Brighton’s 17-0 win over Worthing Town in the Sussex Women’s Challenge Cup may trigger wholesale changes to the County Cup structure.
The heavy defeat inflicted by the near-full-strength Premier League side on a team several stages below them in the league pyramid sparked a big debate on Twitter about the ethics and impact of such a scoreline and the rules of a competition that make it possible at the semi-final stage.
But it has also raised hopes that the tournament’s format might be changed to address some of its shortcomings.
Clare Nichols, women and girls’ football development officer with the Sussex FA, has issued an invitation through Sent Her Forward for clubs and individuals to send their suggestions on how to improve the credibility of the competition.
She acknowledges that the weekend’s Twitter debate raised “some valid points that need to be collated and discussed”, giving a hefty hint that the competition’s administrators will now consider changes to satisfy some of those problems.
In an open invitation to all those connected with women’s and girls’ teams in the county, she wrote: “Whilst Sussex County FA administer the competition and sanction the rules in line with FA regulations, it is the clubs, players, managers and supporters who the competition is run for.
Scrapped after withdrawals
“Therefore, if you have views or proposals on how the Sussex Women’s Challenge Cup Competition(s) can be rejuvenated, or should be run, we want to hear from you.”
Details of how and where to submit ideas – and Ms Nichols letter in full – can be found in a link at the bottom of this article. Deadline is March 14.
Ms Nichols pointed out that Sussex had had a second competition – the Women’s Challenge Trophy – but it was scrapped in 2012 after only nine clubs entered the previous season’s contest – and three of those dropped out after the draw had been made.
In Kent, a two-tier system operates, with all teams having to enter the County Cup and some being put into a Plate competition, depending on their level.
It was triggered by similar problems to those in Sussex.
Liz Symons, Kent FA’s football development officer (participation), explained: “Our cup is mandatory for the clubs. This caused some issues, as the lower-placed teams in the county could get drawn against the top teams, [and] this has led to huge scores.
“Clubs threatened to pull out of the cup, so we needed to have a rethink. We wrote a proposal which had to go through our committee structure. We now have a plate and cup competition.”
Reserves and first team
In Kent, which for the purposes of women’s football includes Charlton Athletic, the two foremost sides invariably contest the County Cup final.
Gillingham, in fact, enter their reserves as well as their first team, while Charlton tend to field a reserve side only.
Brian Embleton, who helps out with Aylesford United Reserves, where his daughter, Lorraine, is a player, said: “I have no problem with them both being in the Kent Cup, provided that there are two or three other cup competitions from which they are excluded so that other teams do have a chance of winning some trophies.”
Of course, it’s not just the South East that experiences mismatches in cup competitions.
Other areas have found different ways of trying to deal with the fallout.
In the Northumberland FA’s jurisdiction, Premier League Newcastle United have now been excluded from its County Cup, but their reserves – whom the first team beat in the 2012 final – remain in it.
Newcastle’s press officer, Stuart Dick, told Sent Her Forward: “There was a 20-0 victory and an 8-0 victory for the first XI, who were on their way back to the Premier League.
Rise to occasion
“I remember many involved in the cup competition being ecstatic that our first team gained promotion, thus disqualifying them from the competition, in 2013.”
The reserves maintained the club’s domination in the 2013 final and continue to pose a massive obstacle to the other sides. But Mr Dick points out: “Those teams in the competition rise to the occasion.
“Nothing shows this more than (Sunday’s) quarter-final against Blyth Town. The teams battled for 120 minutes to a 0-0 draw before Newcastle won 2-0 on penalties.”
He added: “The point I guess I am making is that Northumberland has found the perfect balance for me, allowing teams up to the WPL to compete, whilst also allowing Newcastle’s reserve side to enter. Teams want to play Newcastle United up here, but they do not want to embarrass themselves.”
Sean McLeod, a fan and joint-owner of community club Lewes, who chose not to enter this season’s Sussex County Cup, was among those critical of Brighton’s approach on Sunday and the rules of the contest.
He has argued cogently that change is needed to avoid driving away fans at a time when clubs need to capitalise on the post-Olympics and Super League boost the women’s game has been given.
In one of several comments on my original report, Mr McLeod wrote: “I think the competition needs a complete shake-up. Teams need to be seeded.
“Better sides had gone out early to the likes of the Albion, who they realistically should be playing at a later stage.”
He suggested that if Brighton and Lewes – who beat Marle Place Wanderers 14-0 and Chichester City 7-0 in last season’s County Cup – were to continue to participate, they should enter at a later stage, and he wants Premier League sides to field development squads in the competition.
“I just can’t see what is to be gained from hammering a side 14-0 or 17-0; it does nothing for either side except cause embarrassment and make fans think, really, what is the point of this competition.”
In the next article in this series, Sent Her Forward presents a personal view of the pros and cons of the County Cup.