By promotion or franchise, the West Ham Ladies will be playing in the Women’s Super League in two years, according to co-chairman Stephen Hunt. As the Hammers continue their pre-season under the watchful eye of new boss Marc Nurse, the hard work towards the holy grail of women’s football in England has already begun. And it is this work off the pitch, Hunt believes, that will also help the Ladies achieve on it.
‘The franchises in the Super League come up again in two years so it we aren’t able to get promoted into the league, we might be in a position to buy a franchise,’ Hunt told Blowing Bubbles. ‘Our focus is very much about getting ourselves set up so if we don’t get promoted on the pitch, we will be able to buy a franchise and enter the Women’s Super League that way.
‘At the moment, it feels like it’s all coming together for us off the pitch. We’re trying to get everything behind the scenes running as smoothly as we can to ensure we can get success on the pitch. ‘I’m a serious businessman and I’m trying to bring my approach to business to this role. I want to make the whole club operate like a business so that it’s generating a decent income and part of this is making sure we have a professional back office.
‘We are in a decent position considering where the club was a year ago but by taking more of a business approach, I think we’ll have a huge impact in the club.’ Hunt also praised former manager Julian Dicks for everything he did for the Ladies before leaving his post to join the first team’s coaching staff. ‘We were aware of the previous relationship between Julian and Slaven and there was no question that if there was a job going that he would go for it.
‘As dedicated and committed as he was to the Ladies, his decision didn’t come as a complete surprise and it must be nice for the players to know they were coached by a first team Premier League coach – hopefully that will count for something. ‘It was all about work ethic with Julian – he never did anything by halves. His aim was to make the team the best he could and we knew he was always going to be a tough act to follow. ‘We knew the day before it was announced that Julian was going and I had a long conversation with him when the news broke but by the time I got off the phone, I already had a few emails from people expressing their interest in replacing Julian.’
The Dicks factor ensured a few applicants turned into dozens with the Hunt and his father John, having to make tough decisions to come up with a shortlist. ‘Some of them were current ladies football coaches, some were ex-Hammers and there were a few who had been coaching non-league men’s football – it was a wide variety,’ Hunt continued.
‘Julian leaving us to join the men’s set-up generated a lot of media coverage for us and as we whittled down the long list of applications, we felt those who weren’t quite read to lead the senior team could work their way up through the junior set-up. ‘For me, it was the first time I have appointed a manager and as we went through all the CVs to come up with our shortlist, we focused on those who had either a UEFA A or B licence because we wanted a top coach. ‘We ended up with a shortlist of four and Marc was the last person we interviewed. He was very much the man with a plan from the moment he walked in and impressed us with the paperwork and spreadsheets he had brought in with him.
‘I think he had a good “likeability” factor. We were looking for someone who would be a spokesperson for the club, a focal point at the club and someone who is a natural leader – Marc is that man. ‘He is straight-forward, to the point and says it how he sees it. Julian was such a big personality that it was always going to be tough for anyone to follow. ‘But the problem with having a manager with such presence is that it does dwarf the players. Beyond Stacey Little, I’d argue there are many people who would struggled to name another member of the team such was Julian’s personality so we were keen to get someone in who was a football person.
‘To his credit, the amount of interest shown in the job was down to what Julian had done and this put us in a very good positions. Something I’ll always be grateful for.’ As for his hopes and expectations of the Ladies on the pitch, he joked: “I don’t have any targets apart from, of course, winning every game. ‘I’m not trying to be too worried about the football – I have coached and players for that. Anything I do say about what’s happening on the pitch is purely from an armchair fan’s perspective.
‘As a chairman, of course I want to win everything but on the pitch, the players and the coaches are the only people who can have any say in this. My job is to create an environment for them to flourish. ‘If we can make a success of the club off the pitch, then we will get success on it. At this level of football, the richest clubs are the ones who win the most games.’
He added: ‘We will be doing everything we can to get people through the turnstiles because if we have more fans, we are going to be successful. ‘My argument has always been if you put someone in a West Ham shirt, people will engage and connect with that. We all follow West Ham United and it doesn’t matter if they are a junior, men’s or women’s player. ‘People who come along to see what the Ladies is like, tend to come back and we will be trying anything and everything to get people through the doors.’