In recent years it has become a recurring theme to see men’s football teams investing in the women’s game.
This has been evident with the formation of Manchester City W.F.C. in 2012 and Manchester United W.F.C. in 2018.
Since the affiliation, both of these sides have excelled through women’s football in England, with City being crowned Women’s Super League champions in 2016 and their rivals United being promoted to the WSL in 2019.
However, what goes unnoticed is when the men’s football teams disconnect from women’s sides, leaving them to survive without any additional support.
While clubs like Notts County Ladies suffered terribly due to the split from the men’s side, it has been a breath of fresh air for Gillingham Women FC who faced the same fate.
“I can appreciate how far we have come on from the disbandment and how proud I am of everyone at the football club,” Gillingham Women’s manager and chairman Josh Oatham said.
Doom and gloom was on the horizon for women’s football in Gillingham after it was announced last June that Gillingham men would no longer be in partnership with the women’s team.
A truly testing time for everyone involved at the club.
Oatham said: “We faced many hardships, especially the weeks leading up to the announcement of our separation from Gillingham Football Club.
“It was a very real possibility that if an arrangement could not have been found, Gillingham Women Football Club would have disbanded.”
We have seen the likes of Notts County Ladies who disappeared from women’s football after their affiliation ended with their men’s side, due to the lack of funds after they had no support.
Gillingham learnt from this and managed to keep their head above water by ensuring funds were available for the team to continue.
“Gillingham Women Football Club is financed by myself and with the help of our fantastic new club sponsors. The club is incredibly grateful to have their fantastic support, especially with the effects the pandemic has had on so many people’s lives,” explained Oatham.
Perhaps more importantly, the new formed Gillingham was given support by the governing bodies, who have constantly been heavily critiqued for their lack involvement when it comes to support for football teams who have struggled during the pandemic.
“The FA have provided us with equipment this season, such as match balls and COVID-19 care packages with hand sanitiser, face masks et cetera,” Oatham said.
Preventing the extinction of Gillingham Women was not only pivotal for the football club but also for the sport in the area of Kent. Gillingham are the most successful side in the county, winning the most honours.
“If Gillingham Women Football Club had disbanded in the summer, it would have had huge long term consequences to the women’s game in Kent, especially when we look at equality and how far the game has grown in the last decade.
“Kent would have lost its highest placed women’s football side and in the process many proud Kent and local based players would have been without a club,” said Oatham.
Despite Gillingham men’s disaffiliation from the ladies team, the owners of the men’s team still showed important gratitude by allowing GWFC to keep their status from the previous season and remain in the FA Women’s National League South.
Oatham said this was a huge positive as it gave the Gillingham Women a good starting block for this season. They would have been forced to have started from ground zero if this were not the case.
This season can be considered a success for Gillingham as despite the rebuild of the team, they still find themselves in a similar position in the league table as they were in the previous year.
The team are currently in 10th place having played seven games. However, it could be argued that they are having a better season than the last.
“Last season I felt there was a noticeable gap between us and some of our opposing teams, something I can’t say now about our team, which is a good sign of progress,” Oatham said.
The team’s progress this season was also echoed by the club vice-captain, Jade Keogh. “We have been playing well and have had positive performances. We have a new squad and are trying to find our feet. There’s more buzz and squad togetherness,” she said.
However, there have been hardships for the club even when surviving possible extinction. With Kent being in the restrictions of tier 3 and tier 4 throughout the season, it has meant that Gillingham’s season has been continuously halted.
With further uncertainty as the UK goes through a second lockdown, Oatham is determined to get through this tough period. “Women’s football has been affected massively by Covid-19. With the first lockdown leading to our 2019/2020 season being cut short.
“Although we are gutted that we find ourselves in this situation, we have adapted well and have a team fitness programme in place for the ladies to stick to during this time,” he said.
Despite the ongoing COVID problems, there is still optimism within the club. If they are able to survive extinction during a global pandemic, then any other obstacles coming their way will be met with stern resistance.
“We have an ambitious group of players and staff, we have no ‘glass ceiling’ and I’m looking forward to seeing how far this enthusiastic group can go,” Oatham added.
The future bodes well it seems for Gillingham Women Football club.