Last Thursday night I attended the Charlton Athletic Community Trust (CACT) Awards at the House of Lords, which was hosted by the Vice President of CACT, Lord Michael Grade. I was there in a triple capacity – as a proud Ambassador of CACT, as one of the judges of the CACT Awards and, also, in my ‘new’ role as Interim Commercial Manager of Charlton Athletic FC.
Amongst all the special guests was someone who I go back a long way with, CAFC Women’s Team Manager Karen Hills.
In the early 2000’s I was Commercial Director of Charlton Athletic FC, and we were an established Premier League club. At that time, I was also overseeing Women’s Football at the club and Karen was a key player in our outstanding team managed by Keith Boanas. Back then the top two teams in women’s football were Charlton and Arsenal. So much so that we regularly contested the major trophies with our rivals from North London. However, our most momentous moment was winning the Women’s FA Cup in 2005 – the Centenary Season of Charlton Athletic FC – when we beat Everton 1-0 and Karen played brilliantly at the heart of our defence that day.
Sadly, the club’s relegation from the Premier League in 2007 saw the unfortunate closure of women’s football at Charlton Athletic, something that, to this day, I regret terribly and tried to argue against; but in the Board at the time’s defence, there simply wasn’t the funding in women’s football that, at certain levels, there is today. This meant that the team and management were being entirely funded by the club. A situation that was unsustainable, especially as, due to our relegation and through no fault of their own, we were making loyal, hard-working club staff redundant.
Clearly, we were ahead of the game somewhat and I often wonder what we could have gone on to achieve in women’s football if we had retained our Premier League status.
However, since those dark times, I’ve been really pleased to see that the Football Association (FA) have been gradually reshaping the game to make women’s football popular and more attractive to commercial partners and broadcasters, and obviously the success of the Lionesses in winning the European Championship last year has been a major factor in the uplift in interest in women’s football in this country. This increased focus by the FA also coincided with Charlton Athletic once again operating a successful women’s and Girls’ football section; first under the auspices of the aforementioned Charlton Athletic Community Trust, then with the visionary leadership and generous funding of Stephen King, the CEO of PHSC plc and with the support of committed individuals and organisations like Damian Walters, the CEO of the British Institute of Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom Installers (BiKBBI).
This renewed growth of the women’s game resulted in the Club’s former owner, Thomas Sandgaard bringing Charlton Athletic Women’s FC back under the ownership of the club in June 2021 and, at the same time, making the women’s team a fully professional operation – with our 2005 FA Cup star Karen Hills, being appointed as Team Manager.
Now, with Charlton Athletic under the new ownership of Global Football Partners via its UK subsidiary SE7 Partners, the committed aim is to continue to grow the women’s game at Charlton Athletic in the Barclays Women’s Championship but of course this comes with challenges, as it always has done, as competing for match day attendances against the established men’s game can be problematic.
However, as you’ve seen from the success of the Lionesses and the growth of the Barclays Women’s Super League – with the resulting high attendances – the women’s game ‘fan experience’ is very different – and quite rightly so.
With the elite women’s game being more professional and players becoming more inspirational, there is a trickle-down effect to grassroots – which in turn grows the game from the bottom up and attracts and engages new audiences.
Karen and her talented team are in Barclays Women’s Championship action again at The Valley next Sunday, October 22nd when Crystal Palace are our opponents, and it would be great to see as many people as possible come along to see us take on our rivals from Croydon.
Here at Charlton, with our emphasis on affordable tickets, a family-friendly matchday experience, exciting attacking football, accessible and approachable players and with more home matches than ever before being played at The Valley; the hope now is that we can finally start to grow a committed support base for the women’s team and at the same time attract a new raft of commercial partners who see value in supporting the growth of women’s and girls’ football; something that my colleagues and I dreamt of doing all those years ago.
See you next Sunday!
Click here to book tickets to see Charlton Athletic Women v Crystal Palace Women at The Valley on Sunday 22nd October, kick off 2.00pm