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The FA’s stroke of brilliance: Manchester United, full-time vs part-time

Allowing Manchester United to compete as a FT team in a PT league has left a sour taste, but has set a precedent

Millwall Lionesses v Manchester United Women - FA Women’s Championship Photo by Kate McShane/Getty Images

Madonna might have been a material girl living in a material world, but this season, Manchester United have been a full-time team living in a part time league/world.

A big part of why so many Championship fans, or just women’s football fans in general, have been left with such a sour taste in their mouths this season isn’t because it’s Manchester United doing this but because there is no context. Every time the scores are read out, every time the dominance of this one team is mentioned, what’s left unsaid is, this is full-full time versus part-part time. This is, in so many ways, women versus girls.

So whilst we’ve all repeatedly said, “It’s a loophole that’s been exploited, we don’t blame the team, we blame The FA.” We’re forgetting that the association have actually solved a problem and crossed a bridge before we’ve travelled far enough down the path to see the water.

Of course, largely speaking, part time vs. full time doesn’t matter as you only have to look to mainland Europe, to Germany, France, Spain and Italy to see the same polarisation. However (and you’ve definitely heard this one before), leagues like the Frauen-Bundesliga and Liga Iberdrola manage to remain competitive despite having a small handful of fully professional teams.

If you skip over to France, yes, you’ll see Lyon’s unrelenting death-grip on Division 1 Féminine and routine routs when it comes to most of their opposition. And of course, Wolfsburg and Barcelona will hand out pastings but there are no guaranteed wins, but rather fine margins that the better teams exploit. But there is another difference between the FBL, D1F etc. and the Championship where United have run riot this season; the Championship (formerly WSL 2) isn’t the top tier.

Let’s get hypothetical here for a moment and let’s say that The FA hadn’t forced all WSL teams into a full-time status but that Manchester United, in their infinite wisdom had opted to re-found a women’s team. Let’s say that that team started off as a full-time outfit in WSL [1] and that yes, they would have found themselves pitted against the like of fellow full-timers Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. They’d come up against the middle pack still trying-to-define-themselves teams as well as the part-timers. Want to imagine what that would be like? You only have to look at the WSL 1 tables from the last few years, of FT vs PT. Yes, there were drubbings but there were close games and [on paper] surprises.

A step down

It’s not rocket surgery, even the smaller teams in the league, with smaller budgets and part-time status can still employ a higher calibre of player than those in the second tier. This isn’t a slight on the second tier in England, it’s simply true of every football pyramid in the world.

But why is this all being hashed, what’s the point? In allowing United to compete in a part-time division with a full-time team, The FA have set a precedent. Whether United, Spurs or Lewes [and this is a point that can not be hammered home enough] what is the point if one club is allowed to operate a team with millions in the kitty (as opposed to £15.29 and one suspiciously old packet of Monster Munch in the bank – you know which team you are). What is the point if one club has full time players who can, unlike everyone else in the league, leave their full-time day jobs and train every day, who are starting at a higher level and can raise that level every single day, who can afford to get the coach down the previous day and stay in a nice near-by hotel, who are privy to better medical care, who… you get the point. It tips the scales, just like it tips the scales in almost every league, everywhere. But that step down into the second tier seriously amplifies the gap.

Millwall Lionesses v Manchester United Women - FA Women’s Championship Photo by Kate McShane/Getty Images

The alternative

Hello again hypotheticals, let’s say that Yeovil Town hadn’t had their points deduction and that they hadn’t struggled with the finical commitments of going full-time and trying to compete. But let’s say, they had still been that unlucky team finishing at the bottom of the pile, bound for the drop. Then what? Would they have been forced to revert to part-time status?

Let that question sit with you because even though we’ve already crossed a bridge, it turns out the other side of the lake isn’t so lush.

Either the relegated team (be it Yeovil or Everton or Arsenal) would have to void all their existing FT contracts, forced to lose their best (all?) players not just because they had dropped a league but reverting to a part-time status would have left the individual players seriously out of pocket and suddenly needing a second job. Then swiftly having to unlock the office safe if they achieved promotion again, switching everything back to full-time? That’s ridiculous.

So, there’s the other option, dropping down a tier and keeping their full-time status. It’s likely players would leave for a WSL club (or move outside of England) because that’s just what happens when teams are relegated but using their status as a professional club, they could sign new players (again, nothing earth shattering there). But again, you’d be left with one full-time team in a part-time league. So, by having United running an FT operation this season, The FA have already crossed said bridge and answered an unasked question.

A precedent has indeed been set: you can run a fully professional club in a non-professional league. What it means for the Championship is another matter entirely, as it’s highly likely any FT team that finds themselves relegated will keep their status, lay waste to the league and bungee right back up (licence pending, of course). As for the other Championship teams, that grow and evolve each season? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.