• Reece Land

Reece Land: Women’s football needs to grow from the bottom up

In 2017 I was at an Arsenal vs Chelsea youth match chatting to Arsene Wenger. He told me women’s football would be the next big thing. Though I’d been involved in football for most of my life, mainly as a player, my knowledge of the women’s game was fairly limited – I understood the business side, but didn’t know about the players, the operations, or the dimensions of women’s football. But I took Mr Wenger at his word and spent the next six months researching and studying the ins and outs of the women’s game.

Now, three years later, I’m fully immersed in women’s football through my two businesses: Next Gen Sport Solutions, a leading sports management company for female athletes, and the Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA), a union-style exclusive membership club for those involved in women’s sport.

Knowing what I do now about the game, I think Mr Wenger was absolutely right. But we’re still in a stage of untapped potential. Women’s football has grown massively over the last few years, but there’s still a long way to go. In the mainstream media and to the people that follow women’s football, it can look like the growth is absolutely unbelievable. In truth, the actual growth is minimal when compared to the potential.

Maria Farrugia of Sunderland AFC Ladies in action in the FA Women's National League North. Photo: Colin Lock

Women’s football needs to grow on all levels, and it needs to do so from the bottom up. I look at the sector as a business and it needs to be run that way. If you buy a business the first thing you do is look to protect or get rid of the weakest department. If you consider the finances, the weakest department in women’s football in England is always going to be the National League.

It’s vital that we don’t forget about the National League during the growth of the Super League. For me, the approach should be to strengthen and build on the National League and allow that to filter up to the Championship and the Super League.

The focus of the governing bodies at the moment seems to be on the Super League. I’m not sure why that is, perhaps it’s because the people driving the sport don’t understand what happens in the lower leagues. As someone who does understand, my aim is to change things. Through the WSA we want to create genuine growth for the sector through an informed strategic development plan.

Ellie Mason is the first player I signed for Next Gen Sports. Out of around 100 players that reached out asking for representation, she was the one that really stood out. What I liked about Ellie was that she had jumped into senior football at a young age. She had a drive to succeed which appealed to me. I liked the fact that she was ballsy and she had the confidence to hold her own in women’s football. Two and a half years since signing, Ellie’s still with Next Gen and she’s now the captain of London City Lionesses.

For me, Ellie is an example of the kind of character that the game needs. Women’s football needs to follow this type of mentality. It needs people to speak out. It needs people with a clear vision. It needs people that aren’t afraid to challenge the current models and structures. People that aren’t afraid to step out of comfort zones and go into unchartered territories. People with enough belief to know that the women’s game is good enough to prosper.

Women's football needs people to speak out. It needs people with a clear vision. It needs people that aren't afraid to challenge the current models and structures.

The people driving women’s football need to trust just how good women’s football really is and leave this current comfort zone. Everyone involved in women’s football is desperate for it to grow but we need pioneers to lead the way. I have no doubt that my two companies, with our vision for the game, will be the pioneers for women’s football.

I couldn’t be happier to be asked by FROM THE OFF to be their first ever official columnist and to be given a chance to share my voice. Through my weekly columns, I’ll be giving an insight into the operations of women’s football and offering my honest reflections and opinions on the industry. Hopefully you enjoy reading them. I’d love to hear your reactions so please do share your comments. If there’s anything specific you’d like me to cover, please tweet either @FROMTHEOFFvlog or my personal Twitter account @ReeceLand__.

If we want the game to survive the current coronavirus pandemic and then, beyond that, grow to its full potential, we can’t be quiet and we can’t be afraid. As members of the women’s football community we’re all in this together, and together we can move our industry forward.