Birmingham boss Carla Ward urges club to back its women's team

‘Do they want us to succeed or not?’: Birmingham City boss Carla Ward urges the club to back its women’s team or ‘make way for others who want to invest’ after players wrote a letter of protest to the board over lack of funding

  • Birmingham City boss Carla Ward has urged the club to back its women’s team 
  • The manager joined the WSL club in August but she has faced an uphill struggle
  • Players sent a letter of protest to the board over a lack of funding this season
  • The Blues could seal their top-flight survival despite facing several challenges 

The seemingly impossible task of keeping Birmingham City in the Women’s Super League this season was a topic of discussion among rival managers long before competition began.

Carla Ward had not even been approached by the club when a friend — a goalkeeping coach at one of the league’s top sides — messaged her.

‘Birmingham looks like Mount Everest,’ he said.

Carla Ward has battled the odds since becoming Birmingham City Women boss last August

Ward took on the manager’s job last August, having guided Sheffield United to runners-up spot in the second tier Championship, because she wanted to work in the WSL and felt there was nothing to lose.

But nothing could have quite prepared her for these past nine months at the most poorly resourced and threadbare of the league’s 12 clubs.

She remains the only full-time member of the coaching staff and has gone into some games with just two substitutes.

Facilities are so spartan that her players this month wrote a letter of protest to the Birmingham City board, which was made public.

Against every expectation, Ward’s side could all but secure the club’s WSL survival on Wednesday night with a home win over rivals Aston Villa, whose superior set-up and £2million player budget saw them raid her team for three players and even a new youth academy director in pre-season.

Ward’s side are the most poorly resourced and threadbare of the WSL’s 12 league clubs

But they could all but secure their survival with a victory over Aston Villa on Wednesday night

This accomplishment saw her named on the five-strong shortlist for the WSL Manager of the Year on Tuesday.

The 37-year-old has delivered through sheer force of personality, so it is perhaps not surprising she pulls no punches in her first interview since the letter was sent.

Birmingham have made no promises about future resources, Ward reveals, despite promising that the team will play at St Andrew’s if they are in the WSL against next season.

Keeping the men’s team in the Championship has been the overwhelming preoccupation, she believes. ‘I think ultimately nothing’s going to happen overnight,’ she says. ‘Now the men are safe that will help, I imagine. We would like to think once we’re safe too, we’ll get clear answers, move forward and have discussions. I’m up for a fight but not for the impossible.’

Success in what she has always called ‘Project Survival’ would mean a place among the glamour of the 2021-22 WSL — which will be screened and promoted by BBC and Sky, thanks to a new £21m TV deal. ‘It will be huge next season,’ Ward says. ‘And this is why football clubs have to get it right, because we’re going live to the nation, on the biggest platform you could possibly ask for.

‘For anyone who stays in the WSL this year I would say, take this seriously, make sure you’ve got the right staffing, make sure you’ve got the right players, really support your women, because it’s going to be global and an opportunity not to be missed.’

Facilities are so spartan that her players this month wrote a letter of protest to the Birmingham City board, which was made public

Yet she is still to figure out whether her own club see things that way.

‘I’ve never understood and still don’t understand what their take is on the women’s game,’ she says. The same uncertainties had led to an exodus of 10 players before Ward arrived last summer.

She proceeded to beg and borrow, simply to establish a complement of players.

‘I needed mindset over ability,’ she says. ‘Players who had been written off. Players who need a chance. Ultimately, players who didn’t quite make it. Players who were ready to go to war.’

She persuaded Christie Murray to leave Liverpool and become her captain — yet then received a call from the club, effectively saying that was her lot.

‘The general manager Sarah Westwood told me, “You’re going to have to get academy kids in or work with what you’ve got”,’ Ward relates. ‘I told them that wasn’t what I’d agreed to. I went to meet the chief executive Xuandong Ren at the training ground.

‘I had a good 10 minutes with him. I stressed the importance of his support. He shook my hand and told me he understood that I cared. He backed me to bring in a few players that I needed.’

Ward has urged the club to back the women’s team if they want to progress next season

The brevity of a meeting which Ward was forced to seek out says everything about the club’s commitment, though she seems to take the view that being at war with Birmingham City will not serve any purpose.

She says her relationships with Ren and Westwood are strong, despite the challenges. 

Yet players’ frustrations — about on-the-day travel to away games, inadequate physio and gym facilities and medical support — festered for months. With Ward unable to prise more money from the club, the squad told her they wanted to write to the City board.

‘The letter’s probably five per cent of how they felt,’ she says. ‘I supported it, I’m the only full-time member of technical staff, which is unheard of in the WSL.’

Survival will bring no certainties at a club more than £100m in debt to Far East owners, even though the team stand on the threshold of a new horizon in women’s football.

‘It’s do or die,’ says Ward. ‘Support and kick on or make way for others clubs who want to invest.’ 

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