How Brighton are investing in infrastructure to fuel ambitious WSL vision

Ali Rampling
Brighton have big ambitions for their women's team
Brighton have big ambitions for their women's team / Bryn Lennon/GettyImages

The grand ambitions of Brighton's women's team are quite literally written on the walls of their bespoke £8.5m training facility.

Our vision: "To be a top four club in the Women's Super League" can be read as you wander through the doors of the club's elite performance centre; just before the state of the art gym, the recovery pool and the equipment that warms up players' boots (warms up players' boots!!).

Brighton outlined their plans to break into the WSL's top four in April in a strategy titled 'pathway to the top four'. They have put their money where their mouth is with the construction of their world class training facility specifically for the club's six women's and girls' teams. It has been in use since September 2021 and was Norway's training base at Euro 2022, although the official opening was delayed by 12 months due to Covid-19.

"I think we’re blessed with having an owner who really supports the community, supports the women, and is prepared to build a dedicated facility that’s fantastic for us," said Brighton boss Hope Powell. "It really feels like home. The players have and will benefit from everything being on-site, everything being of a really high standard. That includes the pitches, the gym, the pool. We also have use of the other [men's] side of the building; the spa and the rehab.

"So I think - yes it’s just a building - but it gives the players the very best chance to be the very best they can be, so it’s pretty special."

The facility is a result of an £8.5m investment, £1m of which came from a grant from the Football Foundation. This is over 18x more than the world record transfer fee Barcelona paid Manchester City to secure the services of Keira Walsh, representing a substantial commitment in the context of the women's game.

Given the size of the investment, was this a difficult thing to pitch?

"No, it genuinely wasn’t," Michelle Walder, non-executive director at Brighton told 90min. "We’ve been supportive of women’s football for many years; it’s just the scale of the investment as the ambition grows. It just felt like a very natural step to continue that commitment. Although it was a big investment to make, it felt like a very natural decision to make it." 

Both Walder and Powell outline the importance of the women's team having their own, dedicated home. The club also have hopes of one day moving the women's team's home ground from the People's Pension Stadium - home of Crawley Town - to a new, long-term base, closer to Brighton.

It's all ambitious, forward-thinking stuff from a club who would not necessarily be expected to upset the narrative in the WSL and break into the top four. The WSL's top four has consistently remained Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal since 2019, while the top three of City, Chelsea and Arsenal has not changed since 2015.

Walder believes that Brighton's vision is crucial not only for the club's sake, but on a wider scale in order to bring more competitiveness and unpredictability into the women's football pyramid.

"I think it’s really important that there are two competitive leagues," Walder explained. "It’s got to be competitive matches all the way through that, and right down into the pyramid. If it remains four clubs and then everybody else and then the pyramid, that’s not going to be sustainable. That’s not what people want to watch, they want to watch competitive football matches."

For Powell, having played in the era of amateurism and baggy shirts and watching the game grow up, the training facility is a physical representation of where women's football now is.

"I just feel, number one, really pleased that the game has shifted, and that the modern player gets to live the life of a proper professional," the Brighton boss added.

"And then secondly I feel some degree of satisfaction that finally, it’s almost like ‘go on, finally’, that the game is being taken a bit more seriously, or a lot more seriously than perhaps when I played, where we had to pay for everything, we trained on concrete, you wore men’s kit, you wore men’s boots, everything was aligned to the men, and now the female game is firmly on the map."