Members of the Manchester United Women’s Supporters’ Club were so concerned about the revelations surrounding the club’s handling of its women’s team in the wake of manager Casey Stoney’s shock resignation in May that they requested an audience with club officials seeking urgent reassurances about the ongoing commitment to women’s football.
Stoney’s sudden departure and the reasons behind it brought major questions about the standard of training facilities in particular available to the club’s female players.
Stoney had long resisted her team being based at the main training ground in Carrington out of fear of playing second fiddle to the men and those worries appeared to be realised midway through last season when the switch was made in a bid to get on top of injuries. The former boss was also unimpressed over how her team’s first ever game at Old Trafford was handled and ultimately opted to give up and walk away in order to spend time with her young family rather than keep fighting.
It was a blow to fans to see her go, but the meeting between supporters and the club was granted in early June and the result was a positive message about the intent for a ‘fully integrated approach to the training ground with the Women’s team, Men’s team and Academy at one site.’
The club also promised ‘…a package of improvements for the Women’s team facilities at the Aon Training Complex, starting over this summer,’ and stated that the search for a new manager was already ‘actively’ underway. It seemed like a step forward.
Work on improving facilities is underway, but it is over a month on from then and United are still without a manager. It has emerged that the players have become concerned enough about the club's direction that they are preparing to collectively approach the PFA for advice and support.
In what can only be described as a damning report, The Athletic writes that United’s female players are ‘frustrated’ by a failure to appoint a new manager, having been told weeks ago that there was a final shortlist of two candidates. The squad have not been privy to the identity of either candidate, which is not necessarily unusual, but are feeling ‘in the dark’ about the club’s immediate ambitions.
Having led the WSL table for a chunk of last season, United were very close to qualifying for the Champions League, finishing only one point behind third place Arsenal after a poor run of results after Christmas. Strong recruitment is the way to close that gap, but United have lost two world class players after Tobin Heath and Christen Press returned to America and are yet to sign anyone.
Failure to recruit is more likely to lead to the club going backwards than even just staying still as an ambitious Everton start to gather momentum behind them.
Unlike Arsenal, who have a dedicated general manager running the women’s team, The Athletic notes that United effectively have a de facto women’s general manager in the shape of finance director Steve Deaville. It is said that players are ‘losing faith’ in communications with Deaville and football director John Murtough, with both men holding numerous other responsibilities.
A group of United players are now expected to approach the PFA with the ‘unanimous support’ of the full female playing staff. Among other problems for players now described as ‘unhappy’ is an apparently ‘disgusting’ standard of accommodation provided last season, likened to student housing. The club has given greater accommodation allowance since, which it believes to be on par with what is on offer at similar rival clubs. But some players some still consider it low.
The club’s stance appears to be that overall progress is being made with the women’s team and that enforced COVID-19 protocols have made things more of a challenge. But the latest revelations suddenly make the previous statement of commitment to the women’s team and female players now seem a little hollow and insincere without obvious proof otherwise.
Players and fans deserve so much more and it is actions that will speak far louder than words.