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29 October 2014
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Gemma Wilson, Michael Mulhern and Steph Houghton

Meet Sunderland Women FC

They're currently the only ladies football team in the North East to play in the National division of the FA Women's Premier League and their players are attracting the attention from the England Women's squad.

With "losing" their player Jill Scott to Everton a while back and now with a number of players in the England women's football squad, Sunderland Women FC are proving to be a superb breeding ground for the next generation of female footballers.

As the highest ranking female football team in the North East, SWFC have struggled to get there and they're adamant to stay in the national division of FA Women's Premier League.

Maurice Alderson is the chairman of the club and became involved in the team when his daughter Helen Alderson started to play for the club at its home-ground of Albany Park in Washington.

Michael Mulhern and Helen Alderson. Copyright SWFC
Coach Michael Mulhern and Helen Alderson

He says: "I have always had some involvement in football with playing, coaching and as a PE teacher, but became involved with SWFC when my daughter progressed through Sunderland's School of Excellence. When we lost the financial backing of Sunderland AFC we had to hastily convene a committee to decide how to raise the necessary funds, I became chairman.

"Sunderland Women were formed just over seven years ago when East Durham Houghall Kestrels and Sunderland Ladies combined to come under the umbrella of 'Sunderland Women'. Prior to this their roots lay in Tyneside with Blyth Kestrels."

Dark cloud of finance

Like every other football team, SWFC have the dark cloud of finance problems hanging over them.

"Finance is a major concern, a typical away trip to the south of England costs around £1 400. We are completely self-financing, that is, we need to raise our own funds. We do this by organising fund raising events and tedious things like packing shopping for customers in local supermarkets" Maurice says and goes on to mention the other local sponsors involved in the team as well as the British Army who sponsors players like Kim Holden.

SAFC are still involved in various ways, one is providing SWFC with the playing and training kit, giving the team a chance to spend that money on other important expenses.

Home-grown talent

The players have more or less all come through the School of Excellence which the team and coach Michael Mulhern run.

"We certainly don't have the financial backing to attract big players from bigger clubs so we need to keep the production line going," Maurice says.

"However, there is always the problem of some of our 'star' players being tempted by better thing - like receiving payment to play, we lost Jill Scott to Everton," Maurice continues.

As someone who has come up via the in-house training scheme, goal-keeper Helen Alderson is currently playing for both SWFC as well as for the England under-17 squad.

Helen, how did you get picked to join the England team?

"People also need to appreciate how the women's game is different to the men's, and stop trying to compare the games"
SWFC goalkeeper Helen Alderson

"I was scouted several times through county football and playing for Sunderland when I was 14. I was then called onto an under-17 training camp at Loughborough University.

"There were 30 players on this camp, which needed to be filtered down to 18 for games. Within the camp we worked on technical and tactical work, and worked on the basics of the senior teams 4-3-3 formation.

"It took me a year to be selected in the final 18 squad, because of the strong competition. It took a lot of extra training and effort. My debut was against Switzerland for the under-17s in October 2005, in which we won 2-1... it was definitely worth the wait!," Helen says.

Next stop, China

Stephanie Houghton is also one of the SWFC success stories - she was a regular in the England U-19 squad and has recently moved up to the England U-21 and is currently on standby for the England First Team in the Four Nation's Women's Tournament.

Steph and fellow SWFC player, goalkeeper Carly Telford, will be travelling to China in January 2007 and are hoping to be called up to play for England. Steph has excelled in previous games and got Woman of Match in the recent international match against France in November.

She's a dedicated forward and she takes her footballing career seriously.

Steph says, "I spend a lot of my time dedicated to football. Being at Loughborough National women's development centre means that I am able to train everyday working on a variety of things that will make me a better player. When I am not there, I am either playing for club or country in various fixtures."

Future for women's football?

Both Helen and Steph have got great hopes for the future of women's football in England, but are also aware of the time it will take for it to reach the heights of success of its male equivilant.

Helen says, "I think for women's football to be successful in this country more [media] coverage must be given, with more money being put into the game. More money will bring better training facilities, better players, better coaching etc, resulting in a better game all round.

"People also need to appreciate how the women's game is different to the men's, and stop trying to compare the games - just as women's tennis would never be compared to men's tennis.

Sunderland Women FC team 06/07. Copyright SWFC

"I hope that in the future the women's game will turn professional, as a lot of talent is wasted because of the girls not being able to dedicate enough time to the training that's involved within this, I don't think this will happen during my "career" though!" Helen ends.

To find out more about SWFC, click here. >
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last updated: 01/05/07
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