heads above water.
To stretch the description given by the former chief executive of the FAI, if the men’s League of Ireland was ‘the difficult child’, then the women’s league could be viewed as the ignored child.
When Colin Bell quit as Republic of Ireland women’s manager in June, he said he was “frustrated that work on the structures of underage and the Women’s National League was going too slow”. He added: “I was told, basically, that things would carry on as they were to start off with, and then we’d see what happened. But that wasn’t good enough for me.”
Imagine what it’s like for those trying to keep these clubs functioning.
So here’s how it is. It can cost up to €40,000 to run a club in the WNL. The FAI gives each club a €5,000 grant for the season (although €2,000 of that is paid back to the association in affiliation fees). The players are amateur, so clubs don’t have wage bills like their male counterparts but they still have to pay for travel, accommodation, expenses for managers, insurance and medical bills, utility bills, match officials, ambulances and food. The list goes on and on.
Revenue from attendances isn’t where it could be if the league got more exposure. The attendance for a home league game for Wexford Youths last month was so poor that they didn’t make enough to pay the match officials (around €190). At a fiver a head for admission, that equates to fewer than 38 paying customers.
“We’ve a shop on the day selling teas, coffees and bars, and this would help, but there was nobody at the game,” says Dave Cassin, secretary of Wexford Youths. “Everybody is just scraping by, absolutely just scraping by.”
Jason Carey, director of football with Peamount United, says: “It’s an ongoing challenge to keep the show on the road. If it costs €40,000 for the team to operate, that’s a yearly cost. You’ve got to go out and knock on people’s doors again. You’ve got to ask for more money, come up with more ways of raising money. We don’t have a marketing person at the club, we don’t sell merchandise, our income streams are limited.”
These clubs, Wexford Youths and Peamount United, are two of the most prestigious clubs in Irish women’s club football. Peamount won the WNL last month, while Wexford Youths beat Peamount to retain the FAI Women’s Cup earlier this month. But what does elite look like for these clubs?
First, you can’t just pitch up and play. For Wexford Youths, players must bring in an average sponsorship of €500 to play. Amounts may vary but this protocol is standard across the women’s league.
Wexford have won 10 trophies in the last six seasons, they’ve played in the Champions League four times but Cassin says no one has ever contacted the club looking to sponsor the women. They always have to chase it. Cassin says their main sponsor at Wexford Youths, Energia, gives them around €7,500 in sponsorship for a season. Their other sponsor, MSS Building Services, pays the bill for the use of training facilities at Carlow IT. After training, players are given cereal to eat because they don’t have the facility for hot food.
And then there’s the kit. Wexford Youths players only get two sets of kit (different colours, as required) for the season. That’s two shirts, two pairs of shorts and two pairs of socks to last them through 21 WNL games, as well as FAI Cup and League Cup games.
“It would be better to have three so we’re not washing the bejaysus out of them all the time. We might end up having to replace a pair of socks if they get torn or something,” says Cassin.
Since the women’s game here is elite/amateur compared to the men who get paid to play, there will be a difference in prizemoney on offer. But the disparity makes for uncomfortable reading.
Peamount receive €7,000 for winning the women’s league this season. Dundalk received €110,000 for winning the men’s league. Wexford Youths get €6,500 for winning the FAI Women’s Cup. Shamrock Rovers get €50,000 for winning the men’s FAI Cup. And because female footballers here are amateur, clubs like Wexford and Peamount don’t get solidarity or compensation payments when their star player joins a new club.
Wexford fear they’re unlikely to keep Rianna Jarrett for next year. If she does move, they won’t get a penny. “There’s more chance of me holding on to my black hair than there is of us holding on to Rianna, I’d say. We couldn’t afford to pay her,” Cassin admits.
When you think Champions League, you think cha-ching! But this only applies to the men’s game. Wexford Youths had to set up a gofundme page (which raised under €4,000) last May to help with paying for the cost of playing in the Women’s Champions League qualifiers in August. They received €27,000 (flights alone cost €16,000 to Lithuania) from UEFA, but the club initially had to cover the costs for the hotel before they got this payment. As league champions, Peamount will play in the Champions League qualifiers next summer. So will they need to set up a gofundme page too?
“I’m not saying we will do that but we won’t be far off doing something like that either, unless someone comes in and says ‘there’s €20,000 to cover your flights and your hotels’,” Carey adds.
Both clubs are hoping for more help. “The collaboration between the stakeholders is vital for the game,” Carey says.
“The game is growing but we’re stuck, like some of the men’s clubs, with how do we improve some of our attendances, market our club… Is there expertise that we can draw on to help us?
“For the last international squad, 40pc-50pc have played with Peamount at some stage. It’s always been a great provider for the national team. Maybe a little bit more collaboration with the relevant stakeholders is the way forward. If we’ve done that without collaboration what could it be like with collaboration?”
You imagine the scene would look a whole lot better. This week I put in a request to the FAI to see if they would make a statement on any plans to increase funding, exposure and development of the women’s club game. The reply was they had no comment to make.