wealth distribution

Pioneers Clapton tap into fans to beat rivals and bridge women’s money gap | Suzanne Wrack


On Sunday, Clapton Community FC will become the first seventh-tier side to compete in the third round of the Women’s FA Cup when they travel south to play Plymouth Argyle. By beating Hounslow 3-1 on penalties, the Greater London Premier League club became the first to beat a side from four tiers higher in the competition.

But instead of being rewarded for their success or handed the funds to further support the London club’s impressive development, Clapton have found themselves out of pocket.

The huge discrepancy in prize money dished out to teams competing in the men’s and women’s FA Cups means they will earn just £1,250 should they win, contrasting starkly with the £82,000 offered to men’s teams at the same stage.

“We’re reaping the benefits of the Women’s Super League being successful,” says Alice Nutman, the club’s captain. “But if you have that success at the top it means that is going to have a knock-on impact lower down. We’re going to see increased numbers of girls and young people playing football, and if we don’t have investment at that stage, if we don’t have viable options for them to go into the game, then investing in the top is pointless. Top-down development, trickle-down economics, we know they don’t work, and the same is true in football.”

Nutman adds: “We’re not asking for equal pay. That’s a myth. We’re asking for investment in grassroots and we’re asking for spaces in which women and non-binary people are able to play football, which currently do not exist.

“Unfortunately, when the FA is the body that banned women’s football for a 50-year period, you then need to do things to reverse that and, at the moment, that’s not happening. For anyone tier three and below that money makes a huge difference.

“It means that you’re not living hand to mouth each month. We struggle to pay for our training pitch. That’s the reality of playing grassroots football in this country as a woman.”

Set up in 2018 by fans and players unhappy with the direction of Clapton FC, Clapton Community FC is fan-owned and pioneering a different way of doing things. For supporters who have fallen out of love with the commercialism of the game, clubs such as Clapton offer something different and Nutman believes breaking the mould is what women’s football should try to do more often.

“That’s the next step for women’s football, to not try and fit the same model. We’re not able to fit the same model because we didn’t play for such a long period of time [due to the ban]. So it’s about how can we get to the same level of eliteness and the same level of engagement in a better way.”

Having the ideological engagement in what the club are doing has been vital during their extraordinary FA Cup run. A broad and active fanbase believes in Clapton’s success off the pitch as much as on it.

“The positives of us being a fan-owned club means that lots of [the financial difficulties caused by FA Cup progress] have been hidden from the players,” Nutman says. “There’s been lots of squirrelling away behind the scenes in order to get the cheapest possible transport, in order to get some accommodation. That’s organised by people who own and have a hand in the club. Teams who are higher up are in very similar situations, they also don’t have the funding from the FA that is going to make this possible.”

To meet the soaring costs, by being drawn away in each round, Clapton set up a crowdfunding appeal which exceeded the £3,000 target in two days and is now more than £4,000.

“We’re so very, very grateful for everyone,” says Sophia Axelsson, who plays and also leads on financial strategy for the women’s first team. “But it’s also come at a very, very tricky time for us because we’ve also started a fundraiser to build changing rooms at our ground, which we don’t have. Had we been the men, we would have been able to build these changing rooms already with the success that we’ve had. But because we’re women, we have to do fundraisers for literally everything that we do within the club.”

Against Hounslow, with the score at 0-0 at the break, belief suddenly filtered through the team. “We didn’t know, before we played the game, that it would be the first time a team had ever done it,” Nutman says. “And I’m glad we didn’t, because that would have added to how nervous we were feeling.

“In a similar way to going into this weekend against Plymouth, it looks like something that shouldn’t happen. It looks like something that we shouldn’t be capable of. But the FA Cup means we’re playing 90 minutes, anything could happen. That’s why football is so glorious.”

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Should they beat Plymouth, the fourth round could see them drawn against a WSL side. “The thought of getting through is us being able to live out the dreams that we had when we were 20 years younger than we are now. Most of the squad are in our 30s,” says Nutman. Axelsson adds: “I would lie if I said that some of our players hadn’t already dreamt about it. Having a home tie against Arsenal and having their team bus rock up at our community changing rooms in Walthamstow would be pretty incredible.

“We’d love to continue this journey that we’re on, this adventure, we’re making memories for life. We’re very proud of where we’ve gotten so far. If we could go even further that would just mean the world.”


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