‘Everything we do is to help the club’ – Hartlepool United Women manager discusses the challenges of being a grassroots club in a competitive landscape
Hartlepool United Women may have obvious links to professional football, but manager Chris Murphy proudly admits the club are ‘grassroots through and through.’
In a footballing world dominated by finances, transfer fees and sponsorship, the North East’s flourishing women’s football scene shows there is still plenty of love for the beautiful game.
Pools are just one of dozens of women’s football teams who have been established in the region over the past decade.
They play in the North East Women's Regional Football League, the fifth tier of women's football in England, alongside Sunderland West End, Redcar Town, South Shields and Wallsend to name a few.
While some of their opponents are able to generate income streams via the men’s clubs they are associated with, Pools Women are entirely self funded and rely on the players themselves to keep the club running and progressing.
"I think a big challenge for us is the fact we're a grassroots club with a big name,” Murphy told The Mail.
“We’re grassroots through and through which means we have to run ourselves and everything we need as a club we need to fundraise for.
"No player gets paid and they actually still pay monthly subs to play for the club which is something that holds us back.
"Some of the bigger clubs in the area have stadiums which allow them to charge people at the gate and they have income streams that way.
"That allows them to be self funded without payments from the players and that is a big incentive because if you offer a player playing for a club for free or having to pay £240 a year to play then it’s an easy decision.
“Obviously what has happened over the past couple of years with covid has made money tight for everyone, businesses included.
"Trying to attract sponsors has become even more difficult so that's a big frustration. We'd love to have every player wearing a GPS vest on gameday and be able to use proper cameras to record our games and do everything really professionally but unfortunately all that comes at a cost.”
There is a purity to what can be seen at Hartlepool Women where players are working together to support the club. There are no financial motivations or inflated egos, the players do what they do simply because they enjoy playing football.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has put up several hurdles for everyone to overcome, Murphy insists the club are always looking forward.
"Our players don't go without, we'll always find a way,” he added.
“We've created our own little fitness centre with spin bikes and we've got some funding for gym equipment so we can offer that from a fitness point of view.
"Our youth teams are based over at Greatham sports field, we fundraised for goals, a new tractor, maintaining the pitch, everything we do is to help the club.
"We've got a great relationship with East Durham College where we play our home games at the moment but we are looking to move to play in the town next season and there are a couple of potential opportunities there.”
As it stands, the North East doesn’t have a full-time professional women’s football team.
Durham Women play in the Women’s Championship and currently operate using a hybrid model which allows players to play around their work commitments – but that’s as close as any club gets to being professional in the region.
Meanwhile, several new women’s football clubs have popped up in the region in recent seasons at grassroots level to provide direct competition with Pools.
“There are a lot of new clubs and it's a challenge competing for players especially,” Murphy admitted.
“But all the new teams are great for women's football because it means there are more opportunities for women and girls across the North East popping up.
"There's a hotbed of talent but when there are a lot of teams then it does make it more difficult to get those players in.
"In our squad, we've got players who travel from Tyneside and Richmond and places like that because of the level we're at but because there are more and more teams popping up, it's getting more and more difficult to bring in the level of player you want.”
Pools currently operate with under-15, under-16, under-18 and first team squads. And Murphy – who is currently studying towards his UEFA B license in coaching – is always on the lookout for new players to help strengthen the side.
“I'm still looking to build our squad with a couple of more places available,” he continued.
"We are looking to build the team further next season and run with a first team and a reserves along with the youth teams. We're looking to continue to grow year on year.
"As a club we're all about developing players and we've got some excellent players coming through. Our under-18 team have won all of their games so far and are going from strength to strength.
"The majority of that under-18 squad have played for the first team at some point over the last 18 months which is brilliant. We've got a talent pipeline where our under-16s are enjoying a fantastic season as well towards the top of their division.
"I've already identified a few players from there that, once they turn 16, would come into the women's squad.
"The under-15s team is new and still developing but we're already seeing the talent coming through there and it helps them when they get to train with some of the older groups, within the rules and regulations.
"That just brings the whole progression on and from a player perspective, it just secures the women’s future and, in turn, the future of the club.”