Report: Why women footballers in England juggle multiple jobs to pay bills compared to male counterparts

Report: Why women footballers in England juggle multiple jobs to pay bills compared to male counterparts


The last Women’s Super League (WSL) season in England has been described as the most competitive yet but it was also one littered with injuries. A particular concern for Fern Whelan, a former Brighton and Everton player as well as a qualified physio, is the medical provision for players.

Whelan is former England international and the Professional Football Association’s (PFA) women’s football equality, diversity and inclusion executive.

Every club has to have one physio as stipulated by the licence criteria. But that is to look after a squad of 24 players and, what is more, there is no minimum level of expertise required.

WSL clubs also pay significantly less than Premier League sides. A head physio in the men’s top flight earns around £150,000-plus ($190,000), whereas in the women’s game the maximum would be £50,000. For a strength and conditioning coach at the top level in the men’s game, the range is from £50,000 to £80,000, while the equivalent role in the women’s game would receive £20,000 to £40,000.

At the moment, it is not compulsory for clubs to have performance psychologists or rehabilitation specialists, something Whelan thinks should change. She also wants more stringent standards regarding clubs’ injury prevention programmes, rehab and management post injury before players return to avoid risk of re-injury. As of next season, clubs will have to have a player welfare officer.

Nutritional support is another inconsistency within the women’s elite game. Some WSL players have to pay for their own food when in their club environment but Whelan argues it should be provided and of an elite-athlete quality.

In an interview with Women’s Health, England’s Alessia Russo opened up recently about her weight loss and how it contributed to injury. She is not the only player to have suffered like this.

Concerns about medical provision are juxtaposed with the glamour of commercial deals. Off the back of the Euros, every brand was queuing up “just wanting a Lioness,” according to Bouchier, representative for England internationals Lucy Bronze, Lauren Hemp and Esme Morgan. A range of brands realised the England team appealed to a wide market audience outside of sport.

There were partnerships with Google, Cadbury and Beats by Dre, an ambassadorial role for Oakley, shoots with Calvin Klein, appearances on (and winning of) I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here and guest bookings on British TV chat shows.

“Within six weeks they became famous,” England manager Sarina Wiegman said last year. “Some players can’t walk down the street anymore without being almost mobbed. That’s a big thing in your private life. You need time to adapt.”

Players have been thrust into the spotlight – Russo described it as a “shock” after the Euros – and have been advised to keep their feet on the ground and let their football do the talking. But equally, they have to strike while the iron is hot and maximise their commercial opportunities, fully aware their careers on the pitch are short and they do not get paid as much as their male counterparts. It matters more to their livelihoods and futures.

It is hard to quantify exact figures and inevitably bigger brands will pay bigger fees but “it’s night and day from before to after the Euros,” says one representative, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect relationships. Outside of the most well-known Lionesses, before summer 2022, England internationals were not making much money off the pitch. After the Euros, however, one agency that represents some of the most marketable Lionesses describes being “non-stop” and “inundated” with calls.

It is a fine balancing act for agents, however. “You have to have a real strategy for what it is you want to be involved with and why,” says Bouchier. “It’s important a player’s representative doesn’t just say yes to things because they’ve offered money.”

Before the Euros, around two years ago, an international fringe player earned around a couple of hundred pounds for one commercial appearance. Another earned a couple of thousand for a one-year deal with one brand.

Now, in-demand clients can expect to be paid well over six figures to represent brands for a year. According to Nielsen Influence Scope, each of Williamson’s Instagram posts could deliver an average of $38,708 media value to brands, $17,871 for Lauren James, $17,855 for Russo and $7,291 for Hemp. In return, according to one agency, a social media post and in-person appearance would pay at least £20,000.

These engagements were not available to players before the Euros. Of course, more experienced established England internationals would have earned higher before the tournament and also benefited from the post-Euros uplift. The difference between being a Lioness and not is vast but there is also a difference between the most well-known Lionesses and the more peripheral squad members.

As for a non-Lioness, one agency suggests the fees for a social post and physical in-person appearance could range from £1,000 to £10,000 depending on the player’s profile. League players who do not represent England could agree to a £5,000 or £10,000 one-year commercial deal, a lot of money when compared to their yearly WSL salary.

