English Soccer News

West Ham United Women: Jack Sullivan hopes for sustainability after London Stadium fixture

Jack Sullivan’s father David Sullivan is the co-owner of Premier League club West Ham United
Barclays FA Women’s Super League: West Ham v Tottenham Hotspur
Date: Sunday, 29 September Kick-off: 14:30 BST Venue: London Stadium
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

In September 2017, third-tier West Ham United Women endured a 3-0 defeat at Basildon, a 4-0 loss to Chichester City and a 6-0 hammering at the hands of Charlton Athletic.

Back then, playing a top-flight derby at the London Stadium may have felt like a fantasy for the Hammers, but fast forward two years and it is a reality.

On Sunday the club expect about 20,000 people to attend their first women’s game at the home of their men’s side, as they host local rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the Women’s Super League.

It comes after turning professional in 2018, moving up two divisions as part of a league restructure, and an appearance in May’s Women’s FA Cup final at Wembley in their first full-time campaign.

West Ham’s women’s team’s managing director Jack Sullivan, the 19-year-old son of the Hammers’ co-owner David Sullivan, is proud of the club’s rapid growth but is targeting a sustainable future.

“This is a great time to be part of women’s football but we’ve got to make sure that this great time becomes permanent,” Sullivan said.

“The agenda for us, and for everyone in women’s football, should be ‘how can we make the women’s game sustainable?’

“Last year we sold 300 season tickets and this year we are on 900. The more people you have coming to the games, the more sustainable the team becomes.”

Hammers Women ‘to be part of this stadium’s history’

Jack Sullivan expects the lower tier of the London Stadium to be full on Sunday

Teenager Sullivan is not your typical managing director, while the London Stadium is not your typical WSL ground. They are normally shared with lower-league men’s teams or training grounds.

“The London Stadium is so historic for so many reasons,” Sullivan added. “The players are going to be doing their prehab where Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Jess Ennis-Hill have warmed up.

“Then they’re going to be in the stadium where Andy Carroll did that amazing overhead kick against Crystal Palace and Dimitri Payet ran from the halfway line against Middlesbrough.

“We want to say ‘you’re part of West Ham, you’re part of all these historical events at the stadium’. Hopefully we can make one of those memories for this team as well, scoring a great goal or something.”

West Ham – who normally play at Rush Green Stadium – are not the first WSL side to play at their men’s affiliates’ larger home this season, with Manchester City, Chelsea and Bristol City all doing so on the opening weekend.

With the women’s game enjoying extra interest following the summer’s World Cup, the WSL’s attendance record was smashed when 31,213 fans saw City face Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium.

City charged £7 for adult tickets for that match, while in contrast, Chelsea made their tickets free for their game at Stamford Bridge against Tottenham.

And while the 24,564 crowd was still superb for the division, all 41,000 seats had been snapped up prior to the game, so not everyone used their free tickets.

Perhaps seeking something of a middle ground between those two plans, the Hammers decided to charge £2 for general adult admission and £1 for season ticket holders and Claret members.

But as interest in the women’s game appears to soar, could the Hammers have opted for free tickets instead, and how did they decide upon that pricing structure?

‘In a way, there’s almost too much built upon these one-off games’

Jack Sullivan’s role features in BBC Three’s documentary series ‘Britain’s Youngest Football Boss’

“For general admissions, we wanted it to be affordable, but at the same time we wanted the ticket to have some value,” Sullivan explained.

“We feel, if it doesn’t have any value, on the day people maybe decide not to go. So if they feel like they’ve bought it, we see there’s a better uptake in people actually going to the game, rather than just ‘let’s get one and think about it in three months’.

“Unfortunately I think that’s what happened with Chelsea, but they still did an unbelievable job at Stamford Bridge, showing there is an interest, and off the back of what Chelsea have done there, they’ll now have 42,000 people who they know are interested.”

Growing crowds is key for the WSL, which had a league-wide attendance average less than 1,000 last term.

“We have to get people through the door and then make sure it’s not a one-off game for them,” Sullivan added.

“It’s about having them come once, enjoy it, and then come to the next home game and start that cycle.

“In a way, there’s almost too much built upon these one-off games, where people are focused and they’re like ‘I’m going because they’re at the London Stadium’.

“Although it’s great that they go to that, it’s all about getting them to come consistently. Not just focusing on these historic events, but an all-year-round thing.”

‘We want to do West Ham proud and get the result’

On the field, the Hammers and Spurs are both bidding for their second wins of the season in what will be their third league games this term, after home wins over Birmingham and Liverpool respectively.

And the hosts’ experienced former Arsenal and Chelsea defender Gilly Flaherty is only focused on the result.

“It’ll be a great occasion. But I’m a winner. I don’t care whether we play in a park with one man and his dog watching if we get the three points,” Flaherty said.

“We want to do West Ham proud and get the result. Three points are what I care about and all that really matters to me.

“We’re a much better team than what we were this time last year but we need to make it count and get points on the board.”

Alisha Lehmann and Gilly Flaherty both played at Wembley as West Ham lost to Man City in front of 43,264 in last season’s Women’s FA Cup final

Will big stadiums ever be the norm for the WSL?

West Ham and Switzerland’s Alisha Lehmann added: “It’s a big thing for us. When I knew it was happening I was so surprised and really happy.

“Everyone wants to play in a big stadium. It’s so much better when more supporters are there because you have more pressure, you’re more focused and you just want to win the game.”

Spurs, who were promoted to the WSL from the Championship at the end of last term, will host Arsenal at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 17 November, during the Football Association’s first annual Women’s Football Weekend.

Nevertheless, these events appear to be – for the time being at least – one-off fixtures for the women’s game, but could playing in 60,000-seater grounds ever become the norm for WSL sides?

“For everyone, I think that’s the aim,” Sullivan added. “But I’m not sure when that will be.

“But at the same time if you stay in these stadiums week-in, week-out and start to get 1,000 people there, or 1,500 people there, you sort of get lost in that massive bowl.

“We’re very lucky here at Rush Green where we have a tight ground and tight atmosphere, so if there are 1,500 people here, it looks really busy and really good.

“The reason we have done this so early, towards the start of the season, and against a massive rival like Spurs, is that we wanted to get as many people as possible through the door.

“And hopefully once they’ve seen the game, then they’ll say ‘I had a great day, how can I come more often?’

“We don’t want them just to come because it’s at the London Stadium. We want them to come because they enjoy women’s football and it’s enjoyable and a great day out for their family, which it is.”

BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women’s sport available to watch across the BBC in 2019, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women’s sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button