West Ham United Ladies general manager Karen Ray says the Hammers’ successful WSL bid is just one of a host of examples of the investment the Club is making in its long-term future.
The Ladies became one of just eleven clubs to be awarded Tier 1 status as part of a nationwide restructuring of the women’s game on Monday, meaning they will kick-off the 2018/19 season in the top-flight alongside the likes of champions Chelsea and their fellow UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-finalists Manchester City, Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool.
Ray pointed to the Club’s backing of a bid described as ‘extremely impressive’ by the FA Women’s Football Board, as well as plans to redevelop the Academy’s base at Chadwell Heath and the ever-expanding work done by the West Ham United Foundation, as confirmation of the Hammers’ bright future.
“The Club has shown huge investment in the Ladies and the U23s, with the development they are doing at Chadwell Heath, and the work we do in the community also continues to grow,” she said.
“The Ladies section of this is a huge part of it and we’re a very accessible team, so we’ll be able to provide opportunities for the community and work alongside the boys’ Academy as we move into professional status.”
The Club has shown huge investment in the Ladies and the U23s, with the development they are doing at Chadwell Heath, and the work we do in the community also continues to grow
Focusing on the Ladies section, Ray is relishing the prospect of English football’s biggest clubs visiting Rush Green – which will also undergo summer improvements outlined in the WSL bid – when the new campaign kicks-off in September.
By then, a new first-team manager and a number of top-class players will have joined West Ham’s first full-time professional female squad.
“At the moment, the players people relate to are the players who play for the top clubs and hopefully, once they start coming to watch our games at West Ham, they’ll see we have some big names and top players at our club as well,” Ray confirmed.
“Those games we’re going to be playing against the Chelseas, Arsenals and Manchester Citys are one of the reasons why we went ahead with our WSL bid. We’re looking forward to them, we’re not fearing them and looking forward to inviting people down and seeing how professionally we do things. I think people will be surprised with what we’ve got going on.
“Managing director Jack Sullivan and I have been working really hard behind the scenes to strategically place a new coach to get ready for this and we’re looking forward to being able to announce the news.
“We’ve been working behind the scenes for a month now behind the scenes to get ourselves ready for the good news, if it came, and thankfully we’re now in a position to offer those players we’ve been speaking to full-time contracts.
“There is going to be some very exciting news coming out with regard to the new coach and then some new players we’re bringing in.
“Hopefully the young girls within our community will be able to relate to the girls on the pitch and look forward to seeing new role models out there alongside the ones who are already there.”
While Ray knows challenging for a WSL title may be an ambitious target in year one, she is determined to build a squad and staff capable of competing at the highest level, on and off the pitch.
“Katie Brazier, The FA’s head of women’s leagues and competitions, has obviously been quoted as saying that the aim was to have an even number of teams in the new WSL, but because of how strong our bid was, they couldn’t say ‘No’ to us, which is a really big compliment coming from one of the heads of women’s football. We’re really proud of that.
“I think they’ve done the right thing in putting us up to Tier 1 because we’re ready for it and we have the infrastructure and the support of the Club and the wider community.
“We had more than 1,300 fans come to watch our final league game and that shows the interest in what we’re trying to do and the attractiveness of women’s football and what it’s becoming.”