The Euros had a positive financial impact on non-Lioness WSL players thanks to the increase in media and commercial opportunities. But inevitably the biggest beneficiaries have been the highest-profile Lionesses.

“I don’t feel any resentment from the Euros,” says one player from a mid-to-bottom WSL club, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect her relationships. “More exposure for the women’s game is a positive – it’s just making sure it does not go too fast and is unsustainable.

“The pay needs to be addressed. It’s growing at such a rate because of the Euros. People talk about the next £1 million record transfer fee but a lot of WSL players are not getting paid enough for what they do.”

For women’s teams, it is a fine line between sustainably building a playing squad and paying players what they deserve.

While the highest-paid international WSL players are earning in excess of £350,000, the average WSL salary is around £47,000, a figure reported by the BBC in 2022 based on available published results from seven of the 12 WSL teams.

“The wages are increasing at an astronomical rate,” says Whelan. “Across the WSL, player salaries for the majority and for the non-Lionesses need to be better. There are definitely gains to be had in the women’s game, but it seems like a lot of the gains are for the top-end, elite Lionesses who earn well in excess of £100,000 per year.”

The discrepancy between players’ livelihoods at the top and bottom of the WSL is highlighted when discussing boots, for example. Sponsors will hand Lionesses and breakout WSL stars lucrative boot deals, with those players in turn giving their spare pair to others in the WSL who do not have a sponsor. Some will rely on a £300 boot voucher from the PFA to do their daily job, which does not go far when players get through at least a couple of pairs per season. By contrast, some Premier League clubs provide every youth male player with a pair of boots every season from a young age.

“Players in the league have been there for years, helped the league get to where it is and they’re the ones who can’t even get a pair of boots,” says Whelan. “As the game grows, we need to make sure we’re looking after the whole of the pyramid.”

The government review notes WC players could earn less than £5,000 a year from their football career due to the low number of mandated contracted hours, which means they have to juggle multiple jobs. In its written submission for the review, the PFA says: “Pursuit of a career within the women’s game is likely to still be viewed as a financial risk.”

The government review recommends a salary floor for WSL players as part of licensing requirements for the 2025-26 season and for it to be introduced in the WC once revenues render it sustainable.

You may ask, then, why the England women’s team is pushing for performance-related bonuses and a larger share of the FA’s commercial deals if they have benefited so much. The players feel it is not all about money but principle. They are paving the way for future Lionesses. This is uncharted territory and structures and standards should be put in place so players are remunerated and valued fairly. The women’s game is not at the point of development where assumptions can be made. “I feel like, ‘Good on them for pushing for it,’” one WSL player, without a boot deal, says.

The women’s game does not have the PFNCC, the professional football negotiating and consultative committee. The equivalent forum in men’s football includes Premier League, EFL, FA and PFA representatives, guaranteeing a player’s seat at the negotiating table.

“Within the men’s game, the PFNCC has been integral to the development of professional football, providing football’s stakeholders with a forum to debate, agree and implement changes across the game collaboratively,” says Bouchier.

“We have the PFNCC so the players’ rights are protected and no changes to players’ conditions can be made without the PFA’s agreement. No PFNCC in the women’s game means that changes take a lot longer than they need to.” Unlike in the men’s game, women’s footballers, for example, still do not have a centralised pension provision.

In February 2022, there were some major improvements regarding maternity provision, injury and illness and the termination of contracts due to long-term injury. For example, if a player had ruptured their anterior cruciate ligament, usually at least nine months out, the club had the right to a three-month notice of termination. Now, that has been extended to 18 months before a contract can be cancelled, the same as for a Premier League player.

These reforms, however, came into effect from the 2022-23 season and only to new contracts signed from then on. This has created, in Bouchier’s words, “a two-tier employment system”. The new policies should be adopted by all clubs and players retrospectively but, 18 months on, talks between the players’ union and the FA are still ongoing.

“Having the PFNCC board and regular meetings, you can move along with times changing,” says Bouchier. “That’s a massive piece that needs to be put into place. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t be the same mechanism for the women’s game.”

  • The Athletic report
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