Aiming for the top ‘The Southampton Way’

by Johnathan Stack (8/5/23)

Above: The panel discussion at Southampton’s St. Mary’s Stadium. Photo: Andy Wicks for Impetus.

Impetus was fortunate to be invited to St Mary’s Stadium by Southampton FC for a hospitality day and to join a women’s football panel with Tom Rose (Southampton FC, Head of Marketing) and Sarah Batters (Southampton FC, Director of Marketing and Partnerships) to discuss the club, both where it is now and where it wants to be in the future.

Last season was a landmark year for Southampton as they beat Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Women’s National League (FAWNL) Play-off final at Stockport County’s Edgeley Park to reach the Barclays’ Women’s Championship for the first time in their history. Following this, Southampton hosted games at the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 in which the Lionesses sealed victory.

Batters started off by reminiscing about the season before which was such a successful season for the club, Sarah Batters said:

“I was just thinking this morning, about where we were 12 months ago (playing Wolves in the FAWNL Playoff Final]. And where we were was on a very cold day in Stockport, watching the girls play against Wolves to win promotion to the Barclays Women’s Championship.

“It was an absolutely incredible day and a really huge achievement from all the girls, as it was a real pivotal moment.

Above: Southampton celebrate after winning promotion to the Championship in the play-off last season at Stockport. Photo: Southampton FC.

“We had a pre-built plan if we were to gain promotion, that we were really going to change the way the club would approach our women and girls’ programme so it really felt like a moment in time and a moment in history for us of transforming our women’s and girls programme.”

A fortnight back, it was announced by the FA that the promotion and relegation situation between clubs in the FAWNL Northern and Southern Premiers plus the Barclays’ Women’s Super League would change so instead of one being relegated from the Championship and winners of the North and South leagues battling it out for a single place in the league above, there would be two relegation places in the championship and two promotion places – one each for the winner of the North and South league.

Sarah gave her thoughts on the situation on going through that process 12 months ago:

 “I was devastated for Wolves, to win your league and not be able to go up. So hearing that announcement, it sums up the women’s game and where we are, that it is a place where we are still innovating and learning and working out the right ways to grow at the right time and I’m really glad they have made that step and the next step will really be to look at the promotion to the WSL.

“So with the promotion of the girls to the Championship, also came at a really amazing moment for us with the women’s Euros.

“We were lucky enough to host some of the games at St Mary’s and it really gave us the momentum to go: ‘Okay, how can we take the success of the women’s Euros, the success of holding those events here at St. Mary’s, and tying that in with the success of the promotion of our women’s team to really grow and really focus in being the best in the Championship?’

Above: Discussion at the panel event. Photo: Andy Wicks for Impetus.

“And that been our team’s focus, as we are an extremely competitive bunch and we absolutely obsess over ‘Have we got the highest attendance?’, ‘Have we got the most people coming?”

Tom Rose added: “It is really important to stress that a lot of this work, started four to five years ago maybe even longer.

“I think that with the women’s Euros success and us moving to St. Mary’s, it is quite easy to get lost in the success of this year. But actually, we have been working hard for many many years before that. The women’s team have gone from bottom of the pyramid and hopefully all the way to the top.

“It really is an amazing story of what we call, ‘The Southampton Way’, which is never stopping until we have reached our goals. “As a marketing team we have been on the journey with them, we have Kayla Rendell [who] has been there since the start and we think she will become England’s number one. It’s an amazing story and we have seen our crowds grow year on year since we were at AFC Totton.

“So we set all the best plans and then hope for external things to go your way, I think we got the best external thing of the success of the women’s euros so the good thing is we set those plans and really thrive off it.”

It is safe to say the club is definitely heading in the right direction and it will be interesting to see how Southampton do over the next few years and whether they can reach their goal of making it to the Women’s Super League.

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