Charlton Athletic are putting plans in place to make their women’s team full-time by the end of July.
The Championship side are working on plans to rebuild the squad into a fully professional outfit ahead of the 2021/22 season. This could come as somewhat of a surprise for many football followers, who perhaps expected the next side to follow in the footsteps of recently promoted Leicester to be one of Sheffield United or Durham.
But it’s the Addicks who are making the step towards a new era. With plans in place to transition to a full-time team, could Charlton become the new Manchester United, and what is being implemented to potentially make them the next big women’s club?
After coaching duo Juan Carlos Amorós and Karen Hills left their roles at Tottenham Hotspur, it wasn’t long before they both found new positions within the sport. Hills was appointed the new manager of Charlton back in March and her first mission in red was to ensure the survival of the Championship side.
Despite a tough season, the Addicks remained in the division and finished in eighth place.
Charlton have made a very strong signing in Hills, who has roots with the club from her playing days. The 46-year-old represented the London-based side between 2001 and 2007 and helped them reach four FA Cup finals in five years, beating Everton in 2005.
Hills was also awarded the Managers’ Player of the Season award after her first campaign at the club. After spending six years with Charlton before retiring, there’s no questioning her connection with this team.
Her coaching pedigree is another exciting asset – having taken Spurs from an amateur set-up to professional during the 11 years she managed the side. Hills enjoyed promotion into the Women’s Super League after Tottenham finished second behind Man United in the 2018/19 term.
The first stage of Hills’ plan after ensuring the team survived relegation was to restructure the squad and bring in quality new players.
The former defender has identified areas of weakness within the Charlton squad and made the tough decision to release certain personnel, divvying out new contracts to six players who really impressed during the last campaign.
A new coaching set-up is also due to be announced. Riteesh Mishra has been named assistant manager to Hills, with a goalkeeping coach, physiotherapist, doctor, strength and conditioning coach, and an analyst all due to be added to the backroom staff list.
Support from the men’s team
In order for a women’s team to make such a big transition, they must ensure they have the backing of the club as a whole.
Charlton have adopted a ‘one club’ approach and the men’s side will be supporting their female counterparts throughout this new dawn. Club owner Thomas Sandgaard recently also bought into the women’s team and admitted he is keen to push to get them into the WSL in the near future.
This kind of on-par attitude is rare for clubs outside of the top flight, so the project going on behind the scenes at Charlton already has the promise of something truly special.
Despite struggling with results during recent seasons, nothing takes away from the history Charlton Women boast.
With an FA Cup title, two Community Shields, and two League Cups, the Addicks already have more silverware than even some top-flight teams.
The south-east Londoners also have a Premier League Cup to their name and finished second in two consecutive seasons in the Premier League National Division, which was once England’s top tier of women’s football.
Living up to expectations
Man United, Spurs, Aston Villa, and Leicester City. These are the Championship clubs from recent years who have become professional outfits. Arguably, the Red Devils completely changed the game when their women’s team re-emerged onto the scene – storming to a 55-point winning season and immediate promotion into the WSL.
Since then, United have attracted some of the biggest names on the planet during the transfer window. US international stars Tobin Heath and Christen Press enjoyed a loan spell in Manchester last season and Dutch midfielder Jackie Groenen is a permanent asset to the team.
Leading up to their returning campaign, United brought in huge names like Lionesses Alex Greenwood and Siobhan Chamberlain to really build the hype around this up-and-coming new professional team.
After just three seasons, Man United are pushing to qualify for Champions League football and bridge the gap between themselves and the ‘big three’ in the WSL. Could Charlton follow a similar path?
Spurs have been struggling since their promotion into the top tier and Aston Villa narrowly avoided relegation just one year after being promoted. Leicester City are the latest side to earn their place in the WSL, but they’ve yet to withstand the test against the intensity of one of the most followed women’s leagues in the world.
As far as professional Championship sides go, Man United currently hold the torch. But, with fierce backing from the club’s board as well as an exciting new recruitment stage in the works, are Charlton equipped to enter the running and take the WSL by storm in a spectacular underdog fairytale?