Upward Club Movement: Has the FA played a blinder or caused a bit of a cupset?

The FA yesterday confirmed the details of Upward Club Movement, including the criteria that be used to evaluate clubs’ applications and the number of spaces available in each division across Tiers 3-5 of the Women’s Football Pyramid.

Applications will be assessed based on the following criteria: 75% on-field (points per game across 2019/20 and 2020/21, FA and League Cup performances, and League Goal Difference) and 25% off-field (club structure, workforce, facilities, finance, administration).

We offer our thoughts on the announcement and invited Wolves manager Daniel McNamara and Brighouse Town gaffer Rob Mitchell to share their insights on Upward Club Movement.

The FA Has almost played a blinder

After a period of uncertainty since the 2020/21 season was curtailed, the FA finally played its ace card and announced the details of Upward Club Movement.

The news was almost universally well-received, with the overwhelming positives being that the criteria, on which available places will be awarded, is heavily weighted towards performances on the pitch, and the Women’s Football Pyramid will finally begin to flow again after two seasons of stagnation due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

It will mean that teams such as Southampton FC, who have been standard-bearers both on and off the pitch in the FA WNL Division One South West, are finally able to progress.

Andy Fisher’s Stourbridge, a club that has won every game over the past two seasons, scoring more than 100 goals while conceding just twice in the process, can test themselves against the sterner competition that life in the WMRFL Premier Division will provide.

Free-scoring Wolves, who have dominated FA WNL Division One Midlands, will embrace the opportunity to challenge themselves against stronger opposition on a weekly basis; defences more adept at containing their attacking style of football.

Brighouse Town have been very consistent across the past four seasons and recorded the highest points per game average in their division over the past two. They would be very deserving of a place in the Northern Premier Division.

And who could deny the Tractor Girls haven’t earned the opportunity to play in the third tier? Not only have Ipswich broken records as a club, players such as Natasha Thomas, who turned down the opportunity to join Championship side Lewes, deserve to be unleashed on the third tier.

Those are just a few examples but they exist all across the entire pyramid – and they all deserve to be rewarded for their efforts; to experience the validation and recognition of their hard work that being judged as the strongest teams amongst their peers will provide.

The teams who move won’t be the only benefactors, however. It will create movement a ripple effect felt across the entire pyramid; divisions will become more competitive and balanced as a result, leading to title races being more fiercely contested, and, hopefully, heavily one-sided results becoming a less frequent occurrence.

Narrowly wide of the target

While the decision to allow upwards movement is the correct one for the women’s game, the process is imperfect.

When teams lined up against each other in the FA and League Cups over the past two seasons, not one person could have predicted the outcome of their matches would one day have an impact on their league status. And why would they? Whether a team exits at the first hurdle or goes on to lift a trophy has no bearing on the league competition; it offers no points reward.

It could also be argued that it’s a metric that cannot fairly be judged as luck of the draw is a factor, as is often the case in knockout football, and therefore not something that can be assessed consistently across Tiers 3-6 as strictly using points per game. An opinion later shared by the Brighouse Town boss.

Ultimately though, it’s hoped these will prove to be minor niggles in an otherwise well-thought-out process, and the cream will finally be allowed to rise.

From the dugout

Finally, and most importantly, we sought the views of Dan McNamara and Rob Mitchell. As two managers whose clubs have applied for upward movement, their opinions are among those whose matter the most.

We began with Dan, who welcomed the news enthusiastically. He said: “I believe the decision is bang on to use as much on-field [performance] as possible, whether that be Cup or league performances.

“Some people don’t want the null and void season used. But I’d certainly prefer to be moved up based on deserving it not just because the club can afford it.”

He added: “Obviously it works for Wolves what I’m saying but I’d argue with anyone that says we don’t deserve to be playing in Tier 3 based on the last two seasons’ results.”

“I believe the decision is bang on…”

Dan McNamara, Wolves Manager

Rob Mitchell, though also pleased with the decision to reward teams for their efforts, struck a more cautious tone, and shared his hopes for transparency from the FA.

He said: “Firstly, I’m delighted that clubs will get the opportunity to hopefully celebrate a deserved promotion based on their on-field consistency during a period of negativity and uncertainty. There is no doubt teams need to progress and move up in order to compete against stronger teams.

I am however a little concerned that we aren’t just looking at a simple PPG over the two seasons like in the men’s game and instead of taking into consideration cup competitions which have no bearing on the league and is very much the luck of the draw?”

He continued: “Also the off-field admin is open to interpretation by a committee. I believe my club [Brighouse Town] have performed really well on the field and thankfully in the cups too, our admin is spot on too so I’m hopeful we have a good case.”

Rob ended by sharing his hopes for transparency from the FA, “I’m trusting that we have transparency and integrity throughout the process and we don’t ultimately miss out for not being a fashionable name which sadly seems to always play its part.”