At the match: Eastbourne Town LFC v Derby County LFC

(C) Jon Smalldon 2015The short piece I wanted to write about this game was meant to be the by-now-standard post of “whimsical paragraph followed by link to some photos” but two things conspired to prevent that.  Firstly, I forgot to take any memory cards so the camera remained in the bag like some kind of expensive paperweight – I took a couple of ‘scene’ photos with the mobile instead.  Secondly, I made the mistake of reading in the programme just how much the eventual winners of this tournament – the FA Women’s Cup, no less – get for winning it.

We’ll come back to that in the minute.  This is the whimsical ‘sport is awesome’ paragraph.  Because this really was a kick-ass of a game.  One in which everything that explains why soccer above all actually better sports is the world game played out.  We had a technically superior team (that’d be Women’s Premier League members Derby County) that had something like 90% of the possession and even more of the territory being unable to assert themselves because their opponents had come with a plan to hassle, to harry and to keep on going until there was nothing left to give.  Derby took the lead but then unbelievably lost it and fell behind.  By half-time it was 2-2.  It was that way at full time as well.  In between we had an injury to a distraught Eastbourne winger (though according to the twitter account it was hopefully not as serious as it appeared) and an increasing amount of blood and thunder tackles.  Two goals in the first period of extra time settled it for Derby but both teams were deserving of the applause at the end – so much energy had been expended.  All this in front of a fairly decent crowd (by which I mean it looked about the same, if not higher, than the men’s league match I saw here a few months ago).

And for this Derby County will receive £400 from the Football Association.  Eastbourne will get to pocket the £250 they made from beating QPR in the last round.

That’s not per player.  That’s for the club.

The argument against equal ‘pay’ in sport is one with which I have a lot of sympathy.  It isn’t because he was the better footballer that David Beckham earned so much more than his team-mates in endorsements.  And if it’s all about hours put in and effort required the winners of rugby league’s Super League shield should be getting substantially more than the money Bradford City got for beating Chelsea in a single game, rather than ‘roughly the same’ as it now is.  By which I broadly mean: I know it’s not a level playing field, I know so much more goes into it than a simple argument that ‘the men get this so the women should get this’.

The winners of the FA Women’s Cup gets £5,000.  The match isn’t played at Wembley.

One of the great battles in sport has been getting equal prize money at the tennis grand slams.  And it’s been achieved although every two-set final ends up looking quite lame when Nadal, Federer, Murray and Djokovic follow it the next day with five hours of running like mad things.  But tennis stands apart for having the resources and the tournament set-up to achieve this.  It’s also unique in having both genders (and mixed doubles) at its significant events virtually from the off.  But equal prize money doesn’t extend to the ‘poor’ saps who win the doubles.  The two men (and two women) take home significantly less than their singles, erm, brethren.  So, again, I get that it’s not just “same work, same pay”.

But, really, five grand for winning the premier knock out event in the richest sport in the country?  Five grand?

Last season another team in Eastbourne drew me and my young son as they embarked on an impressive cup run.  Eastbourne United AFC made it to the semi final of the FA Vase and were there for a few of their games including the semi final which they lost.  For losing short of the final – did you know it’s played at Wembley unlike another game I could mention? – they earned across the tournament significantly more than the winners of the FA Women’s Cup will get.  In fact, if Derby win in the next round (the Fourth Round proper) they will receive less than the winners of the first qualifying round of the FA Vase receive.  Both events are unsponsored.  It’s the FA who decide how to allocate the competition prize money from its vast reserves.

I am not advocating that games played in front of a few hundred people should be paid as if they were selling out Old Trafford but, frankly, this all stinks.  If you love sport you want to see people who play sport for your entertainment rewarded and respected.  Standards are rising (the game I saw yesterday was infinitely faster and more skilful than the first women’s game I saw back in the day) and there are crowds emerging from a very, very low base, but even with the development of the FA WSL and the raised profile of the national team, the way the FA treats the women’s game in general comes across as nothing short of shabby.  The least they can do is sort out a decent prize fund and play the final at the national stadium.

Eastbourne Town LFC’s next game is on 15 February against London Corinthians.  They, like every other team giving everything for jack all financial reward, deserve your support.

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