West Ham Ladies enjoyed one of the greatest nights in their history with a bumper crowd flocking to Upton Park to see the Hammers take on fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur. The record crowd of 1,741 at the Boleyn Ground helped to cheer the Ladies on to a famous 1-0 victory that, in turn, helped to boost confidence after a run of three heavy defeats to Charlton Athletic, Coventry United and Portsmouth.
They followed up their impressive win under the lights with a hardfought 2-2 draw against Cardiff City – a side very much in the fight for second place along with Charlton, Coventry and Pompey – and a disappointing reverse against the Welsh side the week after. Their final game of the season is scheduled for April 10 at home to Queens Park Rangers. Both sides find themselves at the wrong end of the table, in their own mini-league with Lewes that has seen the sides cut adrift from the relegation scrap and the push for a top half finish for some time.
At best the Ladies can now hope to finish eighth, if they beat QPR and hope both the Hoops and Lewes don’t pick up points in their remaining few games. Whether the Hammers finish eighth, ninth, or tenth, the season has been extremely eventful – both on and off the field – but their game at Upton Park is one joint chairman Stephen Hunt hopes will be a springboard to a brighter future. ‘This game had always been talked about from the moment I was appointed this time last year and once we got to meet the club in the summer, it was obviously something on the table,’ Hunt said in an interview for Blowing Bubbles.
‘And really since August we’ve been talking about doing it and thinking about the issues a game like this brings. ‘It was a big task for a small club, which is essentially voluntary based, to take over the running of a world-famous stadium for the night. ‘Both sides wanted to do it, but just logistics were the problem, and we were pleased in January, where we got the go ahead to put it on. We all had to scramble like crazy to make that happen.’
As for the short and long-term future of the Ladies, to quote the Jessie J song, it’s all about the ‘money, money, money’. Hunt continued: ‘The funding is very tight in women’s football, it does take a lot of money to get yourself into quite a successful financial situation. ‘My focus has been on balancing the background of the club, so we could push onto the Super League, because essentially without the money, you can’t really build anything.
‘Your players can be nicked far more easily than they can in the men’s game because contracts are generally much shorter. ‘For example, we lost one of our best players who went to join the reserves of another team because they were paid more money. ‘The position really is that I’m trying to put the club in a position where it’s stable enough to have investment put into it and it can become a vehicle to build so very much we’re looking at the long term, and the long term is being in the Super League.
As for the cost of breaking into the Super League, Hunt continued: ‘The difference between us and a Super League 2 team is not a lot financially, except that they get a lot more league money. ‘To some extent, the difference is like the Championship compared to the Premier League. The hardest thing is to get into the Super League and there are four or five teams at the top of our league who are more like a mini-league in themselves.
‘Clubs like Brighton, Charlton, Cardiff, Coventry and Portsmouth have had longer term investment, they turn up with all kinds of gadgets, support teams and strength in depth at every possible level, video equipment, data analysis that we simply can’t compete with yet. ‘Some of that is voluntary, some of that is funded by the main club and at this sort of level, it’s not profitable for the main club to invest in it yet, but it will be as the money and attendances grows. We’ve tried to build a strategy where we are meeting the club halfway.
‘If we can build a solid backbone, good support and a regular attendance and slowly become a viable club on its own two feet, it’s something which an investor, be it an outside person such as myself or the main club, could look to invest in and build something that’s viable.’ B