NEWCASTLE: While England’s Lionesses were making waves across the continent with their historic European Championship victory at Wembley last month, a more quiet, understated revolution was already underway around 480 kilometers further north.
This did not have the pomp, ceremony or silverware that famous title win warranted, or even the column centimeters, however it did not lack an ounce of ambition. And with that ambition, the expectation that silverware will follow is seen very much as inevitable.
“We will sign England internationals, stars of English football.”
The words echoed around a cavernous room at Newcastle United’s training ground. Funding and blue-sky thinking knows no bounds with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports and Media at the helm on Tyneside.
But few among the gathered group from Newcastle United Women, an often-forgotten institution, who wear club colors but have not traditionally been funded by the body itself, could comprehend what their new boss-in-waiting was telling them.
Jaws dropped, some even privately questioned the veracity and feasibility of such a statement, as then club stand-in chief executive, and part owner, Amanda Staveley delivered it.
With formalities now completed, Newcastle United Women are now officially under the stewardship of Newcastle United Football Club, for the first time ever.
It must be said, Newcastle United’s women team — and realizing the dream — is very much Staveley’s baby.
How could a football club in the fourth tier of women’s football — the FA Women’s National League Division One — who rub shoulders with the likes of Norton & Stockton Ancients, Merseyrail and Durham Cestria, far from the topflight might and Champions League panache of Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, even consider signing any of England’s soon-to-be summer heroes?
If Staveley’s got anything to do with it, which she very much has, having seen her own, and husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi’s agreement to manage the immediate future of United underlined by majority shareholders PIF, then doubt at your peril.
It’s been some ride already: From playing in front of friends and family, as well as the odd diehard spectator, to within seven months walking out in front of more than 22,000 people at St James’ Park. It very much feels like things are just getting started.
That crowd, despite it being four divisions down from the upper echelons of the English game, was the biggest women’s football turnout in England in the whole of the 2021-22 season.
Howay the lasses indeed.
And last weekend, the dream really became a reality for everyone who has ever watched or believed in the United lasses.
For the first time in the club’s history, Newcastle United Women has been adopted in full by NUFC.
The statement read: “Newcastle United Women is now officially under the ownership of Newcastle United Football Club for the first time in its history after completing a formal restructuring.
“In a move driven by the Magpies’ ownership group, Newcastle United Women has completed the relevant formalities to compete as part of the club for the 2022/23 season, starting this weekend.”
As hinted at in the statement, this move has Staveley’s fingerprints all over it.
It continued: “Newcastle United Women has previously operated independently but has been supported by Newcastle United Foundation in recent years. Following the restructuring, Newcastle United has ambitious plans for the Lady Magpies, with investment in the first team squad, the introduction of a development squad, and formal support in place from across the club.”
Discussing the development, the club’s shareholders said: “From the outset, we have stated and demonstrated our wholehearted commitment to the growth of Newcastle United Women.
“The recent success of the Lionesses has added tremendous momentum behind women’s participation in football everywhere, and we want to create a pathway for all women and girls to be able to enjoy playing the game.
“We are delighted that Newcastle United Women is now formally a part of the Newcastle United family and we look forward to supporting the team as it goes from strength to strength.”
The move is no publicity stunt. This is something in which results are expected, little PIF turns its hand to does not.
The club will be expected to secure promotion swiftly, with the Barclays FA Women’s Super League eventually in the club’s sights. Patience will, however, be needed, with three promotions needed to get there.
One major part of the women’s game redevelopment has been the funding with head coach Becky Langley brought on board full-time. She has some big admirers in the United fold, one of whom is men’s head coach Eddie Howe.
“We are so proud to be part of the Newcastle United family,” Langley said of the news.
“It gives everyone even more determination to make the club proud and to represent our fans and our city the best we can.
“We’ll also have an emerging talent system that will create a legacy in the North East, giving girls in the region a well-defined pathway, with the chance to enjoy playing first and foremost, as well as an opportunity to develop within the club.”
And that’s the biggest feature of this move – girls from the black and white heartlands of the North East will now have a club to naturally gravitate towards.
Under Staveley’s guidance the like of 96-times capped Lucy Bronze, a hero in the final win over Germany last month and born and bred in Northumberland town Berwick-on-Tweed, will no longer have to start their careers at the likes of Sunderland or even lesser-known Durham Ladies.
Instead, the biggest city in the region will, in time, become a women’s footballing Mecca, a beacon of light, a home for the thousands of girls across the region who have taken to the sport in the aftermath of the Lionesses’ triumphs, as well as the thousands who did so before it, braving wind, snow and rain at training sessions on cold North East nights, in windswept corners of this proud English football outpost.